The matter of time

Down a twisty, cobbled road in a sunny, piecemeal village, the smallest, oldest building is a quaint cottage that is both a workshop and a home. In the front room, an array of clocks and watches tick away, marking seconds and gathering time. Somehow, mysteriously so, these clocks - all of them, from the towering grandfather to the smallest wrist watch - keep time together. In unison. Not a single tick or tock is out of place, as if each clock is too embarrassed to fail the group.

A small door remains closed at the back of the room. One presumes in this one-storey house the door must lead to a bedroom and kitchen, though it would be hard to find someone could tell you for sure what’s on the other side.

Three men stand in the centre of  the room, their eyes and voices focused on a man in a green armchair.

“Ridiculous,” says the man at the front, whose pretty hat and shiny shoes mark both his importance and affluence, “Absolutely, completely, preposterous.”
“I assure you, Lord Dietrich, that no amount of adverbs will persuade me to your cause. It cannot be fixed,” says the man in the armchair, his voice calm in contrast. He is a handsome man, neither young nor old, with light hair and a strong jaw, and pale skin that sets him apart from the rest of the village.
“Absurd,” Lord Dietrich spits. Then, into his voice creeps a hint of desperation, “You haven’t even looked at it yet, Horatius.”
“I can see it fine from here,” Horatius’ voice softens, “There’s nothing to be done.”
“What will it cost?” Lord Dietrich demands.
“There is no amount that you can offer me to fix your clock,” Horatius rises to his feet, and puts a hand of the shoulder of the shorter man. Lord Dietrich shrugs him off.
“Name your price, Horatius. I assure you, I can pay it,” he says, heatedly.
“It is not a matter of money,” Horatius says, quietly, “And the price was paid long ago, my lord.”
“What do you mean?” Lord Dietrich demands, “What are you playing at? You are a fixer of clocks, are you not?!”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Then fix it.”
“I can’t, Lord Dietrich. You are out of time,” Horatius’ voice is not unkind, “If you would please leave my shop, sirs.”

The two men who are standing behind Lord Dietrich are wearing his crest and livery. Between them they are holding a large, mahogany clock. It’s face is beautiful, built by a fine craftsman, with each quarter designed to reflect a season. As the day ticks by, so the hands pass from winter, to spring, and summer at noon. And, as the dusk falls, finally into winter. The clock is ticking still, but it’s time is running out.

Lord Dietrich is desperate, his brows furrow. He grabs Horatius’ arm as he walks by.

“Anything,” he whispers, “Just tell me what you want. Anything at all.” Horatius places a hand atop Lord Dietrich’s, and gently removes the man’s grip.
“There is nothing,” he says, kindly, “I am sorry.”

Now, the front door opens, and all four men turn to see a small boy standing in the doorway. The boy is immediately taken aback by the presence of four tall men, and the marked tension in the room. He shrinks back, ducking his head.

“If you will excuse me, Lord Dietrich, it seems that I have a customer,” Horatius’ tone is a final dismissal. Even Lord Dietrich, accustomed to hearing no orders save his own, recognizes this. He snaps at his servants, and they bluster out the door. The boy moves out of the way, quickly, to avoid being pushed or crushed.

“Come in, child,” Horatius’ smile is warm and inviting. His cat, ginger and fat, leaves its spot of sun by the window to wind itself around the boys’ feet, nudging him inside with its head. The boy reaches down to pet the cat, and steps inside. The door closes behind.

The boy stares in amazement at the walls and shelves of clocks and watches, and the incredibility of all ticking in the same time.

Horatius has settled back into his armchair.

“Have a seat,” he gestures a second armchair in front of him.
“Master Horatius,” the boy begins in a rush, taking three stammering steps towards Horatius.
“Please, sit, Evander,” Horatius insists. The boy is too young to question why this stranger would know his name, he simply accepts, as children often do, that all adults know his name in order to better scold or instruct him. Evander obeys, and sits in the second armchair. He stares at Horatius. He has never seen anyone like Horatius before, pale as if he swallowed the moon.

“What do you have there?” Horatius asks, kindly. Evander remembers, and looks down at his hands grasped around an old, tarnished pocket watch.
“It’s my grandda’s,” he says, holding it out, “Can you fix it, Master Horatius? It’s almost out of time.” Horatius gently takes the watch from the boy’s hands, and turns it over in his own.
“Tell me about your grandda, Evander,” he says, quietly. The ginger cat comes to lie beside the boy, purring.
“He smells like pipe smoke and hugs very tight,” Evander says, in a rush, “He is old and his bones are creaky and he falls asleep beside the fire most nights. He tells the most wonderful stories.”

As Evander speaks, Horatius sees the man his grandda is. Warm, strong, and loving. A simple man who lives each day to love, and does his best to help where he can.

“Can you fix it, Master Horatius?” Evander says, worry and sadness creeping into his voice.
“Yes,” Horatius says, and is silent for a moment, looking down at the watch. The sound of ticking seems to grow louder around them, filling the silence. After a minute, Horatius passes the watch back to Evander. It is shiny, now, almost as new. It ticks in time with the rest of the room. Evander’s face lights up.
“It will keep time for a while still. For more stories, and more hugs,” Horatius smiles, “But, Evander, you must know - someday the time will run out, and I won’t be able to fix it. Someday, this watch will pass to you, and so will the stories and strong hugs.”

Evander nods, solemnly.

“But not today,” Horatius says.
“Thank you, Master Horatius,” Evander replies, excitedly, “I’ll go and tell grandda!” He jumps to his feet, and rushes out the door.

As Evander exits the shop, the tick tocking from inside is silenced, and he can truly here the ticking of his grandfather’s pocket watch. He smiles. Behind him, an old sign blows in the gentle breeze: Horatius Portius, Timekeeper.

Push pins

My generation uses pins in maps of the world like notches in bed posts. They are a lists: Top Ten, Bucket List, look how far I’ve gone. They are our hand to play, our curriculum vitae: the course of life. Sometimes it ceases to be about travel, and the destination is paramount.

We grew up in a world more global than ever previously imagined. We live lives where it is no longer enough to be born, grow, and die in one place, or two. You’re nobody until you’ve been somewhere. We were all in a rush to put push pins in maps. Take photos around the world, send back postcards, collect your souvenirs and show them on the mantle. Is it it bragging, or trying to hold on to the feeling of freedom? Is it reminiscence, nostalgia, or vanity? Is it a search for this ideal we learned somewhere - the wanderer, free and lonely, wild and willing? Who is this person we all want to be? What is this epic that we all emulate?

Helping

Theseus is helping me write my essay. Happy Caturday!

studying

Nailed it.

Over the past year or so, one of my hobbies has been painting my nails. If I’m honest, it all started during my MA, when I had “spare” time for the first time since high school, and was always looking for a way to relax and to distract myself from my coursework. But in the past year, thanks largely to Pinterest, my interest has expanded to include elaborate nail art.

Nail ArtIt’s a creative outlet for me, and something to do while watching TV or relaxing in the evening.

Currently:

Purple and gold nails

It’s a bit vain for an artistic hobby, but I do enjoy it. This is also the first post to ever be categorized as “fashion” in my years of writing this blog.

The Caretaker

Joe finished with a satisfied pat of flat of his shovel on the fresh churned earth. He looked up. The leaves had turned to fire on the trees, red and orange maples, yellow oak trees, and the drooping willows just turning from green to yellow. The sky was clear and blue, and the air was just crisp enough to herald the coming winter. The early afternoon light streamed through the canopy, and it was peaceful.

As it ought to be.

Joe picked up his shovel and placed it in the empty wheelbarrow. He wheeled his way back to the little shed in the south corner. After he had returned everything to it’s place, Joe grabbed his lunch bag from the bench, and locked the door behind him. His keys didn’t jingle as he walked, and he didn’t whistle. His heavy-booted feet made almost no noise on the soft ground between the gravestones. After twenty years, Joe had instinctively become a silent guardian of the peace of this restful place.

He made his way through the rows of gravestones, some decorated with flowers, wilting in the autumn air, some empty. He reached the bench, and sat, his lunch bag on his lap.

“G’morning, Abe,” he said, nodding to the man beside him. Abe nodded back.

“Mornin’,” he replied, his wrinkled and spotted hands clasped in his lap. Joe unzipped his lunch bag, and pulled out a sandwich, carefully wrapped in wax paper, and just as he liked it: peanut butter and jam, with peanut butter on both pieces of bread and raspberry jam, not the seedless kind, generously sandwiched between. He handed it to Abe. Abe nodded his thanks, and bit into the sandwich.

Joe took out a second sandwich, just the same. He opened his thermos and poured two cups of tea. Still steaming, it was just as he liked it: milky and sweet.

“Leaves are starting to fall,” Abe said, between bites. Joe nodded.

“I’ll be raking all day tomorrow,” he replied.

“You ought to get them to buy you a leaf blower,” Abe suggested.  Joe shook his head.

“Wouldn’t be right,” he said, “Raking suits just fine. Maybe get a new rake this season, though.” Abe nodded in reply. The men sat in comfortable silence, with their sandwiches and tea. When they were done, Joe produced two cookies from the lunch, and shared one with Abe. As Joe rose to leave, to get back to work, he patted Abe’s arm.

“See ya tomorrow, Abe,” he said. Abe nodded.

“Tomorrow,” he confirmed. As Joe walked away, he turned back for a moment to watch Abe get to his feet and place a small stone on the top of the gravestone nearest the bench. The headstone lined with smooth pebbles in shades of grey, with hardly room for more.

Joe worked his way back through the graves, on his way to the shed. On some, the hyphen connected dates that were too close together; one had a new hair ribbon, pink and perfect, as always. Laureen had asked him once if these small graves made him saddest, if seeing a teddy bear or a toy placed on the cold ground was the hardest.

Joe knew better. There was no hierarchy of grief. Each stone marked a loved one, and that love was not tempered by time, or age, or the manner in which they died. Each stone bore the same weight on his soul, and Joe felt the gravity of each one.