She first found the dial on a snowy day while looking for the thermostat. The house’s temperature dropped quickly in winter, a downside she hadn’t fully considered when she arrived in June. Its rickety, drafty old-ness had charmed her and made her want to live there. But when she found herself wearing all her clothes at once, unable to control the internal climate, she acknowledged that she might have romanticized that too much.
The dial was embedded in the basement wall, a rusted, unmarked metal thing bigger than her splayed hand, cold to the touch and lacking any markings at all. She had trouble gripping it, and as she turned it, she felt massive resistance and had to brace with her legs. Eventually, she managed to rotate it a few degrees and tromped back upstairs, pleased with herself.
It was late morning when she installed herself on the couch to read, sunlight checkering the floor, so she was surprised to look up after a few chapters and discover darkness outside the window. Some days went fast, she guessed, and shuffled off to bed. She woke up groggy and unrested to an early-rising sun and a house still so frigid that she could see her breath. That day, too, disappeared before it had even started, and she fell asleep feeling anxious and useless, wondering how she’d wasted all that time.
A thought occurred to her. She returned to the basement, wrapped her fingers around the freezing dial, and forced it back to its approximate original position. But as she grew sleepy after lunch – watched a movie, called a friend – the sun didn’t set. Only after she’d listened to three records in a row did the light begin to fade.
She must have overshot.
It took a few tries before she managed to return time to a speed that felt right, standard, though she was never sure again. At first it felt like a gift. When things were bad, a trip to the basement made them rush by; when she wanted a moment to last, she needed only come up with some excuse to sneak downstairs, and it would. But she soon realized that the pace at which something happened changed what happened. An evening so lovely she never wanted it to end went sour with boredom if it actually… didn’t. Fast-forwarding through troubles left them unresolved, as if she’d skipped across their surface when she should have gotten wet.
Privately, she decided not to tell anyone about the dial – an agreement with herself that came to haunt her as life went on, and various lovers and children begged her to move, closer to them or to the city, or just away from the house’s constant dripping faucets and attic leaks. But she couldn’t leave. She resolved to stop using it. An addict drifting in and out of recovery, she’d go years without touching it, only to crack for something that later felt silly: a bird at the feeder, a rare visit from a grandchild.
She sits in front of it now, scared and shaky, at the end of her days. With the last of her strength, she scrabbles at its surface, trying to turn it back, to eke a few more instants from her life. Hoping, that if she turns it far enough, it’ll run backwards, and she can start again, never find this house, and live as we’re meant to: at time’s mercy, instead of the other way around.