The rain clock

by little red pen

After three days of rain, during which the mantle clock had stuck firm at twelve minutes past five, Henry took the clock down to the basement, laid it on its front, and removed the back panel. Inside the casing, metal lay in intricate order — grace embedded in every coil and spring, in the tiny hammer, and the round-headed pins. Henry hesitated, gently removed one coil, and then another.

The basement was cool and still, the brickwork buffering the noise from the house and the insistent drumming of the rain. Henry’s workbench ran along one wall, beneath a window blurred with dust. He kept the workbench tidy, his tools neatly packed away, and odds and ends — nails, screws, tacks, bolts — sorted into small jars, which he kept in a grided shelf to the left of the window. He had a CD player down there, and sometimes played music as he worked, but today he was content with the quiet of empty space, its outer edges softly frayed with children’s voices, the distant hum of the dryer, rain.

There was a tap at the door, and Meg poked her head around. “It’s bedlam up there,” she said. “What are you doing?” Henry started, took a step back. Meg edged into the basement and joined him at the workbench. Together, they looked at the clock, its body empty and its parts scattered on the bench, as mute and indecipherable as fossil bones. “Huh,” said Meg. “Do you know how that all fits back together?” Henry contemplated the wreckage of the clock, felt a ball of panic and shame rise in his chest. Upstairs something thudded to the floor, followed by a moment of silence. Henry looked at Meg, noted the soft creases starting to form around her mouth and eyes. A child’s voice rose, a loud, shocked cry filled more with outrage than with pain. “Oh for fuck’s sake,” said Meg, and hurried outside. Henry bundled the clock pieces inside the casing and screwed the back on. As he walked towards the kitchen door, he could hear Meg with the children, negotiating the terms of peace, smoothing out their spiky discontent. Henry took a deep breath, pushed the clock to the back of his mind, and joined his family.

On Tuesday, the rain stopped, and Henry took the clock to the repairer, a compact, rumpled man with fine-boned hands. “I thought I’d have a go at fixing it,” he said, “but it didn’t really work. I’m sorry.” The repairer looked at him, measured him with a gaze sharpened from years of coaxing delicate mechanical objects into working order. Henry felt himself grow large and clumsy under the repairer’s gaze, an incompetent fool who knew no better than to blunder into the back of a clock as though it were nothing more complicated than a toaster or a child’s toy.

“Sie sind so schön,” said the repairer. “These old clocks, they are so beautiful.” Henry nodded. “Perhaps next time you will bring it to me first, ja?”