Instructions For Understanding 42 Days Detention

By Ali Smith

Sit quietly in a place that’s not of your choosing.   
Set the stopwatch to keep time for one minute.  
You’re guilty.  
It doesn't matter that you aren’t or mightn’t be, you just are.     
For just one second, imagine it.
For two seconds, imagine it.
For three consecutive seconds, imagine it.
You’re presumed guilty
Though there’s no evidence against you.
Repeat presumption until the sixtieth second.
There. The minute’s up.
Take a deep breath.  
Sixty minutes in an hour.
One thousand four hundred and forty minutes in a day.
Ten thousand and eighty minutes in a week.
Sixty thousand, four hundred and eighty minutes in forty two days.
The difference between August and October.
The difference between May and March.
Three million, six hundred and twenty eight thousand, eight hundred seconds.
Now, are you sitting comfortably?
No, you can’t leave.
No, you can’t go.
You’ve no right. It’s the law.

Ali Smith is the author of several books, including The Accidental and most recently The First Person and Other Stories.