TOM=TIME

A Fable.

THE ELEVATOR CLIMBS into the sky. A notion suddenly occurs to me that
forces a smile: a luxury highrise in midtown Manhattan is not typical grounds
for visitation by a Catholic priest. Then again, I am not one. I’m merely
pretending. You might call me a blessing in disguise. 

This ascending chamber is a box of mirrors. I scrutinize my choices in its interior. Short; gaunt and bony; white hair; indeterminate brownish skin. Perhaps a reasonable guess would be around sixty or sixty-five years of age. Black suit, white collar. 

But the eyes, I want them to appear deceptive. Large, ice-blue, filled with something you can’t account for - having seen things, as a popular science-fiction movie put it once, you people wouldn’t believe. 

What things? War? Death? The corridors of Heaven? I don’t want him to know. I want him to look at me and feel the questions. 

This will do. The deepened crow’s feet, the small scar to the left of the left eye - those are just additional touches. 

Then, arrival. A tiny bell chimes and the wide door slides open, depositing me directly into a penthouse apartment. It accounts for the entire floor.

I step out into a spacious foyer. The walls are a brilliant white, almost gleaming. The decor is modern, chic, with gorgeous furniture. There are dark wood highlights here and there, chrome tracked lighting, brightness, airiness, as if we were up in the clouds. Which we are: it’s the forty-eighth floor. 

Standing immediately before me on the magnificent Bazilian rosewood floor is a very short Latino woman in a gray, nondescript dress. A domestic worker. She looks at me with no registration of surprise, though I am not expected - scheduling never plays into my thinking. One supposes this woman has seen a lot of strangers come and go, so startling her may require more. 

I flash a smile, the warmest imaginable. She opens her mouth to speak, but there’s no need. A sudden padding of feet and a deep voice are heard. “Babe? Is everything all right?” 

And the man himself emerges from behind a wall directly to my front to stand beside the small woman. She raises a tiny, dark hand, palm upturned - a practiced and graceful gesture. He places his own hand, that right one, benevolently upon her shoulder. 

Tom Brady then gazes down upon me. He stands six feet four inches tall, and looks somehow taller than that, with his slender build, one that does not necessarily make you think of a professional athlete, let alone one of the greatest in history. 

 

He looks like he stepped off the page of a Ralph Lauren catalog. His hair is cut short, impeccable. He wears a charcoal gray V-neck sweater, a white shirt underneath, and dark tan chinos. His feet are cradled in a pair of brown UGG slippers, a product he endorses, that look very warm. Perfect for late March when it is still a chilly, grayish forty degrees beyond these walls. 

His eyes widen only subtly, and briefly. Then, a broad grin, a smile that blends in with his walls. And a sheen of ice creeps in over his own blue stare. 

“Greetings. Can I help you?” He breathes in deeply, instinctively, and his already ramrod posture assumes its full form. 

 I take one gentle step forward, stop, raise my right hand to shake. 

“Good morning. I’m Father Tyme.”  

Tom Brady smiles again, his head cocking a little. A knowledgeable expression creeps over him, as if to indicate, Ah. One of these. He chuckles, humorlessly, but steps forward himself, and politely grasps my hand. His handshake has the firmness you might expect from a man who can effectively direct fully-inflated footballs. 

“Father Tyme,” he repeats. “All right. My name’s Tom Brady.” 

There’s a brief moment, and I look directly into his eyes. He sees me. 

“Um-hmm,” he says, still grinning brilliantly, but just a smidgen less so. “How might I help you, father? Are you, ah, …”

“Expected?” I finish for him. “No sir, I am not.” 

“I see,” he nods. “Yes, I don’t recall setting up---”

“There was no invitation, if that’s what you mean,” I tell him. “Tyme waits for no man.” 

I see Tom Brady make his determination. He laughs politely, but moves: he places his right hand on my own shoulder now, while stepping off slightly to his left: he is trying to motion me towards the elevator.

“Father, I appreciate your stopping by. Unfortunately, my schedule is a bit full today, so I’m going to have to …”

But I don’t move. His hand remains on my shoulder. When he feels that I am standing firm, he looks directly into my eyes again. Now I see something else in his expression. Am I a threat? His smile flattens slightly, elongates. 

“I wonder if you might give me five minutes,” I say quietly, but my tone is firm. “I was going to say ‘of your time’ but the thing is, young man, technically speaking, it’s not yours. If it’s anyone’s, it’s mine.” 

Tom Brady does not quite know what to make of this observation. But have some empathy. Would you? 

Suddenly he inquires, almost involuntarily, “Did you speak to the doorman?” 

“Omar? Oh, yes. He and I go, shall I say, way back.” I keep my eyes locked on him. 

“Mr. Brady?” the small woman squeaks behind us in a voice matching her stature, but perhaps not her mettle. “Would you like me to call?” She fails to specify who. 

Tom Brady says over his shoulder, while still matching my gaze, “No, Rosa. It’s okay. I will handle this.”

The woman nods, takes one step back, then leaves the room. For a moment I am positive she is going to exit the whole way walking backwards. That would be a little much. But then again, this man has won seven Super Bowls. 

Tom Brady is now staring at me with very little of his wide, artificial smile left, and a kind of blue mist in his eyes. 

He says to me, in a quieter tone, “Have we met before, Father?”

I answer: “In a sense.” 

Then there is what feels like a long pause, or it would feel that way to most. I can hear childrens’ voices hollering about something in the background, somewhere in the chambers of this palatial residence. 

I can see him searching me. He is doing this in the same manner he looks at film of his opponents, as he will do early in a fall work week, Monday, Tuesday, well into the night. Shifts, tics, body language - Tom Brady is a high stakes poker player, waiting for those who aspire to take his chips to broadcast their intentions. 

Finally, he says, “Father, I am from a Catholic household. I have respect for men like you. Your level of commitment, well, it’s just awesome. However--”

“Actually I am not a priest. That’s just part of how I got up here,” I say matter of factly. 

After a few moments’ consideration, Tom Brady says, “Impersonating a Catholic priest, while I’m no expert, appears to me to be morally suspect. I’m not so sure I appreciate you doing that. So if you don’t mind stating your business?”

“I am Father Time,” I repeat, and in my voice the subtle distinction is there between “y” and “i”. Tom Brady doesn’t miss it. There is not much that Tom Brady does miss! Unless you count that one potential touchdown pass in Super Bowl LII. He missed that. 

“I am the opponent. ‘Tom vs. Time,’ I believe that series you made with your friends is called. I’m the latter. And, as one talking head even says in there, I believe it’s in Episode 1: ‘Father Time is undefeated.’ So, I thought maybe you and I should sit down.”

Tom Brady is not smiling anymore. Either in his eyes or with his mouth. 

I hold my hands straight down on either side of my body. I breathe in and out, slowly, in a measured way. 

At that moment, a baby’s distinctive cry - a hungry one - is heard somewhere in the annals of the apartment behind us. I keep my eyes on Tom Brady’s. His own narrow and his self-confidence flutters. The expression on his face shifts, indicating something is wrong. 

“Excuse me for a second,” he mumbles quietly. Then he turns and hurries from the room. 

I wait. 

 

*

After an indeterminate stretch, Tom Brady returned. He strode quietly back into the room. He looked slightly … confused. 

Then he lifted his eyes to mine again and said, “Who are you?” 

“I believe we’ve covered that,” I replied. 

He took that in and seemed to mull it over a little while longer. 

“Are you willing to speak for a few minutes?” I repeated politely. “There’s something I would like to ask you.” 

“Did you hear---?” Tom Brady inquired, obviously still thinking about what just transpired. “I heard a baby crying.” 

“Yes, I heard that.” 

“ I don’t have a baby.” 

“True,” I nodded. “But you did have one. At an earlier point.” 

Tom Brady opened his mouth, raised his right hand to make some kind of gesture. But I interrupted him. 

“Listen. I want to be respectful. It was me who imposed myself upon you. But I am, as they say, limited. Or at least, from your perspective.” 

The look that crept over Tom Brady’s face then was one that, while I don’t play the game, I would be willing to wager had never been seen by, say, an opposing defensive end or linebacker. Or not for at least a decade, anyway. 

“Okay,” said the quarterback. “Sure. Why don’t you have a seat right in here.” He held up his left hand and directed me, finally, to a living area to my right. There were two loveseats, straight-edged end tables, a few plants, and one huge, spectacular view of midtown Manhattan from some giant windows along the western wall. 

“Thank you,” I said congenially. “It’s so beautiful.” 

“Thank you,” Tom Brady managed. “If you don’t mind waiting just a couple more minutes, I’ll be right back. I just need to make an … adjustment.” 

“Of course.” 

“Make yourself at home, er, father,” he said, and half-chuckled, like a person who’s given up on contesting a situation they find absurd. 

He stepped towards the kitchen, pulling out a cell phone. Then I heard him speaking quietly, explaining to someone that he would be a “a bit late.” “Something has come up here,” he said. 

I sat down in a rather lush easy chair, closest to the windows, my back to the city. 

After only a short while Tom Brady walked back in, carrying a small tray. On it there was what looked like a cut crystal bowl filled with raw almonds and two bottles of water made out of a bluish glass. He set the tray down on the coffee table, then handed me one of the bottles. 

“Water, infused with electrolytes,” he said calmly. “Hydration. So important.” 

“Indeed,” I said. “Thank you.” 

“You’re quite welcome,” said Tom Brady. He settled down onto one of the loveseats, nearly opposite me, grinning widely. Then he continued, “Now, I’m going to be candid, sir. I’m pretty busy, as you can probably imagine. You came here unannounced, and made your way past Omar. I’ll have to have a talk with him.” 

“Oh, I took care of Omar,” I cut in. 

“I wonder what that even means,” Tom Brady replied. “Did you … threaten him?” He kept the grin going, strangely. 

“Of course not. I’ll have him in the end.” 

My host’s smile faded. 

“That was a joke,” I said. “Sorry. I’ve been known to do that.” 

“What do you want.” It was a statement. Tom Brady leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his famed hands folded loosely between them. 

“I would like to propose that you and I work together,” I said, at last. “In coming here today, something I considered for a while, you might say that my motivation boils down to a simple cliche: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

Tom Brady gave it one beat. Then he released his hands, slapped both knees lightly, and stood.

“Okay, listen. I’m sorry, but---”

I had put my hands on my own knees, closed my eyes, and breathed. 

Suddenly a loud noise jolted the room, a thump coming from directly behind me. 

Tom Brady flinched, only for the briefest moment. His gaze went over my shoulder. 

“Whoa - oh, I hate that. It happens occasionally.”

I glanced behind me innocently. There was a smear on the glass window. Tom Brady, distracted, walked over and looked down. “A bird flew right into---”

I breathed in and then out, slowly. 

The smear abruptly vanished. As if an invisible hand had wiped it away. A white bird suddenly materialized in midair. It streaked towards the window, then jerked to the side at the last moment, apparently seeing Tom Brady’s figure standing there. It flapped off. 

The man gasped. He swiveled on one heel, staring. 

I held out my hand towards the seat he had just left. 

“You were saying.”

*

 

“What is this? Am I dreaming? Are you God, or something?” Tom Brady asks. 

I shrug. “I’m not even really sure.”

He chuckles in spite of himself, smiling again, shaking his head. “You don’t know if you’re God or not?”

Slowly he returns to the loveseat he has been sitting on, his slippered feet making little noise. There he lowers himself opposite me again. He seems a bit rattled, understandably. 

“I haven’t really sorted all of that out yet,” I say, truthfully.

“But ....”

I have to say it is interesting to see Tom Brady struggling. Who gets to see this? Other than Gisele?  

“How about you?” I ask him. “Do you know if you’re God?”

“Me?”

I shrug again, raise my eyebrows.

“Sometimes I wonder about that, actually.”

“Right. Well, so does Flynn in Southie. Or O’Driscoll in Quincy, Mass. At all hours.”

Tom Brady laughs. “Awesome,” he says. “But that’s not what I meant to … I mean, the way that sounded.” 

“Well. Let’s think about this. What is it that they call you? The GOAT? Isn’t that right? What’s the ‘T’ stand for?” 

“That’s just a label. It’s a media thing.”

“So maybe you sort of, you know, outrank me. As it were.” Now it’s my turn to smile at him. 

“Wait a minute, though, father. I never called myself that. That’s just a word, a term that’s been applied to me. So you can’t - I mean, I’m not suggesting - by the way, is that what I’m supposed to call you? Are we even having this conversation?” Tom Brady runs his hand through his hair. 

“So far as you know,” I answer him calmly. 

The quarterback, the field general, looks at me again. His eyes are full of uncertainty. But something is gathering behind them. We’ve all seen Tom Brady on the sideline, after an interception, or when he’s not in possession of the lead. Outwardly, he’s calm. But there’s anger there. There’s fire. I see this flickering now. 

I put my hands back on my knees. Center myself. 

“I’m sorry,” he continues. “But you can’t just come in here, talk in circles, try to get inside my - under my -’

“Dad?”

Both of us turn towards the voice, which emerges from the cavernous foyer in which we first met a little while ago. 

There stands a young man. He is quite tall, at least as tall as Tom Brady. He has brown hair, perhaps a shade or two lighter than the quarterback’s. It’s sort of neatly disheveled. He’s dressed in a dark Navy blue tracksuit with a white logo over the breast that reads “TB12.” He has a gym bag over one shoulder and is carrying a plastic sheath with a few cards in it. 

His eyes are blue, and he has a squarish jaw. He looks extremely similar to Tom Brady. 

The latter rises slowly from the loveseat. He assumes his full stature. Then he nearly whispers: “Jackie?” 

He looks hurriedly at me, then back at the other figure. 

The young man’s brow furrows, indicating mild surprise. 

“Uh … yeah?” he shakes his head a little. “Listen, I’m sorry to interrupt. Just real quick … I was messaging with Alex, he mentioned you were a little held up. So, uh, I’ll just meet you over there. All right?”  

Tom Brady slowly walks over to him. Then he quietly, lightly, embraces his son. “Jack,” he says again, in a shaken voice. 

Jack Brady’s eyes shift towards mine, then abruptly turn away. He looks bewildered. 

“Uh … right. Are you okay, Dad?”

His father pulls back, and for a brief moment he looks at the younger man again, both hands resting on his shoulders. 

“Yeah,” Tom Brady half-whispers. “I’m fine.” 

“Ooooookay,” says the younger Brady, still perplexed. “Well, ah, I’ll see you over there, then.” 

He walks off to the elevator, hoisting the gym bag on his shoulder. He lifts one hand in a kind of half-wave to me. Presses the button on the wall. Then he casts one more, almost worried glance towards his father. 

All three of us freeze. I, with my hands on my knees. Tom Brady with his back to me. Jack Brady at the elevator. 

The tiny bell rings.

*

 

Next, I will open my eyes. Tom Brady will be seated across from me again, tears in his. The sunlight will pour in from the gigantic windows. More small, white birds will be whorling around outside. 

In the background there will be children’s voices, hollering about something. 

“Okay,” Tom Brady will say, his language betraying stilted breath, perhaps even straight-up fear. “Explain yourself. Tell me what you want from me.” 

I will take a deep breath and begin again. 

“Everyone has me in their sights. Right? Everyone wonders about me. From Aristotle to Marcel Proust to The Bangles - you always have. I typically don’t engage. It is your lot to wonder. It is mine to never expire. But I don’t really know if I cannot ever expire. Jesus said at least once, ‘until the end of the age’ - implying the age has an end.

“But almost no one I can recall,” I will go on, “fights me as hard, and as effectively, as you. Or even thinks about me in the same way. I find it interesting. ‘Tom Vs. Time.’ That’s funny. When the guy on your show said that I’m ‘undefeated,’ I could almost see, hear, and feel the fire roar into life in you. You want me. You want to get me on some level playing field. It occurred to me that I can use that.”

At that point I’ll pause. Tom Brady will stare at me, moisture still lingering in his gaze, but resolve slowly overtaking it. 

“So I want to make a deal,” I will explain further. “You have more that you want to accomplish in football. Well, I have things I want to do, too. I grow a little tired of my work, here and there. I’d like some anonymity on occasion. I need a break. A vacation. Didn’t The Bangles touch on that subject too?”

Tom Brady will suddenly break out in a short, chortling laugh. He won’t be able to help it. That will be by design. Humor has to have impeccable, well. You know. 

“No, no. That was The Go-Gos,” he will blurt. 

“Ah! The Go-Gos. Well, I was close.” 

Tom Brady will be shaking his head. I’ll feel a little guilty for the mush I will be making of his mind. I will. But, then again, remember, Tom Brady has faced adversity. He’s been messed with before. Every single team in the NFL passed him over through six draft rounds!

“Anyway, you want to keep playing. I want a ‘spotter,’ if you want to put it that way. I will keep you on the field until at least age 45. I would say at least one more title is a distinct possibility. But that’s really up to you, and your teammates, and your coaches. Especially that one.”

There Tom Brady will interrupt me. He’ll say, “And in return, I will …?”

“You will do my job. To put it in terms you can understand, you will help me manage the clock. You won’t have to worry about fighting me so hard. You can be me, in effect. I mean, what else are you going to do after football?”

Tom Brady will have his head down, listening. He’ll he still struggling, mentally, with all that is going through his mind. With what my little, we may as well call them “demonstrations,” will have rustled up within it. 

“There are lots of things I can do. Things I’ve been thinking about and planning for a while.”

“But none of them are, shall we say, worthy of what you have achieved already,” I will counter. “You are the GOAT, after all. Right? I’m offering you the chance to do something no one has done in the entire history of man. If it helps, think of it is a victory. It’s like seven Super Bowls, or even more. It’s uncharted terrain. It’s appropriate for you, as a pursuit.” 

“But,” the GOAT will insist, “How … that’s .... what you’re talking about, that’s not a job. A man’s got to make a living.”  

I will smile back at him, gently. I’ll look around the room. 

“You need to make a living?” 

Tom Brady will fold his hands, rub them together. “This is crazy,” he’ll say. 

“I’m giving you a unique opportunity,” I will answer. 

Then will come that moment I know will arrive. 

Tom Brady will stand up. His eyes will be awash with blue fire. This, here, will be the face that giant men looking over the line of scrimmage would recognize. 

“See, that’s my real problem with what you’re saying,” he will begin. “You’re handing it to me. I don’t want anything handed to me. Nothing I have has come to me that way! And whatever I do next won’t either!

“Everything you have said implies that you, or something else, has brought me to where I am. But I did it. I  learned how to stay focused. I learned to educate my muscles, my brain, to do the things I ask them to. I have trained my body to achieve optimum performance. 

“You were not on the practice fields. You were not out there in the hot sun, in the snow, working on rep after rep after rep. You have not built the career I built. And you will not dictate how long I sustain that career, either.” 

I will give it a few moments and then stand up, smiling. I’ll breathe gently, slowly. I’ll walk up close to Tom Brady, in that bright, clean, almost other-worldly space. 

He will stare down at me, still wearing that plastic smile he’s so skilled at, while his blue eyes bore into mine. He will see the crow’s feet. He’ll see the scar I brought up earlier. He’ll see the beginnings of something. An awareness will start to dawn. 

“Tom Brady,” I will say calmly, softly. “You really believe that? That you’ve achieved all of this yourself? You have said to journalists that there is so much in football you cannot ‘unknow.’ But I assure you: I can unknow for you everything you have ever known. 

“Did I not just show you your own adult son? Tell me, how did he look to you? Did he look exactly as you thought he would? Or, did he look far better than anything you could have imagined?”

The two of us will stand together. We’ll be looking at each other. It will be a moment that sustains. We will lose track of it. 

Finally, I will say to this mortal man, “I want you to think it all over. I’ll be back in touch.”

And I will slowly pivot and walk to the elevator. 

After a moment, I will hear from behind me:

“Wait. Let’s just assume I accept what you’re saying. How would we … how would it all … work?” Tom Brady will want to know. 

I’ll turn around, shrug again. 

“Eh, I don’t know? This doesn’t really have a precedent. There will be a lot of things to figure out. But, I mean, it does not have to all be worked out now. Right?”

Tom Brady will walk towards me, slowly, his strong mind working, calculating. 

I’ll press the button. Mechanical sounds will fill the silence between us. 

He’ll ask, “How long will that take? Figuring it all out?” 

The tiny bell will chime. It will seem very loud. 

I’ll hold up my empty hands. “It’ll take an eternity,” I’ll say. “But it’ll be over in a moment.” 

Then I’ll step into the waiting elevator, take one last look at the Greatest of All Time, and descend down, down, back into the present.

(c) 2019 by Jude Joseph Lovell

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