Mar 27, 2006

The 10 o'clock clock

This clock is too big, he thought when he hung it on the wall. He let it settle and center on the nail and stepped back. It looked like a statement, which wasn't what he was going for. It looked like a statement about the over bearance of time or the tyranny of history, which wasn't what he wanted. It took up the whole wall about the couch and it was the only thing he could see from the doorway, like the whole room was redirected so it was pointing out the time.

It hadn't looked that big in the store, because the store was big and well lit and even the whole aisle of clocks looked small beneath the opening of the box store ceiling. The aisle was arranged by size, with the upright grandfathers on one end and down to the paste-up car clocks on the other. First he'd looked at the maritime clocks, the ship captain's clock and the pirate's clock with the thumb screwed faces and the petered hands pointing to numbers spread out in Xs, Vs, and Is. He would have bought one of those, with their wood frames worm scarred and burn marked, but he couldn't afford it. So he moved past the grandfathers and the maritimes and down to this one, a mid-aisle clock. He just hadn't seen it was this big.

This one had a slight silver frame and a circle of dots dotting minutes and it had the hours in Arabic numerals. The face was white and the hands were black tapered arrows. He thought he could return it but maybe he'd get used to it, maybe it'd blend into the room with time.

He hadn't remembered to buy batteries, hadn't thought about batteries not being included. There weren't any batteries in the closet with the orange extension cord, or in the kitchen drawer with the garbage bags and twist ties, or on the desk with the stamps and the paper clips and staples. Finally he found some to steal in the remote controlling the DVD player, copper colored double As, and when he slipped them in the black box on the back, pulling back those springs and putting the plus to plus and the minus to minus, the clock began to tick.

He could only hear it when it was quiet, when the radio was off and the train wasn't whistling and the coffee wasn't gurgling. When it was quiet the clock went ticking. Tick, said the clock, tick tick tick. It ticked when he woke up at night and when he came home in the evenings and it wasn't threatening. That surprised him, because he'd always thought the noise that time made was threatening. It didn't sound though like something running out or marking off. It was calm and peaceful and slow, and he began to forgive the clock its size and to settle for the its dotted noises.

It went on like that for a week and then another and then four. And then one morning or maybe afternoon the hands stopped turning. Both of them were hanging down, limp like. The minute hand was trying. It would tick and lift from 30 to 31 and then it would fall down again. It was like that for an hour, the minute hand grunting in failed sit-ups and the hour hand just like it was dead. The battery was dead, he figured, or half dead, leaked down until it couldn't lift for another round. He reset it. He probably should have stopped right there and gone down to the gas station or something and bought new batteries, but he didn't. He just reset it on the right time.

The hands set off again, moving around. They were moving slow but moving. It took two days to go around again. At the bottom of the turn they paused to rest and took a break for half a day. Then they got up again and went up the other side when they stopped for good. The hour was 10 and the minute was 53, or that's what the hands said.

It was a long weekend, when they stopped, the first long weekend he'd had in a long time, and when he came in that's the time he thought it was: 10:53. H slept without the alarm that night and woke up to a Saturday-lawn mower and that's the time he thought it was then too: 10:53. It was 10:53 for a few days when he noticed. He made himself a mental note to buy new batteries, the third note he'd made and he forgot this one too. He forgot for a week and then another and then he started to call his house the 10 o'clock house with the 10 o'clock clock.

That was how he'd felt about it anyway. When he got to his place, with the lights half on and the radio playing unresolving jazz, it was like time had stopped worrying about itself, stopped taking itself so seriously. It got so he'd smile at the clock every 10 o'clock morning and relax every 10 o'clock night. He could leave the door open to the dusk letting in moths and dragonflies and sit on the steps and be comfortable there. And even though it wasn't true it felt like it was the first time he'd ever been comfortable.

Sometime after that, after he knew he wasn't going to buy batteries at all, his friends were over. He was sitting on the couch and someone was sitting on the other end and someone was sitting on the side table and another couple were sitting on the floor, and they were talking. They were laughing and talking about doing something, maybe seeing a movie, and someone saw the clock, noticed how the whole room was pointing out the time, and asked Is it really that early? So he had to explain, how he hadn't fixed it because it made the place feel, he felt, he said, under a special dispensation of time. They said was a good time, that time, never too early and never too late and they laughed about it about how good a clock it was, his big dead clock.