I don't know why I gave Amanda breast cancer for this piece (probably because
of a few recent scares in my family). The images worked backwards for me on this
one. I began with the funeral in my head and worked back in my imagination. It
didn't strike me until it was done that it was why we lost her character for so
much of those last few episodes. I almost changed it because of KJ's fight with
the disease, but then decided to keep it just as it was.
For two days, the hectic members of the household would find themselves stopping briefly to stare at the oddities. Amanda refused to speak about them, even to Lee, until the night they all managed to be home for dinner at the same time. Finally, after every dish had been put away, she demanded an impromptu family meeting.
Standing in the den, with all her family surrounding her, Amanda picked up one of the hourglasses and explained: "While I am a mother, I am also a wife. I understand all your needs, and I would like for you to respect mine. The hourglass sitting on the table--and it is an actual *hour* glass--will remain here. This one goes upstairs to our bedroom."
With every eye intently trained on her, Amanda smiled. "Upon occasion, I would like an hour alone with my husband. I don't believe that to be an unreasonable demand, considering all the time we run around filling your needs. When we want that time, we'll turn over the hourglass here. Until that hour is up, I want *no interruptions*! Understand?" Every head nodded, including Lee's.
Turning over the one on the table, so that the sand could slowly begin its glide back to the bottom, Amanda reached for Lee's hand. "Don't worry! We'll use this one to make sure we don't forget to come out!" Lee spent a lot of that hour teasing her for looking so proud and embarrassed at the same time.
What they did as the sand flowed through the glass varied a lot. Sometimes, it was a time to reunite physically. Their joinings could be either so passionate and intense that they feared their hearts would burst from their sweat-drenched bodies or so slow and sweet their teeth ached. Usually, it was somewhere in between.
Upon occasion, they used the time to argue. With two active teenage boys, Dotty and her new husband, plus their increased responsibility at the Agency, discussion time was hard to find. They did not have many, but when they did, they made sure they counted. The sense of time slipping by gave their arguments an urgency they both admitted to enjoying. It stopped them from going off on other tangents. Since they stayed focused on the issue, usually by the hour's end, a solution was at hand.
Most often were their quiet moments of reflection. Lee would draw Amanda to his chest and listen to her discuss the day. To the surprise of both, Lee also opened up and discussed more about what he was thinking and feeling. Hours of quiet conversation filled that bedroom.
Once, only once, they spent the hour dancing. The stars twinkled in the sky, as the radio became their band. Long after the sand stopped flowing that night, Jamie gently knocked and stuck his head in, but when he saw them looking back at him, arm in arm, he simply smiled and left them alone. For once, they decided to ignore the passing of time.
Gradually, the one in the den began to be used for other's needs. Philip's taut face told Amanda that the date with his fiancée had not gone well. She opened her mouth, but her son simply turned over the hourglass and walked away to his room. She understood, and anxiously waited until every granule fell before following him in what she knew to be a useless effort to mend his broken heart.
On his first visit home from college, Jamie somehow began playing a silly game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors" with his mother on the couch. Then, Lee walked in from work. Biting his lip, Jamie reached over and gently turned the timer before looking in Lee's direction. His stepfather understood and left them alone to enjoy themselves. After that, Jamie and Philip used it for time with either Lee or Amanda or Lee and Amanda. Dotty quickly began to use it the same way when she wanted to spend time with her daughter or grandsons.
Lee was the first to use it in the tradition of family time. Having everyone under the same roof to welcome him home from a six-week stay in Germany, he watched after dinner as everyone began making a million excuses to leave him alone with Amanda. He turned over the hourglass. They understood, and with grins, tossed their coats by the door. Events here, too, varied. It could be an hour of discussion with hot cocoa warming their hearts and bellies. The games of Monopoly could be brutal. However, after the first pillow fight, Amanda insisted all of those be held outside. The neighbors talked for years about the odd family's pillow fight around the snowman. It was generally agreed that Frosty was the clear loser.
Other people came and went in their lives. One of Philip's roommates, after being a part of their wonderful family time, decided to buy his parents an hourglass. While it did not work as well in their home, it did help heal some strains. Girlfriends, daughter-in-laws, and friends all used Amanda's gift to her family. The wood lost its varnish, and tiny places--worn down from fingers touching so often--became rough, but she would never listen to any suggestion of replacement. "The sand inside is all that matters," Amanda would declare. "And it never wears out." One time, she flipped it over and grabbed Lee's hand. "It just changes locations!" she said with a laugh.
Then, come the news that devastated the family. The hourglass stayed in almost constant use for most of the next six months, as everyone made demands for its precious time. Amanda, a woman who knew better, had let time pass by her too quickly. After seeing a billboard, and remembering that it had been three years since her last mammogram, she made an appointment. With a bravery Lee knew was born somewhat out of shock, Amanda told first her husband, and then her boys, that she had breast cancer. Surgery and chemotherapy were tried, but it was too late. The men in her life watched as she slowly wasted away in front of their eyes.
On the day of her funeral, rain was in the forecast. If Amanda were there, she would laugh and tell them not to worry. It was on the days that the weathermen predicted thirty percent chances of rain that they left their cars at home. Eighty-percent chances meant it was time to get out the convertible. She was not there though. The sun shinned, and not a cloud was in the sky, as her family prepared to leave for the cemetery.
The shattering of glass broke the strangely numb calm that surrounded the group. Lee, his heart in his throat, turned to see one of his granddaughters surrounded by broken glass and sand. Anger welled up inside of him, and he almost said things he would forever regret, but then he saw the sheen of tears in those eyes of hers. Amanda's eyes. Reaching over to yank her out of the mess before she got hurt, he held her in his arms and told her that it was all right. He and Grandma knew she had not meant to break it. Her hot tears froze him as the breeze gently blew in through the open doors.
Lee's eyes remained dry throughout the entire service. Even as he watched them lower the casket into the ground, he felt dead inside--an old feeling he had almost forgotten. Grasping his hand of dirt, he slowly opened it and let the moist ground slide out between his fingers. As the small clumps hit the coffin, moments of Amanda ran through his mind.
Laughing as she picked up her first granddaughter . . .
Sleeping in a cardboard box with his arms wrapped tight around her . . .
Her hands shaking nervously the first time she unbuttoned his shirt to make love with him . . .
The angry glare she gave as he grabbed her in a train station . . .
How pale and tiny she looked on an ambulance gurney . . .
Crying softly as they stood around Dotty's fresh grave . . .
Staying beside him to disarm a bomb as everyone else ran away . . .
Believing in him when no one else would . . .
Telling him that she loved him, too . . .
Under a sheet of plastic as she fought for her life . . .
How she looked dressed as a "housewife" at their first costume party together . . .
Her reaction to learning his job . . .
Flying a helicopter . . .
Crying with him about the small seed of life that had left her body in a pool of blood . . .
Dragging him in to celebrate Christmas with her family . . .
The nervous but anxious look on her face after he locked the door for their first kiss . . .
The joy on her face as she welcomed each of her daughters-in-law to the family . . .
How beautiful she was during their private wedding ceremony . . .
How even more beautiful she was during their public one . . .
Lee looked down at his palm. In the dust remaining there, he could see the glimmer of sand. Finally, the tears he unknowingly had fought for so long began to stream down his face. Looking down at the cold metal box that would forever hold his wife's remains, he told her body goodbye. The glittering dust, however, had reminded him that she would be forever with him.
Yes, the hourglass was broken, but sand was forever. It was all that mattered, and it never wore out. It just changed locations.