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  • Abigail Rhee

11:39AM

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

by Abigail Rhee


 

On a spring Sunday morning, when the birds were singing and it’s 11:39 AM, eight- year-old Matthew Cohen meets eight-year-old Claire Lovelace in a sandbox.


Claire taps his shoulder and clears her throat. “Hullo! My name’s Claire,” she says primly. “Can I borrow your spade? Mummy forgot to pack mine.”


Matthew tilts his head at Braids Girl (now known as Claire) and her sunflower shirt. “My name’s Ma-Ma—” His face scrunches up in an attempt to say his name. “Ma-tthew. But my mama calls me Mattie. Is that a sunflower on your shirt?”


“Mattie!” Claire chirps, and plops down next to Mattie. “That’s a real nice name. And yeah, it is. It’s real pretty.” She reaches for the spade and starts filling up her bucket with sand, humming as she does so. “Whatcha makin’ in the sand?”


“Houses,” Matthew smiles, drawing little pathways with a stick. “Making a sand town.”


“Don’t you think the town would be better with a tower?”


“A tower? What for?”


“‘Cos!” Claire says eloquently, grinning widely. “Towers have dragons, and dragons are cool. They live in the sky, and mummy said sky people can see ‘em!"


“Yeah!” Matthew mirrors Claire’s wide smile. “Dragons!”


Matthew spends the rest of his Sunday morning (and a little bit of his afternoon) building sand towns with dragon towers all over. When the sun is high over their heads and most of the sandbox is part of their sand country (Sountry, as Claire says), Matthew’s mother tells them that Matthew has to go home.


“No fair!” Matthew groans. “But our sand town!”


“Don’t worry!” Claire shakes her head. “We’ll protect the town tomorrow!”


And so Matthew heads home, with memories of Claire Lovelace and their Sountry in

between his toes and shorts.


 

On a hot summer’s afternoon, where the school’s ugly analog clock reads 11:39 AM by the hand, fifteen-year-old Matthew Cohen and fifteen-year-old Claire Lovelace are sat in

their school’s library, huddled over a magazine.


Matthew can hardly remember what the magazine itself was titled (was it Teen Vogue? It had to be Teen Vogue—) but he can recognize the excited lilt of Claire’s voice as she talks about her interests and the current state of the world— (How can someone make politics sound so interesting?)



“You know,” Claire says, after a period of silence (they were just reading articles at that point) “I want to change the world someday.”


“Yeah?” Matthew looks up at her. “How so?”


“Y’know. Become president, win a Nobel Peace Prize— easy things.” She laughs sardonically. “Just kidding. I just… I wish I was important.”


“I think,” Matthew says quietly. “I think you’re very important.”


“You think so?”


“I know so.”


Claire’s lips quirk up in a smile. “Thanks, Mattie.”


Matthew opens up his mouth to say something before the alarm bell rang as a five- minute warning before their next period started. They both scramble up to their feet, put the magazine away, and walk out of the library.


And all he can focus on for the next hour is how pretty Claire is when she smiles.


 

On a cool autumn day, when reds and oranges gather along footpaths to create a swirl of sunset on the ground and his phone reads 11:39 AM, twenty-year-old Matthew Cohen and

twenty-year-old Claire Lovelace are walking side by side.


“You’re skipping class?” Claire raises an eyebrow. “You do realize that I’m only out here ‘cause I have a free period right?”


“Nah, it’s fine,” Matthew grins. “Besides, it’s not like Professor Greenwich even pays attention to a kid in the back row. We can stay here. Promise.”


“Suit yourself,” Claire laughs, and turns her head left and right. “Help me find a nice sitting tree, will you?”


“A sitting tree? What the hell is that?” Matthew snorts.


“A sitting tree!” Claire says indignantly. “Y’know, a tree you sit under. It’s nice that way.”


The duo find themselves searching high and low for the perfect sitting tree. Some of them were low or “didn’t have enough leaves”, and Matthew, quite honestly, was more focused on Claire’s face than the trees around him.


As he feigns interest at a fallen maple leaf, Claire lets out a victorious whoop. “Found it!”


“Found what?”


“The sitting tree!”


Matthew slowly makes his way over and flops over a pile of leaves. “I assume this is how you rest under these trees.”

“You’re right,” Claire smiles, and flops down next to him.


Electricity floods Matthew’s bones. “Yeah?”


“Yeah.”

They stay like that for a moment longer.


“You know,” Matthew finally says, breaking what seemed like a century’s worth of silence. “I have something to say.”


“You do?” Claire turns over. “Come on. Spill.”


“I think I like you,” Matthew says, but it’s so fast that it comes out as “IthinkIlikeyou.”


Claire’s eyes brighten up. “Oh my God. Really?”


“Yeah,” Matthew says, and it’s like every muscle in his body relaxed at once. “Really."


Claire presses her lips to his, and that’s all Matthew can feel for the next few hours.


 

On a cold winter’s evening, where all of the windows are shut and a digital clock

reads 11:39 AM, twenty-five-year old Claire Lovelace arrives at a cemetery. It’s been three months since his death. It’s been three months since Matthew Cohen stopped being Matthew Cohen. Claire lets out a shuddering sigh and picks up the bouquet she’s carried for a while

now. Her feet make lonely imprints in the pristine white of the floor. The wind claws down

her arms and she almost expects Matthew to walk on her left side.


Almost.


She finds Matthew’s headstone and places the flowers down on the stone. She smiles

tearfully.


“Hey, Mattie,” Claire tries to keep her voice cheerful, but a tear streams down her

cheek. “Seen any dragons, yet?”

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