I don't know whether I dared risk this, what with gather being in the broken-down state that it is, but anyway here goes. I had the first spark of an idea in my head whilst lying in bed this morning and I thought it would make a lovely cuddly novel and so I've just written what may (or may not) be the first chapter. Others may (or may not) follow.
THE CLOCK MAN.
It was Friday, and not the thirteenth, and Ricky Shepherd, aged seventy-something, felt quite at ease, going out of his front door at the crack of dawn (or not long after, he wasn't quite sure when the crack of dawn actually was) and starting his weekly slow walk to the local church hall.
He did this most Fridays, thirteenth or otherwise.
On Fridays there was a flea market in that church hall. Every Friday without fail, every week (except when the vicar decided it was a Saint's day or something non-secular like that), and the same stallholders held their sway with their totally predictable wares. They set up their trestle tables with odds and ends that they didn't value enough to want to keep for themselves and tried to sell them. It was oft mooted that one man's junk was another man's treasure, and Ricky knew that.
It was the kids these days that discarded the good stuff as though it had no value whatsoever and Ricky knew, deep in his soul, that just about everything has value of one sort or another. Even discarded fish and chips lying unloved under a hedge-bottom might fill the bellies of a myriad hungry creatures, and there can be no greater value than that which provides food for the starving. But it wasn't discarded fast food that fascinated Ricky. It was memories.
When you're seventy-something you're old enough to have accumulated a bucket full of memories and not so old that you've forgotten them, he thought.
And he knew he was right. His mind was as sharp as ever, and when he closed his eyes (not now walking down a busy street, that would invite disaster if he wandered into the path of a speeding lorry, but back at home in bed when he was half way between being awake and being alseep) he could see them as sharply and focussed as when they'd been given birth in the long ago of his life. His school days – those wretched “best days of your life” which were anything but, had moments that were still etched bright and clear inside his head. His time in the army, national service being bellowed at by one legalised bully after another, there were khaki-clad dramas that had formed part of his life that still re-enacted themselves with a clarity undimmed by the frailties of memory.
And he enjoyed his past, the good and the bad and, he told himself, there hadn't been too much bad. School had been tough, avoiding the worst excesses of the history teacher who believed that dates from the past are most easily remembered if they've been beaten into the child's hand via a bamboo cane and a lot of muscle. His call-up in the army had been tougher because he'd had to leave Jane behind and Jane had been his first ever love and both of them had known, giggling, just how naughty they might have been.
But all that was part of a mottled past and Ricky still had at least one eye on the present as well as the future. He'd not reached that stage in a man's life when all he can do is trawl the past for excitement.
Jane Summers, for instance, she'd provided more than enough embryonic experience for a man to trawl through, small things, always the best, especially when you're young and learning.
He paused as he walked, and smiled to himself and a passing woman thought he was smiling at her and shook her head in annoyance because she'd never seen him before, silly old fart her shaking head seemed to say, thinking he can get off with me and him forty years or more older, he should coco... and she snorted and stomped off.
But he didn't notice.
In Jane's living room, on the mantelpiece, had stood a clock. He remembered it now with the clarity of one he might have seen yesterday, but it was fifty-odd years since he'd last been in the Summers house and gazed at that clock.
It was modern. No glass face, just a wooden cabinet, peaked at the top, with the numbers one to twelve in brass forming its face on the polished oak and two hands marking the passing of time. And there were two key-holes set in the varnished face, one for the time and one for the chimes. Mr Summers wound it up every Sunday and, if he was lucky, it lasted the week. In between, Mrs Summers dusted and polished it and kept it pristine. The clock had been loved!
In Ricky's head that clock had been the fulcrum of the Summers family and sometimes, when he and Jane had been left alone (foolish, leaving a testosterone-fuelled youth in the same room as a pretty girl and them both in their mid-teens) he had sometimes gazed at that clock nervously, wondering where its fingers would be when the Summers parents returned. They were never gone for long, and Jane was very pretty.
In the here and now he continued on his way.
Those were good times, he thought with a smile on his face once again and he almost bumped into the woman who had scowled earlier and when she saw the smile on his face for the second time on one day she struck him with her umbrella.
“Pervert!” she hissed.
“I'm sorry … I was miles away ...” he muttered, and scurried off.
There were plenty of stalls in the church hall. They were usually the same every week, and the stuff they offered for sale was nearly always the same as well: chipped Denby dishes here and watches with a hand missing there. (It's nine carat, suggested the stall-holder hopefully, no it isn't, is says made in Taiwan, his mind replied).
But both stall-holder and Ricky knew it didn't matter.
Then he pulled up to such a sudden standstill that a woman – the same woman – crashed into him and clouted him with her umbrella for a second time.
“You should look where you're going,” he growled.
“Pervert!” she screeched.
People looked and quite a few grinned. Ricky Shepherd was a familiar sight and the woman wasn't.
But it all meant nothing to him, the umbrella, the woman, the grinning onlookers.
On a stall that he'd looked at every week was the clock!
If is was no more than a look-alike clock then it was very look-alike. It would have to be from the same factory and made by the same craftsman's hands. They'd probably made hundreds, though Ricky had only ever seen the one in all of his life.
Then a memory flickered past his mind, swift but not so swift he couldn't catch it.
Way back, in his teens, he'd done something mischievous.
He'd been in Jane's front room and her parents had popped out, leaving the two of them together.
“Do you love me?” asked Jane, smiling so sweetly it made his underpants feel suddenly a great deal too small and tight.
“More than anything,” he vowed, so sincerely he would have died had she doubted him.
“Are you sure you love me? I mean, I love you...”
“I love you more than anything on Earth!” he had pledged, and it was so true he bit his own lip.
“I'll prove it if you like!” he swore.
“Okay, if you like.” She hadn't known what he meant, but that didn't matter. In a way she hoped it was something intimate and special, but he wouldn't have dared do anything like the things being fancifully and naughtily enacted in her mind.
Instead he stood up awkwardly and went to the clock and turned it round and scratched, with a pin used by Mr Summers to restart the hidden pendulum through a hole in the back if it stopped swinging, the message RLJ on the rough-planed back of the clock itself.
“What does that mean?” asked Jane.
He smiled at her, moved so close to her that he could almost feel her heartbeat through their teenage clothes, and pulled her even closer.
“You are naughty!” giggled Jane.
“It means Ricky loves Jane,” he said through shaking lips, because he did really and truly love her and because, unaccountably, he'd started shivering as if the Arctic ocean had suddenly moved into his veins.
“Do you?” she breathed.
He nodded, suddenly speechless.
He put the clock back on the mantelpiece and she, out of the blue and quite unexpectedly, pulled him onto the settee next to her and placed the most wonderful, the most sloppy and the most exciting kiss ever full on his lips...
He stood in the flea market, remembering.
He could almost taste that kiss as he stood there. Memories can be so powerful...
Then he picked up the clock, the battered thing on the stall with its tarnished brass numbers and one crooked hand – goodness knows where the other had gone – and looked at it carefully, lovingly, like a man might look into the remembered eyes of an angel, and then he slowly turned it over.
A splinter from its worn case pricked his finger and a droplet of blood oozed out, but that didn't matter.
He looked at the back cover, rough-cut and hanging from just the one hinge.
“Needs a new hour hand,” said the stall-keeper, more in hope than helpfulness.
“That's not all it needs,” he murmured.
He screwed his eyes up and stared at that loose back of the clock.
And he caught his breath, for there in the shabby cracked wood and, faint after so many years, and grimy, someone had scratched the moral “RLJ” and he knew who that someone was!
“Only a pound,” suggested the stall-holder.
Ricky nodded slowly.
“Fifty-pence, then,” muttered the stall-holder in an aggrieved tone.
All those memories for just fifty pence! Ricky looked up at him, then rummaged in a pocket.
“I knew this clock once,” he whispered, and he handed over a pound coin.
“Keep the change,” he added.
©Peter Rogerson 14.07.13