The Man Who Borrowed My Clock

Of course, I can remember when it happened! I recall the whole thing like it were yesterday. And not a mere three hours previous.

It had been one minute to twelve. I recall pulling the beauty from its velvet-lined box, to check it tallied with the one hanging on the wrought iron pole standing proudly in the street. And of course, it did. It was a Mills IV. Hardly ever needed winding, just a little oil every fourth month of the year. Ran like a gazelle, so it did.

Then he came right up to me, brave as you like. “Excuse me, young man, do you have the time?” Even now, I recall every little detail, the excessive hair in his nose, the greying of his right eyebrow.

I proffered my clock forward on my palm. “One minute to twelve, sir. Do you not have the time yourself?” It was an innocent enough question, from a young man barely out of school. Everyone carried their personal timepiece, it was unthinkable not to do so. Unless…

No! I put that kind of thought out of my mind right away. He looked like a stand-up kind of fellow in his maroon knickerbockers, the type who would happily front his round at the bar, when it came to his turn to buy.

He smiled at me. “Is that a Mills/Watson, young lad?”

I shook my head. “No, sir. That’s a common mistake most people make, on account of the similarly styled carriage, it’s a Mills IV. The finest timepiece they made at that particular factory. Gifted to me on the day of my birth by my ailing grandfather, may the gods rest his eternal soul.”

He raised an admiring eyebrow, the greying one, as I recall. “I’ve heard tell that was the lightest movement they ever made. Is that true?”

I held the clock out at arm’s length. It barely weighed anything in my hand. “I could stand like this for an hour, sir, or more. Nothing built since has come close to the Mills IV. It’s an honor to own one.”

“A greater honor to even see one, young man. Might a fellow be so bold as to ask to try her weight, just the once?” Then he held out his hand. Such a simple request, from a well-dressed man. How could he possibly be one of—them? The clockless. Those without the time.

I placed the Mills on his palm, he lifted and dropped his hand a few times, clearly enjoying the sensation of its lightness. Then he did the unthinkable. He turned and fled without any notice or warning. He high-tailed it down the street, taking my beloved Mills IV with him.

I was shocked and devastated in equal measure. So shocked that I didn’t even think to give chase, or cry out for a Timekeeper. Then I heard the clanging of hand-bells approaching. “Time check! Have your clocks at the ready!”

I knew I couldn’t be found clockless, no matter how that situation had come about. So I quickly set off in the opposite direction, heading away from the Timekeepers.

That was how I found myself here, in a suburban neighborhood garden, going through someone else’s possessions. I had seen the signs hanging from the lampposts. YARD SALE, TODAY ONLY. SNAG A BARGAIN!

I had nowhere else better to go, and I was clockless. The lowest of the low, but only I knew that pertinent fact right now.

The old lady was selling her husband’s belongings, seemingly eager to be rid of it all. I’d already seen one of two lookie-lou’s, clearly just there to check out the merchandise. You know the type, you hear them all the time.

Listen to them over there right now, in fact. “No dear, nothing in blue. I can’t stand blue. We’ve always been a mauve family. You’ve got nothing left in mauve? That’s a shame! How about a nice shade of taupe then? In the box, you say? I’ll busy myself over there then.”

According to the old lady, her husband had recently passed away, and she was struggling to keep up with the rent on their home. Or at least that was the story she had told me, as I started to look through the various tables. Surely the old bird had squirrelled a few extra clocks away, you know, in case of emergency? Or anarchy.

I’d seen a couple of likely candidates but the old lady warned me they needed repairs.

“Oh, that one was over-wound dear. Needs a complete re-spring.” That was nice of her, to tell me it was broken. I had heard of unsavory places where they’d happily sell you a clock, give you a clean bill of sale and no hint of the fact it had less chance of working than a human in the current job market. Then I picked up a Glossop. “Oh, gosh! You do know this is a Glossop, Ma’am?”

She nodded, told me she knew exactly what it was. And that it was missing a sprocket cog. Damn it! A working Glossop would have been an excellent score, almost the perfect replacement for a recently stolen Mills IV. I bought it anyway. I might find another one day, and switch out the parts, have at least one that keeps good time.

Eventually, she directed me over to a dusty box sitting under one of the tables. Most of the things in the box were long since broken. Until I found it.

I heard the thing, long before I saw it. The sweet syncopated sound of lady time, the ticking clock of life. As I took a few broken toy cars off the pile of debris, I finally unearthed her. A Watson II! In red, but at least it was running. Obviously, the model they’d made in the original black had been far more valuable, but still, it was a Watson! It showed the right time too, according to the clock in the main street.

I gently dislodged it from the other detritus and held her in my left hand. A little top-heavy, but then their movements had always featured denser weights for extended timekeeping on the go. No price tag though, unlike most of the other items in the box.

So I approached the old lady again, she smiled as I approached. “Hello dear, have you found something else you like?”

I showed her the Watson II.

Her smile faded, instantly. “Oh. That ugly thing reared it’s nasty little head again, did it?”

I looked at her. Ugly? The Watson II? How very dare she! It was a thing of beauty! “Is this for sale? Only there’s no price on it?” I asked.

She hmph’ed. “That monstrosity? Take it. Have it for free, dear. There is nothing but bad memories attached to that as far as I’m concerned.”

As I heard the clanging hand-bells closing in once again I gave her a penny and asked her to write me out a receipt.

Which I had in my pocket just as a friendly Timekeeper came up and asked that age-old question. “Have you got the time on you, sir?”

Obviously, I had. Well, I did now, at least! I pulled out the Watson II, which he quite clearly admired.

“Proof of ownership, if you don’t mind me asking, sir? Only we’ve had a recent spate of clockless, caught them carrying broken or stolen clocks. Only just an hour ago we arrested a chap with a stolen Mills IV.”

I showed him my receipt, then smiled and politely enquired if the said chap was smartly dressed with a greying eyebrow.

He nodded. “Why yes, sir. How did you know?”

My smile widened as I pulled my box from an inner jacket pocket.

That was my last mistake. Well, not quite.

I should have listened to the news, before I went out this morning. I would have heard that article about people impersonating Timekeepers, in order to waylay hapless citizens, and have it away with their clocks.

“I don’t suppose you’ve seen either of them, have you? One fella, with a greying right eyebrow, the other chap dressed just like a Timekeeper? Working together, so they were. You’re doing what, to the clockless? Execution, you say? Rather extreme, don’t you think? For spreading vicious rumors about people impersonating Timekeepers? But that happened, sir! So what time would that execution be scheduled for? No time like the present, you say?”

Ray Daley was born in Coventry & still lives there. He served 6 yrs in the RAF as a clerk & spent most of his time in a Hobbit hole in High Wycombe. He is a published poet & has been writing stories since he was 10. His current dream is to eventually finish the Hitch Hikers fanfic novel he’s been writing since 1986. Tweet him @RayDaleyWriter

Leave a Reply