THE CLOCK MAN.
Chapter Seventeen. The Clock
A fortnight or so later when Ricky was in the toilet, taking his time with a sudoku puzzle from the newspaper on his knee, the door bell rang. He hated it when that happened. He always liked – or needed – to take his time and his doorbell was a strident, insistent affair. He tut-tutted to himself. He knew, because of its very dominant chiming that he had to do something immediately despite his precarious situation.
It always happens at the least convenient moment, he thought, people ringing my doorbell when all I want to do is...
He was still tucking his shirt in and muttering to himself when he opened the door. At first he didn't recognise his visitor, though there was something vaguely familiar about the face that looked at him expectantly from the bright world outside.
“Mr Shepherd?” asked his visitor, and Ricky nodded. “Tony Dial,” explained the other, “I met you a couple of weeks ago, you were calling on my dad...?”
“Oh yes, Of course!”
“I thought you'd like to know. I'm still shocked. He passed away. You seemed to know him quite well … and when I told him that you'd asked after him he said I was to let you have the clock.”
“He said that? I didn't really, well, only briefly, know him...”
“He said there was one particular clock, but he never said which. And you might know, he's got a fair few of them!”
“It was one he'd put the works from a an old battered clock I bought locally into. He said his was the better clock even though the mechanism was broken, but apparently they came from the same factory. Come in, I'll show you.”
Tony Dial smiled “Just for a moment, then.”
“How did you know where I live?” asked Ricky. “I don't remember telling your … your late father.”
“He had it written down... I don't know where he got it from.”
“Then I suppose I must have mentioned it.”
“He said you were Mr Shepherd...?”
“At this address.”
“Then I must have. We sometimes say things and forget them straight away! At least, I do these days!”
Ricky led his guest into the front room and pointed at his cherished and much repaired clock case standing in a beam of sunlight on a side-table.
“That's the one,” he said. “I thought I might one day reunite it with its original works. Someone had put a modern quartz movement in, and that would never do! Look here:”
He picked the now polished wooden case up and turned it round. “See this?” he asked, pointing to the “RLJ” scratched on the back door, which now had both hinges intact and had been cleaned to within an inch of its fibres. But the moral was still etched bright and clear.
“That R is me, my name's Ricky, and the L stands for loves and the J was my girlfriend back in the fifties … Jane. I did that back then, and I remember how I felt. I meant it!.”
“And do you still … love her?”
Ricky sighed. “The memory, yes, but I've not seen her since soon after I did that, the call-up came, national service, you know, and I was never to see her again.”
He sighed, thoughtfully, then “Would you like a drink?” he asked.
“A tea would be nice,” smiled his visitor, aware that he was treading on the fragile memories of an older man, a stranger at that until mere moments ago.
“I'll put the kettle on, then.”
Annie would have done this, gone into the kitchen, clattered the kettle under the tap and boiled water for some tea if a guest chanced to call... Now it's down to me, but the questions are the same... The funny thing is, I was married to Annie for all those years and here I am, remembering Jane as if she'd been all my life...
“Sugar?” he called.
“No. No thanks,” came the reply.
He bustled into his kitchen. “Life was simpler back then,” he said as the kettle warmed up. “No internet thing, no Face-whatever-you-call-it, no twittering. Just a sharp needle and a few scratched letters on the back of an old clock!”
“But I should imagine they meant every bit as much,” replied Tony Dial. “My dad was one for talking about the past, the simplicity of things when he was a nipper, the way a message meant what it said... these days there are so many words...”
“True,” murmured Ricky, carrying a tray with cups and milk in, and then went back into the kitchen when he heard the kettle boiling. “But no matter how many words there are they don't mean as much, nor will they last as long. That little message I made all those years ago is still there, can still be read by anyone who cares to read it and fills me with the hugeness of sorrow when I realise how I felt then and how I've never felt since...”
He returned with a teapot. “It's sad when you think that the deepest emotion you ever experience happens when you're too young to appreciate it,” he sighed.
“Hey, I'm a bit younger than you and I pray I have some good times in front of me!” said Tony, grinning, wanting to lighten the suddenly sombre atmosphere. I was at a funeral yesterday, he thought, and I reckon I need cheering up, not making more depressed than ever!
“Oh, you will have, there are always good times round every corner. Don't take too much notice of a silly old fool who's regretting the absence of memories he should have and years he maybe could have lived through had things been different... There was one girl, during my call-up, Sophie she was called, and she gave me loads of good memories too. But I never saw her again, yet we wrote to each other right up to when she died a year or two back. There's a great deal I treasure about the wonderful Sophie!”
Tony coughed discreetly. This was getting to be too much like a conversation with his late father. Old men, it seemed to him, must have a great deal of buried emotion that they trawl through when everything else has gone. It was sad, really, very sad.
“Anyway, the clock your late father ...” began Ricky.
Tony shook his head. “I still can't quite come to terms with thinking of him as my late father,” he said, mournfully.
“It takes time...” nodded Ricky.
“Anyway, when we've finished our tea I'll take you if you like,” said Tony, more briskly, mentally shaking himself.
Five minutes later Ricky was letting them out of the front door and onto the street. Tony had a car, which he'd parked in a small lay-by not far down the road.
As the made their way towards it there was the rattle of a gate banging and a subdued but penetrating whistle.
“Oh, not her...” muttered Ricky, ducking into the car.
“You know her?” asked Tony, surprised.
“Well, she does live across the road from me,” replied Ricky. “We call her the mad cat woman in these parts! She spends half her life whistling for her cat, and the cat thinks it's a great game, being chased and hiding and always seeming to win.”
“She knew my dad too,” said Tony. “Apparently she was after a clock that he didn't have! She was round his place only yesterday, just before the funeral, which was an unwitting mistake on her part! What a coincidence, because he hardly ever sold any! He was a clock collector, not a clock dealer, and when he had to downsize, moving into that sheltered bungalow of his, he simply gave a whole load away! It broke his heart to part with them, though.”
“So the mad cat woman wants a clock,” mused Ricky. “Maybe she wants to teach her feline how to tell the time!”
Ricky started the engine of his car and pulled into the road. Across the way, and ducking to see under privet hedges and into other gardens, Mrs Spencer gave every impression of being barking mad.
“Whatever it is she wants, dad didn't have it,” sighed Tony. “The way she described it, it was more like your clock than anything dad had! But there must have been loads like that!”
“Yes,” said Ricky, slowly.
Old Mr Dial told me it was a rare clock when I showed it him, he thought, he said it was from a factory that wasn't making clocks for long... Maybe she saw my clock at the flea market but I beat her to it … yes, maybe that was it. Maybe she would have bought it if i hadn't come along. And maybe she's trying to trace it, to see if there's another like it somewhere...
They arrived at the house of the deceased Mr Dial. The giant clock that he'd been making in the front garden was gone and the place looked more like a building site than a domestic flower bed.
“Vandals,” muttered Tony. “Even on a quiet street like this … and that garden clock was just about worthless. They took it for the metal in it, I guess.”
“Terrible,” sighed Ricky.
“Anyway, it would have had to go anyway.”
“I guess it would,” he agreed.
“If you want the clock I'll have to charge you,” said Tony, changing the subject. “Dad left precise instructions about his clocks. Some of them are worth quite a lot and his prices all seem a bit on the high side. But the one you might want, the one with the workings for your clock at home, that's cheap. It's the cheapest of the lot! He said if you want the other half of your timepiece of memories you can pay the other half of the price.
“He said you can have it, the whole thing, for fifty pence!”
© Peter Rogerson 04.08.13
This is the sixteenth 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 15 chapters in case you've missed out.