I’m excited today to share a short story I entered into a contest in 2012. This story, entitled “The Clockmaker,” was awarded the Reader’s Choice Story in the 2012 HIS Writer’s Flash Fiction Contest and was published in a special edition of Harpstring Magazine. I hope you enjoy it! :0)
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My daughter guides me into the clock shop for one last visit. At my instruction, she leads me to the birdcage clock—the one Keaton made for me before his heart attack. I slide my hand along the cage until my fingertips brush against a cardinal’s feathers. Two other stuffed birds reside in the cage—a yellow canary and a mountain bluebird. My hands shake as I stroke the feathers of each. Keaton knew how I loved birds.
I step back into the middle of the room next to my daughter. The chatter of ticks and tocks and metal gears turning and grinding soothes me. I breathe in familiar aromas of wood, stain, and dust. I ask my daughter for time alone. She kisses my cheek and walks outside, the front door creaking as it always has. I hobble to a wingtip chair in the back, the best seat in the shop for the top of the hour performance by the symphony of clocks.
As I wait, memories of Keaton sashay in my mind. A clockmaker, he was an anomaly in his trade. Unlike his fellow craftsmen, he never paid attention to time. Always immersed in his latest project, he arrived late to almost everything.
During our early years together, his chronic tardiness rattled my mental wellbeing. Take our wedding, for instance. Keaton promised me he’d arrive early for the ceremony. Minutes before it was to begin, I peeked into the sanctuary to discover the pews on the right side empty. None of Keaton’s guests had arrived. More disconcerting, the minister stood alone at the front, Keaton and his groomsmen were nowhere to be found. I teetered between tears and threats as I waited for Keaton, vowing to call off the wedding at any moment.
When the clock in the lobby chimed at the half hour, Keaton’s guests began to file into the church. I stopped his Aunt Margie and asked, “Why is everyone late? Is Keaton okay?”
She grinned and patted my shoulder. “He’s fine, dear. Tardy as usual. We figured we could take our time getting here.” She dug a tissue from her purse and handed it to me. “I reckon we should have told you. Didn’t mean to worry you.”
When Keaton entered the church, I debated whether to clobber or strangle him. Instead, a gully washer poured from my eyes. “I have a mind to walk out of this church and never lock eyes on you again, Keaton McCormack.”
He presented me with a brown square box. I removed the lid and peeked inside at a glass-domed brass clock.
“It’s an antique anniversary clock I restored for you. It only needs winding once a year on our wedding anniversary.”
Yes, I married him that day. But that wasn’t the end of his tardy tendencies.
Most people don’t believe me when I tell them I delivered both of my daughters in the back seat of our family’s sedan, all because Keaton arrived home late from working at the shop. Fortunately, I indulged in the luxury of giving birth in a hospital bed for our son, but only because my water broke during a visit to the doctor’s office. As usual, Keaton arrived at the hospital late, this time cradling a frog clock for our son.
When my daddy died, Keaton and our children planned to join me in Florida for the funeral. I begged Keaton to restrain from working on his clocks on the morning of departure. But he couldn’t go a day without fiddling with a clock.
Shortly after the plane was scheduled for takeoff, he called me. “Hazel, dear. Don’t be mad. We missed our plane, but I’m working on booking another one.”
I wanted to scream into the phone. My lips trembled as I said, “Why am I not surprised? You were late for our wedding, late for our kids’ births, and now you are going to be late to my daddy’s funeral. Don’t think you can brush this one away with a clock. It won’t work this time.”
I hung up on Keaton and crawled into bed. Burying my face in the pillow, I surrendered to a fit of sobs and soon lost track of time.
The ringing of the phone stirred me from the bed.
“Hazel,” Keaton said. “Turn on the TV.”
“I don’t have time for this,” I said, still miffed. “I have a funeral to plan.”
“Something terrible has happened. Turn on the TV.”
I flipped on the television and sat on the edge of the bed as a reporter appeared on the screen. She stood in front of a charred field littered with fragments of twisted metal. “I’m standing here at the crash site of Flight 1899. The plane, en route to Orlando, crashed minutes after takeoff. Authorities report there are no survivors.”
When I returned home a week later—by train, mind you—I embraced my children and Keaton, thanking God for blessing my husband with the gift of tardiness. Never again did I complain about it.
A clamor of bells, chimes, gongs, and cuckoos summons me back to clock shop. I rise from my chair as the opus finishes and gaze one last time at the collection of clocks—vintage and modern, shelf and wall-mounted, regal and whimsy. Though surrounded by clocks most of his life, my Keaton only arrived on time once—a year ago today when he departed for heaven.
Before I leave the shop, I stop in front of the anniversary clock Keaton gave me forty years ago. The pendulum stands still as it has since Keaton’s death. I turn the key on the back of the clock until it winds no more. The clock ticks and time resumes.