THE CLOCK MAN.
Chapter Twenty-Seven. The Clock
There's something about lazy afternoons in early autumn, thought Ricky, that makes a fellow feel so contented all he wants to do is driftoff on a cloud of half-forgotten memories...to float away and leave the real world far behind him as he treads the pathways of the past and, yes, even runs like he once could, runs with legs that haven't yet learned how to ache, a boy in the world of boys... And I was a boy once, then a lad and then a man … I'd be the lad I was again given half a chance, I'd give my right leg for an hour with Jane like it used to be, before I knew anything, when I was learning...
Ricky was half-sitting, half reclining on his sofa with his feet on a footstool. It was late afternoon and he frequently found himself nodding off for a few minutes at this time. It was a pleasure like few others these stale old-age days and he looked forward to it. And it gave his mind an opportunity to sift through the years and sort his life into an order that he could understand.
He slumped into the call-up years. Sophie! How could he ever forget Sophie!
But then there came, out of the blue, that dreadful, dreadful letter about Sophie, he thought, telling me that she had passed away. It's strange how we kept in touch, loosely, over the years, how she and I would exchange greetings, just the two of us in a little envelope of life. Annie didn't like it but then Annie couldn't do much about it and, bless her and her Victorian ways, she tolerated it. Christmas cards and birthday wishes don't really mean much, do they?
But Sophie was dead, and he hadn't seen her since they'd been young together. He might have called on her or she called on him – they sometimes suggested it in the odd letter – but it never happened. Back in the almost forgotten call-up, she'd been there to sweeten what was an unlooked-for and largely unwanted break in his life. Without the call-up he would have probably remained with Jane, albeit awkwardly seeing the obstacles her mother put in the way. But Sophie had come to the rescue, and Sophie had been wonderful.
Though it was Sophie who stole my virginity, he thought wryly, and I stole hers... Just the once, but it'll be in my memory for ever... They say a man never forgets his first time and I reckon it must be true. I've not forgotten mine...
Annie had dominated his life. At first she had been sweet, desirable, modern – she had her own house and car, for goodness sake! But that confident material presence in the world masked a very different Annie. It must have been an attitude to life that she inherited from her parents, but she was secretive about her body – without, as he knew, good cause – all the time he knew her.
We never undressed in front of each other... she thought it quite improper. We hardly ever saw each other naked, though we did make love. Quite often, actually, bearing in mind her attitude to the flesh. But the one was imposed by goodness-knows what and the other was blind, possessive instinct. And when the two clashed … anything could happen.
They had not been exactly compatible though they had learned to get along with each other and had even been happy for much of the time. After a rocky start, with her artificial imposition of what she called proper decency, the kids had come along and they had become as close as most married couples. It had been difficult for him because of the house they had lived in during those early years, it having been the one where Jane had been brought up.
He glanced towards the shell of the precious clock, now in pride of place on hos own manetlpiece. It only tells the correct time twice a day, he thought, wryly, and grinned at the joke. It had only had the one hand when he bought it at the flea market, but he'd got his hands on another that was almost identical and somehow you couldn't tell the difference. Inside he had reaffixed the quartz movement, but it didn't work. He'd not even put a battery in. The black plastic tat was only something to fix the clock's mismatched hands to.
The clock was a remnant from those precious few years, when he had taken his first tentative steps in the grown-up world of love. It had supervised the discovery of him standing much too close to Jane with the girl's teenage bra in his hands. It had gazed on the two of them as they had kissed in the semi-darkness of winter evenings and experienced that thrill a lad gets when he knows whose tongue is touching his...
I could weep if I weren't so pragmatic, he thought. But people have to die. It's always been the way of things, from the very first tentative life on Earth whe all there was lived in shallow oceans and blindly went about its simple existence...
Both Annie and Sophie had passed away, and he mourned both of them. As for Jane, he had no idea. She had been his first love and maybe she was dead, too, with her long swirling near-black hair and carmine smile.
He hoped not.
But maybe he was all that remained of the passions he had felt over his years. There were John, Michael, Ann and Jenny … fruit of his over-excited loins but all out of touch.
They might as well be on another planet, he thought.
He glanced back at the clock. It had been a strange journey, the one from flea market through long memories to now. There had been the elderly and also deceased Timmy Dial – what an appropriate name for a clock lover!
And then his son Tony, and the clock key. He didn't need the key because his clock was an empty shell and you don't wind up empty shells. And apparently a woman had bought the mechanism to his own clock because, when it had belonged to Timmy he had swapped it into a much smarter and less damaged case.
He was deep in thoughts of keys and clocks when the doorbell rang and he slowly climbed from his near-horizontal position.
“Now what's that?” he muttered, irritably.
It was Tony Dial and he had called to deliver the clock key, as he had promised. The woman who'd bought the clock hadn't returned for it, or if she had there had been nobody in his late father's bungalow, which was now empty and waiting for new tenants.
“It's sad really,” murmured Tony. “It's not until you have to sort through a dead man's possessions that you get some idea how pathetic life is.”
Ricky was surprised. “Pathetic?” he asked, “that seems an odd word to use.”
“He hadn't been in that bungalow for long,” sighed Tony, “and I know he'd disposed a lot of the detritus he picked up over the years before he moved into the place. But there was still a lot left. It wasn't just clocks that had fascinated him over many years, but watches as well, and he still had most of them, pocket watches, wrist watches, even ladies pendant watches. Then the barometers. He had several of those, at least one in each room. I mean, why does a man need so many barometers?”
“There's no telling what can eat into a man's mind,” nodded Ricky. “Everyone's got his little foibles and I guess we wouldn't be human without them. I used to have cars, several in my garage even though you can only ever drive one on the road at one time. Now I haven't even got one even though I've got rather more clocks than its healthy to have myself! And a good dozen watches, when I can only really wear one at the time.”
“I can feel myself going the same way,” grinned Tony. “Anyway, here's the key, It's no use to me and the woman who bought the clock doesn't seem to want it. It might be some good to you, I suppose, seeing as you've got the wooden box the clock workings belong to.”
“But I haven't got the workings,” sighed Ricky. “Still, I'll look after it and who can tell? Maybe the woman had a key already, one that fit the one she bought.”
“She might have, but it was a rare model,” said Tony. “Dad said they never made many, and I'd guess it needed a slightly different size key to most clocks. I know there were different sizes even though they mostly look the same.”
Ricky nodded. “Well, I'll hang on to it, and if you do see the woman you tell her I've got it. After all, it is hers by right.”
Tony turned to leave. He opened the door and turned to face Ricky. “Auf wiedersehen, mate,” he said with a grin, and stepped out of the house.
“Hey!” he yapped while the door was still open, spinning round. “Of all the things … the woman who bought the clock from me, the fifty quid one, the one without a key … she's over the road and whistling like a navvy!”
Ricky peered over his shoulder. “The mad cat woman!” he muttered. “That's what we call her round here! The mad cat woman! She's always wandering about, looking for her blasted cat and whistling as if she expected it to be as obedient as a dog!”
“Hey! Missus!” called Tony, and he crossed the road to speak to her. She stopped whistling for her cat, which was a relief, and when Tony indicated where Ricky was standing she stared in his direction.
Then Tony went to his car and climbed in. “I've told her you've got the key,” he said. “She says she'll come and see you when she's sorted her cat out!”
“I should be so lucky,” groaned Ricky, and stood in his doorway, waiting.
© Peter Rogerson 15.08.13
This is the twenty-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 25 chapters in case you've missed out.