Still Life

Almost all of the cogs were in place. Even the hands, especially hard to fit into the small space, were running as smoothly as time allowed them.

I stepped back, admiring my work. She was exquisite, but of course I wouldn’t have chosen her otherwise. I was almost sad I had to give her up. She fitted the order perfectly, but a part of me yearned to be able to look at her every day.

Maybe if I made another one. If I could build a clock even more beautiful, it wouldn’t be so hard to put this one in a box and ship her off to whatever place she was supposed to go.

Some coffee would help me think. I put my wrench down and took off the heavy leather apron. I looked down at my hands and smiled. The smears would come off easily, but the smell would linger all day, following me around like an attention-deprived puppy.

The library was the best place to start when building a new clock. It was quiet and yet full of life. The tapping of people’s feet on the floor, just like the ticking of clock-hands, sounded almost like music.

I placed myself beside a big shelf with a sign that read classics. I used to work on the floor between World War I and World War II, but I’d found this usually made for clocks who seemingly had lost the zest for life. Gardening was a bit more cheery, but in the end always inspired people to go out and pluck some weeds. At first I didn’t think this such a problem, until people started applying the same method to the people in their lives. I received enough letters about families falling apart to know a change of shelf was required.

“You can’t have food or drinks in here!”

I looked at the hissing person next to me, and then to the half-empty cup of coffee in my hand. She followed my gaze and seemed appalled by the contents. “Coffee? That’s even worse! Those stains will never come out.”

My eyes returned to her face. It was a dull face, with non-existent eyebrows and a nose that was slightly too large. “You are not supposed to talk in here,” I responded, turning on my heels.

A disapproving grunt behind me told me she was probably off to get the manager. It mattered little. Hopefully I wouldn’t need much time anyway.

I looked around at the other people in the isle. A confused-looking boy was flipping through the pages of Anna Karenina, probably trying to make mental notes so he could impress girls later on. A little further a blonde woman was deciding between two stuffy books. But the one who caught my eye was an elderly lady. She was beautiful. Her silver hair was elaborately tied up at the nape of her neck, and the folds of her skin suggested that her body had been waiting all her life until it would reach perfection after retirement.

I walked up to her. “Hello.”

Her eye twitched like an annoying fly had appeared and she did her best to ignore it.

I tried again. “Could you perhaps show me where I can find the economics section?”

“Do I look like a librarian to you?” she snapped, and walked away to check out her books. I considered following her, but decided against it. Ruefully I watched her leave.

A discreet cough sounded at my shoulder, presumably coming out of the fetched manager. “Excuse me, but we have received a complaint.”

When I turned around a large grin spread across my face. He was perfect.

The clock was softly groaning and making other uncharacteristic sounds. “Shh,” I muttered, while carefully laying out my instruments. The groaning intensified.

I sighed and turned around. “Now, it won’t work if you keep stressing out. I can’t have a clock looking all scared, it’ll freak people out.”

The groaning stopped, but the look on his face did not improve. I tried to reassure him. “Don’t worry, you’re not going anywhere. If all goes well I think I will put you in my hallway. It’s nice there, no draft or anything.” I looked at him sternly. “But if you don’t stop fretting I might just ship you off to that couple in Surrey.”

I was pleased to see it worked. The look of panic disappeared from his face, and made way for a tear running down his left cheek. I didn’t mind that. There was beauty in sadness.

It was three o’clock, Sunday afternoon. A little wooden bird emerged from the right eye socket, and did three happy laps, returning to the skull through the other socket. I had been right: he made for a magnificent clock, standing proudly next to the door that lead to the living room.

I briefly admired him while I put on my coat, keys in my hand. In the other I held a note, on it the order details of a purchase made by a gentleman from Bern, Switzerland.

Iris Bergevoet

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