THE CLOCK MAN.
Chapter Four – The Clock.
The woman living across the road from Ricky waved cheerily as he let himself through his front gate. She did that quite often, wave cheerily as if they were bosom friends, but they weren't. They'd never even spoken, not once since she'd moved in, oh, it must have been a year ago. He assumed she might be a lonely soul, maybe recently widowed with a lifetime of grief on her shoulders, like he had. But he waved back anyway and scurried into his home carrying his cheap but precious flea-market purchase. There was something really important to be done. There was a clock to be looked at and no little grey-haired old lady was going to get in the way! It had been the spookiest coincidence that had put this particular clock in front of his eyes when it did, and he was going to take full advantage of it without allowing unwanted distractions to get in the way.
He carried it in and placed it carefully on his kitchen table, and then attended to important stuff.
A nice cup of tea, thought Ricky Shepherd, is an absolute must before a man starts making an old clock work again when it's probably not worked for years and years.
When he'd carefully brewed his cup he sat down and sighed. Then he picked up the clock he had bought at the local Church Hall flea market and he looked at the front face. It was almost as he remembered it from his teenage years, but not quite. No glass covering it, there never had been, it was what had been considered a futuristic look when it had been made, all art deco or something like that. But the years had distressed the oak face and tarnished the brass numbers. Flakes of once-polished wood had been chipped out and there was only one word for it: it was scruffy. And, of course, there was a hand missing.
Not much use really, I suppose, he thought, a man would already have to know what the time was if he was going to make any sense of a one-fingered timepiece! What an idiot I am, buying a piece of junk like this! But … I can do it up. I can polish the battered old wood, fill in the dents and scratches, make it good again … in memory of the girl I knew when I was too young to understand how hearts can beat... this was her clock in her front room. At least, it was her parents' clock...
He put one ear close to the face, to check whether it was ticking or not. Silence, so he rocked it in order to set the pendulum swinging, but there was no indication that anything was going on inside the tatty case.
A bit too much to hope for, that it's working after all the carrying and jostling I've done, bringing it back from the church hall and shaking it every which-way as I walked. So I'd better take a look, he grunted to himself.
The back of the clock was already loose with a screw missing. He'd noted that when he'd bought it, but thought nothing of it. Sixty-odd years is a long time and many a screw will have come loose in that time! It's lucky its got even one left! Jane's dad used to poke a long pin through this hole and tap the pendulum when it stopped, so he didn't need to unscrew the back very often... But you've still got to expect loose screws in something this old...
Even in my daft old head, he grinned to himself, which is even older. And he carefully unscrewed the one remaining screw holding the back cover in place, just above where his own teenage hand had scratched “RLJ” into the roughly-finished wood.
He remembered doing that as if it had been only yesterday. His heart had been overflowing with feeling and he'd hoped Jane's mum and dad wouldn't notice.
Ricky Loves Jane, he murmured to himself. Ricky Loves Jane. And he paused for a moment.
Ricky had loved Jane, he knew that. Ricky had been tormented by her, the fragrance she gave off – not a modern over-the-top sweet and sickly pong designed to cover cheap cigarettes but a subtle scent that could only be Jane, a mixture of her rose-scented soap and whatever else it was she used when she vanished into the bathroom.. And her hair. He remembered how he'd loved the sight of that hair, and, yes, and the feel of it between his fingers when he'd dared to put his hands dangerously close to her and touch it with nervous fingers, soft and precious. Dangerously, because of all the things in the world he had feared, he feared rejection most of all. But if tried to get too close to her, too intimate, she'd move away.
“What sort of girl do you think I am?” she'd ask, half-frowning.
And he'd be lost for words. Really and truly lost. He knew what sort of girl he thought she was, but lacked the skill to tell her. Or the vocabulary. You didn't need so many words where he'd worked, at Bosworth's Garage as a mechanic. Just practical ones like spark plug or distributor. But that had been back then, when he'd been no more than a callow youth.
Then there was the way her eyes seemed to draw him into her, the way their brown moisture beckoned and urged him ever closer to them. There was a huge power in those wonderful eyes, an invitation. And when he was back home in his teenage bed they came to him, open, warm, thrilling, all-seeing. Eyes that held him in their sway the whole night long.
To reach out to her, or not to. He never properly understood the language of love. He still didn't.
Yes, he had loved Jane all right.
He had loved others afterwards, but she had been the first.
And a man's first love lasts with him for ever... he told himself. It goes with him down all the years. It's a yardstick against which he measures all others. I know that because I knew Jane, and loved her. Without Jane I might never have properly loved Annie...
Annie had died four years earlier after a short illness, and he'd never fully recovered from the loss. They'd spent the bigger part of their adult lives together, had raised a family, two of each – all now alive and well, though all four had moved away from the area. And, yes, he had loved her. Deeply, passionately, wonderfully, and wept when the cancer had got her, leaving the offspring of their love. John and Ann had already emigrated, to Canada at separate times though it hadn't surprised him when Ann had followed John. They'd always been particularly close, though as they explained when they made the long journey to visit him for their mother's funeral, Canada's a big country and they might as well be at opposite ends of the Earth from each other where they lived.
Then Michael was still in England, somewhere on the South Coast, but they were out of touch. Michael had always had an abrasive personality and had never got on with his parents and communication was brusque and rare. Even as a child he'd been different, distant, scary almost. He'd even failed to turn up for Annie's funeral even though Ricky had written and told him about it, and that had hurt him badly. In more understanding times they might have called Michael autistic but in his own he was just the black sheep.
Jenny, the youngest, lived in the Highlands of Scotland, again quite a distance from him and his home, though she phoned him almost once a week. He got on well with Jenny, but hardly ever saw her.
He hardly ever saw any of them. His job was done, he supposed, he'd brought them up and they were free to go their own ways, do their own things. And that's what they'd done, leaving him finally alone, a widower and possibly a little bit sad.
I wonder if things would have been different if I'd married Jane? But maybe not. Maybe she's dead, too … I do hope not … I really hope not....
The question had popped into his mind more than once, and he'd have to tell himself that he'd have to unmake his four kids if that had been the case, and not just them but their own kids, his grandchildren, the whole future generations that had sprung from his own loins. And he could never wish that, whatever the future with Jane might have held he accepted the joys and very few sorrows of the life he'd had.
I hardly see them anyway, he mourned. But there's no way I'd change things, not even for Jane. She's no more than a memory really, a precious wonderful memory … the girl who taught me what's so important about the female sex! But a shadow in my mind – no more than that... it's all she's ever been except for that wonderful first-love passion...
He picked up the cross-head screwdriver and undid the single screw holding the back on the clock. It turned easily.
I bet whoever owned it last lost the pendulum, he guessed. It's bits like pendulums that get lost if the clock falls out of use. And keys. What about the key, I wonder? That ought to be safe in the back too, but the thing doesn't rattle at all... But if they're lost I'll bet there are places I might find spares, even this long after they were in the shops.
He eased the plywood back off and looked inside, expecting to see dust and cobwebs clogging the brass cogs of its ancient works, and a spring, either tightly wound or loose. But there was nothing of the sort.
“Well I'm blowed!” he exclaimed aloud.
For inside the back of the clock was a simple black quartz movement minus its battery. Someone had taken the good old fashioned clockwork mechanism out of the clock and replaced it with a cheap alternative, a ten-a-penny piece of junk produced somewhere in the far East and made to last a year at best.
It's not the right clock! He could have wept. His mind returned to when he'd seen it in his teenage years. It had marked a great deal of his all-too brief affair with Jane, chiming the hours of coming and going, ticking precious, sacred intimacies. And all the time the message, RLJ, had been emblazoned on its back for all to see who looked.
And its heart, its soul, had been a solid clockwork motor that had tolled the hours, not this piece of cheap black plastic tack, already hanging loose inside, ready to fall out and take the remaining clock-hand with it.
I'll have to find, it, he told himself, silently though the words sounded loud in his head. It's got to be somewhere … I'll go back to the church hall next Friday and ask the stall-holder if he knows where it might be. He might, you never know. Or he might know where he got it from. I might somehow find the lost heart of my clock...
Of Jane's clock...
He put the clock down and stood up, stretched wearily.
So far the day had been little more than a disappointment. Tomorrow had better be an improvement or life might get to be not worth the living.
And whatever he did, whatever further disappointments came his way, he was going to find that damned clockwork motor!
He was going to restore that clock, come hell or high water! It was going to tick again, just see if it didn't!
© Peter Rogerson 18.07.13