Michael Martone

1. She was already naked except for the man's watch she wore on her right wrist.

2. She didn't take the watch off as she watched him undress.

3. Because the watch was on her right hand, she used her left to rub herself, watching as he undressed.

4. Moving, inside her, on top of her, he watched the watch.

5. It was a man's watch with a flat wafer-thin face silver Italian design twelve black Arabic numbers and black leather band.

6. Her arms were thrown up over her head, and she had twisted the watch's band so the face rested on the inside of her wrist.

7. As they moved together, he watched the watch.

8. The watch had a sweep second hand as thin as a hair, and he was conscious that he was timing himself and keeping track of how long it all was taking.

9. As she came, he counted the seconds she took, watching the watch as it pulsed on her wrist.

10. Then, as he came, he noted the time, how the minute hand and the hour hand on the watch had traded places, how at some time while they made love the one hand had slipped over the other hand, changing slightly the angle the two hands formed, the look of the tiny black wedge hovering over the silver, a sliver less than or more than.

11. Afterward, still in bed he said something about the watch, was it new and how unusual it had been for her to keep it on when she undressed.

12. Right then she gave him the watch, taking it off and giving it to him.

13. It's a man's watch, she said, and when I saw it in the store I thought of you.

14. They had been meeting this way for twelve years, the number of numbers on the watch.

15. He didn't wear the man's watch home but hid it in his luggage, and when he got home he left the watch hidden there in his unpacked luggage.

16. He had never worn a watch, had always asked the time or remembered where the clocks were, glancing at them without thinking, to get the sense of the time, of time passing.

17. If he started wearing the man's watch its appearance would have to be explained.

18. He took the watch with him every time he traveled, wearing it only while he was on the road.

19. On the road, he got used to wearing the watch and would think of her and the time she gave it to him every time he looked at the watch.

20. At night, from hotel rooms, he would leave messages for her, telling her how he loved the watch she had given him, how he was looking at it right now, reading the time passing, spending his anytime minutes.

21. Later, he lost the watch in a hotel room.

22. Time went by, and he didn't tell her he had lost the watch but lied when he talked to her on the phone.

23. He searched stores and catalogues for an identical watch to replace the one he had lost.

24. He was afraid to see her again without the watch she had given him, and he hoped to see her again soon.

25. At last he found a watch that matched his lost watch offered by a company on-line, and he ordered it right away.

26. The watch came.

27. But now that he had the watch again, he never saw her again.

28. The rendezvous when she had given him the watch had been the last time they would see each other, and he hadn't known it until, much later, when, with a telephone message, she told him she couldn't do this anymore.

29. He thought of the twists of old O. Henry stories, the ones with watches and exchanges of gifts.

30. Once, a long time ago, before the watch, naked in bed after making love, they had talked about their lives and their life together.

31. She believed that there were many moments in each life when that life changed utterly, irrevocably, a tick of a watch's second hand and everything was, is, will be different.

32. He believed in the accumulation of events, no dramatic reversals but the slow shearing away of countless seconds as the watch's minute hand and its hour hand opened and closed, cut-outs of lacy paper hearts or intricate doily snowflakes.

33. He thought then of the atomic clock and its accuracy so fine that from time to time it had to add a leap second to compensate for the slowing of the earth by friction and how the extra second was broadcast to all those new-fangled watches and clocks so equipped for receiving the signal to pause.

34. He wasn't wearing the watch when he listened to her message, the one that said she couldn't do this anymore.

35. Even though he wasn't wearing the watch when he listened to the message, he knew the exact moment when it happened.

36. His voice mail had its own internal clock, and a digital voice made to sound like a woman's voice told him the exact time the message had been received.

37. A long time ago, when they made love while she was wearing the watch, it seemed to last forever.

38. But that was an illusion that the watch dispelled.

39. He remembers counting the seconds as she came, a handful of seconds.

40. And his own orgasm took even less time, the watch's second hand leaping from one jeweled hash mark to the next.

41. The earth moved not in any dramatic way but in its everyday everyday way, the watch marking this just perceptible torque.

42. And afterward, the watch didn't stop but proceeded to the next lost moment and the next.

43. He wished now that he hadn't been distracted by the machinations of the watch, as he knew now that that had been the last time he would be with her.

44. His memory had been set by watching the watch's face and not her face.

45. And later he asked her about the watch, and right there on the spot she started to take off the watch, unstrapping it from her wrist.

46. It is a man's watch, she said, when I saw the watch I thought of you.

47. He watched her take the watch from her wrist.

48. She was naked except for the watch, and when she took off the watch she seemed even more naked.

49. And soon after giving him the watch she began to dress, putting her rings on last as she had always done before.

50. And in the time since then they talked on the phone many times about the watch, about the last time they had seen each other, and about the next time they would see each other.

51. After he lost the watch, searching for the watch, he looked at hundreds of watches.

52. When he found the watch he thought was the watch she had given him and he had lost, he hoped it would be the same watch but it wasn't of course

53. The new watch was like the old watch but it was different.

54. Then, one day, after he had lost the watch and bought its replica, he got a message from her saying she couldn't do this anymore.

55. He played the message over and over, timing its duration with the watch he had taken from hiding.

56. Looking at the watch while listening to her voice, he wanted to turn back time or, at the very least, find a way to suspend time, to stop it, to slow it, at least.

57. The watch wouldn't let him do it.

58. The watch she had given to him, he gave to his wife.

59. It's a man's watch, she said, putting it on.

60. She was already naked except for the man's watch she wore on her right wrist.