THE CLOCK MAN.
Chapter Six. The Clock.
Even when you reach my age you can get all excited about very little, mused Ricky as he poured himself a cool beer from a chilled bottle that had been in the fridge for ages. I reckon anyone walking in here and now would say I'd returned to my childhood or, more likely, was in my second one!
The old clock that he's bought for nearly nothing at the local flea market was on his coffee table and he stared at it. It had been more than a week since he had bought it and now, finally, he had decided to take a really close look.
Trouble is, there's so little worth watching on the telly I'm having to resort to staring at a crusty old clock that would probably be better off in the rubbish bin, he thought, maybe a little cruelly.
It looked scruffy enough. He remembered it in its earlier life when Mrs Summers had kept it dusted, clean and polished and Mr Summers had wound it ever week, using the key he kept just behind it on the mantel piece. It had always been there when he'd called on Jane. And once or twice, on the rare occasions when her parents were out for some reason, it had been in the background of the burgeoning affection he had felt for the lovely girl.
He smiled to himself. Memories came flooding back in fractured scenes from long ago, focussed and strong despite the years.
There was that time when she was letting me get close as close to her and she had that warm, dark look in her lovely eyes, when I kissed her and she let me touch her bra without knocking my hand away like she sometimes did, and I was getting all thrilled and wanted to sing to the moon about the way I felt - and the clock – this clock - chimed. I can remember that time as if it had happened yesterday … the wonderful feeling of her broderie anglais bra on my shaking fingers and the solemn chiming of that clock. It couldn't chime now, though, not to save its life! There are no chiming works in it … it's not the that clock it was, nothing like.
He sipped his beer, a cool and hoppy special bottled treasure from a small brewery, and sighed. I wonder why they did it, he asked himself, I wonder why they took the works out, the clockwork motor with its powerful spring, the chimes and all, and replaced them with a cheap quartz replacement that probably doesn't work any more even though it was probably only made last year and certainly never chimed...
The memory of himself and Jane alone in her front room persisted. He remembered clear as clear how he had felt, how the closer he got to her the more a shiver threaded through his body, until
“Are you cold, Ricky?” she had asked. “You're shivering!”
And, unable to reply properly, he had said “it's when I get close to you, Jane … I can't help it...” and then, miserably, “I'm sorry...”
Then her smile, the way it had been, its moist and subtle understanding as “I know, and it's nice,” she had whispered. “It means you care.”
And the clock chimed seven!
“They'll be back soon,” she had breathed, “kiss me again, Ricky, before it's too late...”
He had needed no invitation, yet he was untutored in the arts of love. But he had kissed her, fully on the lips, and his heart had almost somersaulted as it missed a beat when he felt the tip of her tongue slide past his lips and search for the tip of his own.
Goodness knows what might have happened next, what new and untested passions might have allowed, but the sound of the front door opening forced her to take a step back from him.
“I know,” she had whispered. Then she put the forefinger of her left hand to her lips and “hush...” she had whispered.
He had nodded.
Some things wouldn't be understood by parents. They were of a different generation, the one before love and kissing and the racing of boys' hearts had properly been discovered, or so he thought. So he had taken a step backwards and merely looked goofy.
I was so innocent, he mused, back then. Such an ignoramus, and I had the perfect girl so close to me it scares me even now when I think of it... maybe it's just as well her folks came in when they did … goodness knows what I might have tried, and what's more, what she might have allowed...
He took another sip of his beer and picked up the old, battered clock and looked in the back again.
It's easy to see why it lost one of its hands, he mused, it's got the hour hand where the minute hand should be and there's signs that someone tried to bodge it with a piece of wire … that would never have worked … so where, I wonder, is the minute hand now? Whoever did this probably made one out of that wire and some cardboard … it would have looked all wrong and never worked properly. But what about the original one? Probably in a land-fill site somewhere, rotting away with old fish bones and margarine tubs all mixed up with dust and ashes. But maybe there's somewhere I can get one, or, now that I've taken a close look at it, I might be able to make one myself, to match this one...
It looked pathetic, a scratched and battered wooden case with tarnished brass numbers impressed into the face. But Ricky was determined to bring it back to life.
He switched the television on, scrolled through the channels available to him, and switched it off again.
It seems the more channels we get the less there is to watch, he moaned to himself, and he took another rather large swig of his beer and wiped his lips on the back of his left hand.
Tomorrow, he thought, is Friday and that's flea market day down at the church hall. I'll be there bright and early and see what the stall-holder’s got to say about where he found the clock. He might remember. He's there every week, after all, and as far as I know he picks stuff up at house clearances. Sells the good stuff on Ebay or at the auction in Nottingham and puts the rubbish on his flea market stall.
He picked up the clock and opened the back.
There was the moral, etched in dust and grime into the back of the old clock, just like he'd scratched it back when he'd been in his teens.
Before National Service, he reminded himself. Before when my life changed for good. Before Annie came into my life, and the kids were born. And I can remember how I felt when I did it. I was filled to overflowing with a teenage crush and Jane was so darned beautiful. And the smell of her... Then there was the other side of it … what if her dad spotted it? What if he wondered who'd scratched this three letters on the back of his precious clock? What might he have said? He'd have worked out what it meant, Ricky Loves Jane, soon enough. What might he have done to me? Maybe stopped me seeing Jane for good. But there wasn't very long anyway...
Some memories are hard to bear, and if they've persisted for well over half a century they must have been mighty powerful to start with. Ricky knew that. He turned the clock over and over in his hands, and then carefully, so as to do it no more damage, he removed the black plastic quartz movement. It wasn't a difficult thing to do. A couple of loosely-fixed screws were all that held it in place. He didn't even need a screwdriver.
Probably done by a kid, thought Ricky, I can't imagine a grown man doing such a tacky job as this!
He put the minute hand carefully to one side on the coffee table, next to his beer mat. As far as I can remember this is the original, he told himself, and he closed his eyes, all the better to remember the clock as it had been on the mantel-piece in the Summers front room. Yes, I'm sure it is. I can see it now in my mind's eye, marking the magic of Jane and the way we felt. So I'll either find the missing original or buy or make a replacement for the hour hand. That's sorted, then.
He turned the quartz mechanism over in his hands and shook his head.
Soulless, he thought. Probably a thousand times more accurate than the clockwork mechanism, but what use is accuracy without a soul? This old clock used yo speak! It ticked and tocked and ticked and tocked, and then it chimed with such a resonant voice. It had a soul. That's the thing.
He closed his eyes, and smiled, and then put the clock back on the coffee table. Forty winks, he thought, might be what the doctor ordered. Forty winks while I think about what to do next...
It was more than forty winks later that his eyes opened again and he rubbed his eyes and sighed and saw the old clock on the table where he'd put it, and shook his head and then slowly, like a man in a dream, finished the dregs of his now flat beer and made his way to bed.
© Peter Rogerson 20.07.13
This is the sixth chapter of a little love story I'm quite enjoying writing (not very manly is it, to admit that?) and because Gather is in a parlous state these days here are links to the first 5 chapters in case you've missed out.