Today, a post more about the “life” part of the writer’s life than about writing.
A post about a clock that has become a living being.
My mum and dad gave me this clock umpty years ago…a knowing response to my since-childhood love for chiming things; a prettier version of the one my dad gave my mom as an anniversary gift a long time ago. Mine, I thought, always had the sweeter song; the prejudice of a gift gladly received.
I have three chiming clocks: a bim-bom grandmother clock that stands in the entry hall (a lovely, small thing made forever ago by the esteemed furniture-maker Walter Harrod of Massachusetts), the camelback anniversary clock I just mentioned (Westminster) and the golden oak camelback (the gift, also Westminster). All three were made to gracefully mark the passing hours with hands and chime. None of them—and this is my an abashed admission of inertia and neglect—did anything they were meant to do.
I am sentimental about very few physical objects…but when I moved to the river house full-time, I decided to remedy the clock situation, a tribute to the calm permanence I hoped would mark my life here. I would call the local clock repair guy whose name I had been carrying around forever. I would bite the ticking bullet (clocks are notoriously expensive to repair) and do my duty to these gifts of love. But (and here’s the catch) I could only afford to fix two of them.
I chose the grandmother clock and the anniversary clock. The gift-to-me clock was left to languish, its face cockeyed (a previous repair failed to replace some of the brads that held the face at north-south. So, hall clock goes bim-bom. Anniversary clock goes Westminster at every quarter. Tick-tock everywhere.
I felt a little guilty for the gift-clock, the one that hadn’t been picked for Team Time. So I found it a place of honor in my new bedroom (the master, for the first time in 30 years), dusted it off, furniture-waxed it, nailed its face in place and wound it up for old time’s sake (pun intended.)
Damned it little clock didn’t start right up, keeping time as if it never had stopped. But the chime….
Something amazing had happened to the chime. Instead of Westminster, it gave me Post-modernist beauty…strange time signatures, missing notes, sounds more overtone than chord, unheard-of dynamics that sent some chimes hauntingly into the background as if an unearthly call-and-response…a voice the most tempered and musical of the three clocks…and, in this one, no two chimes the same. Occasionally, I could hear a loud thunk where a note should be, or the sound of gears laboring and failing to find the mechanism that would make a note come. But most of the time, I had a chronographic John Adams in my bedroom, serenading me with unexpected new musical stories all night long. An unpredictable musical joy.
I have never liked the sound of a ticking clock in the bedroom. Puppies’ hearts are supposedly soothed by the sound. Not me. Used to drive me crazy. Not any more.
And then, with the New Year, another change. Little clock has found its voice. Suddenly, I have full-fledged Westminster from the sweet-voiced mechanism. True, the thing sounds, sometimes, as if it’s taking uncertain steps toward the melody, like a person learning to remember after an injury. Notes will turn up missing from the sequence. The clock won’t chime the hour at all (a strangely sympathetic reflection of my own—believe it or not—indifference to time.) And some mysterious combination of temperature and humidity change the reach and resonance of the sound, like a violin adjusting to a new atmosphere.
But here’s the thing: In the expected music I no longer have the unexpected music. And there’s no way I can get it back again. A psychic little clock that has become a reflection of my life.