THE CLOCK MAN.
Chapter Twenty-Eight. Jane Spencer
That clock could tell a few stories, I'll be bound, thought Ricky as he watched Tony Dial's car move very slowly off, then pause as if the driver was curious about something, glance back at him, then move off again, still slowly. I wish I had the rest of it but I haven't, and that's that. I've got the key now, but I wonder how many hands it's passed through since Jane's dad used to wind it up … or forget to wind it up, more like! I'd love to know the full story. I know it's only a clock, but once upon a time it was a very significant clock! How Jane's mum went berserk...!
Tony Dial stopped again, part way down the road. Ricky got to wondering whether he'd forgotten something when he set off again.
And I wonder where it went when it passed out of their hands? Their old house was empty when I returned from my military service. They'd gone away, and nobody knew where, and if it had been somewhere near someone would have known and said. Then Annie and I lived in it for a few years before we moved on in turn, and came here...
He looked up and down the street. It was that time of day, after any kids had gone home from school and before the worker's rush hour, when peace or a close relative of peace prevailed. Since his retirement (from the same garage he'd worked on leaving school, though under very different management and with a completely changed ethos) he'd come to appreciate the seasons of each day. And this was his favourite. This quiet afternoon time when, sometimes, the air was filled with the tantalizing smell of evening meals with bacon and sausages being cooked, and in the summer early evening barbecues. But more than the aromas he appreciated the peace.
When you're a man living on his own you appreciate a bit of peace, he thought. Life's too short for friction and noise and unpleasantness and all the things that can spoil a day...
Then he saw the mad cat woman, both hands on her hips, staring with assumed anger at her wretched cat, which lazily gazed back at her, looking very much as if it was smiling, amused at a private joke.
That cat's the boss of her, he thought, the way it runs circles around her!
Then he remembered the key …
Well, I guess I don't have the clock's works, so I might as well let the daft bat have the key if that's what she wants, he thought as he watched the woman across the road chase her cat until it ran under a hedge, and then, with it eventually cornered and almost grinning at her as if complicit in a private joke, pick it up.
“Now pussy, calm down, I want you to meet the nice man across the road,” he heard her say to the creature, her voice whispering like an ancient memory on the wind, and he was sure he could hear it's mewed reply as if in its feline wisdom it didn't think the woman holding it was mad at all.
But it looks like I'm going to meet the cat! As if I actually want to meet the creature!
Tony Dial's car finally swung out of sight at the far end of the road and a kind of deeper peace settled down on the world. Somewhere a bird sang its blackbird song of yearning hope. Elsewhere a dog, in the distance, barked. Further down the road yet still audible, a baby cried. Hungry? Maybe. Needs attention? Possibly.
For a few brief moments a cloud scudded across the sun, setting a scene that only the heavens might understand.
Nearer, he heard the sound of feet on asphalt.
With a tabby cat under one arm and the hint of a smile on her face, the mad cat woman walked rather too boldly for comfort across the toad towards Ricky and his open front door.
Then she stood, looking at him, her white hair curled loosely and her eyes bright as eyes might be on an early autumn day, and she very slowly and very deliberately winked at him.
“So you're the naughty lad who has my key?” she asked.
“I'm … er, sorry,” he mumbled. “I … er … didn't mean... Tony said...”
Lad, he thought. I wish I was still a lad with a whole life in front of me rather than the few years I might be blessed with, and the wooden box I'm expecting. What is it about this woman? Everyone says it, everyone know she's as mad as a box of frogs but there's a light of … what would you call it? Common sense, or something like it, in those eyes, I wonder if she'd always been blond?
“And another thought crossed my mind,” she smiled, breaking into his confusion.
I've seen those teeth before... the way that one next to the middle at the bottom is the least bit crooked...
“Has it?” he said, gawkishly.
And that smile … where was I … I must have seen it before... Reminds me a bit of Sophie, though Sophie was never old, not when I knew her anyway... Maybe this is what she might have looked like before the end … I should have made the effort to see her one last time, I know I should, and that's my biggest regret...maybe.
“Of course, silly boy!”
I'm a boy now, am I? First a lad and then a boy! I would that were true! I'm an old fart and that's all there is to it!
“I had a clock once... at least my folks did, my mum and dad...” she said quietly. “It was a special clock, but one day, when I was sixteen and in a compromising position with the best boy in the whole world, it stopped, and we lost count of the time...” she said, explicitly.
It bloody did! I know it did!
“And mum and dad had to choose that moment to come home. There he was standing with my lily-white bra hanging like naughty washing between two of his fingers … it was lily white wasn't it, Ricky?”
It … it was...
“Jane...” Whispered, not quite under the breath yet loud in his head. “Jane...”
And then the whole truth exploded like cannons and bombs and gentle popping fireworks inside his mind, and his mouth opened wide, then shut, then opened again, and no words came out.
“It's still lily white, Ricky Shepherd,” she whispered, “and a cup of tea would be nice... Jane Spencer nee Summers wants one... And my mum got quite a lot of things wrong, mostly to do with Heaven and Hell … so there's no need to worry about your teenage fingers and the magic they worked on one girl's flesh... if you remember, that is...”
“As if … as if … as if I could forget...”
Of course I couldn't forget!
And without thinking any kind of thought because he couldn't, he waved her into the house, his house, and, still saying nothing, also because he couldn't but like the robot he was becoming, he filled his kettle with water.
The tabby cat looked around for a few moments like cats do before they make monumental decisions, and then it leapt lazily onto a spare chair, gazed around and then closed its eyes as if at any moment it was likely to give birth to an almighty snore.
“Sod the tea,” giggled his grey-haired visitor, “Sod everything! Don't you want to find out exactly how lily-white my bra is while we're both still alive!”
He stood there, bemused.
“And then,” she decided, pointing to the old clock case on his mantel piece “I'll go and get my half of the clock and we can put it together like it once was, and pray that it has lots of opportunities to stop while we're otherwise engaged, while we both have enough distractions to not notice!”
He sighed, still speechless.
“You do still love me, don't you Ricky?” she asked.
And he knew of course he did. He always had. You don't stop loving the Janes in your life, not ever, no matter what.
© Peter Rogerson 15.08.13
This is the last chapter of a little love story I've quite enjoyed 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 27 chapters in case you've missed out.