We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it.
We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin.
We were distracted back then by weather and war. We had no interest in the turning of the earth. Bombs continued to explode on the streets of distant countries. Hurricanes came and went. Summer ended. A new school year began. The clocks ticked as usual. Seconds beaded into minutes. Minutes grew into hours. And there was nothing to suggest that those hours, too, weren’t still pooling into days, each the same fixed length known to every human being.
But there were those who would later claim to have recognized the disaster before the rest of us did. These were the night workers, the graveyard shifters, the stockers of shelves, and the loaders of ships, the drivers of big- rig trucks, or else they were the bearers of different burdens: the sleepless and the troubled and the sick. These people were accustomed to waiting out the night. Through bloodshot eyes, a few did detect a certain persistence of darkness on the mornings leading up to the news, but each mistook it for the private misperception of a lonely, rattled mind.
On the sixth of October, the experts went public. This, of course, is the day we all remember. There’d been a change, they said, a slowing, and that’s what we called it from then on: the slowing.
“We have no way of knowing if this trend will continue,” said a shy bearded scientist at a hastily arranged press conference, now infamous. He cleared his throat and swallowed. Cameras flashed in his eyes. Then came the moment, replayed so often afterward that the particular cadences of that scientist’s speech— the dips and the pauses and that slight midwestern slant— would be forever married to the news itself. He went on: “But we suspect that it will continue.”
Our days had grown by fifty- six minutes in the night.
At the beginning, people stood on street corners and shouted about the end of the world. Counselors came to talk to us at school. I remember watching Mr. Valencia next door fill up his garage with stacks of canned food and bottled water, as if preparing, it now seems to me, for a disaster much more minor.
The grocery stores were soon empty, the shelves sucked clean like chicken bones.
The freeways clogged immediately. People heard the news, and they wanted to move. Families piled into minivans and crossed state lines. They scurried in every direction like small animals caught suddenly under a light.
But, of course, there was nowhere on earth to go.
Chapter 10 (page 85-86)
It was voluntary, of course. We were not required to squeeze our days into twenty- four little hours. No new law was passed or put into place. This was America. The government could not dictate the way we lived our lives. But in the week following the president’s announcement, as the natural days swelled to a record thirty- two hours, officials of various levels and types of expertise went to work convincing us of the virtues of the plan— and the urgency with which we needed to launch it. Clock time, they called it, the only practical solution. It was a matter of economic stability, said the politicians, of competitive advantage, and even, some insisted, national security.
I know now that clock time ignited a complex national debate— with just as many dissenters shouting from the far left as from the far right— but in my memory, it happened all at once, a clean tidal shift, abrupt and complete.
The public schools jumped on board right away. Government offices, too. The television networks all decided to comply. The corporations were definitely doing it— they’d been losing millions every week in inefficiency and overtime pay.
But any American could choose to forgo clock time, to remain instead on daylight time, or what some were already referring to as real time. We were still free to arrange our lives around the sun’s comings and goings if we wished, but soon those who did risked losing their jobs or having to quit. Their children could no longer practically attend public school. They’d be perpetually out of time with society. To hesitate would have been like choosing to linger in some evacuated city where the buildings and the streets remain, but the city, let’s face it, has disappeared.
Chapter 24 (page 194-195)
We were solemn as we climbed back up through the canyon. We were hot and exhausted. It was the twenty- third hour of daylight. The sun showed no signs of sinking.
“It’s the magnetic field that’s doing it,” said Seth.
A strong wind blew through the canyon, kicking up dust and dried leaves.
“That’s why the whales are beaching themselves. They use the magnetic field for navigation, and now it’s decaying because of the slowing.”
I glanced at the sky, a smooth, unblemished blue.
“You can’t see it,” Seth said. “It’s invisible.”
Those were only the first of the whales. Hundreds more would soon wash ashore on the California coastline. Then thousands. Ten thousands. More. Eventually, people stopped trying to save them.
“It’s not just the whales who need the magnetic field,” said Seth as we arrived at the edge of the canyon and took our first steps on paved ground. “We need it, too. My dad says that all the humans would die without it.”
But that day I could hardly hear him. My mind was elsewhere.
I was a little bit in love. I’d spent an entire afternoon with Seth Moreno.