Clocks

CLOCKS
Whenever bells tolled it was as if someone brutally scrubbed Jamie’s bare skin with gorse. It did not matter where they rang; town squares, in churches, houses or anywhere else. Any chiming clock made his heart freeze. He knew his fear was illogical and the one time he confided in his mother, she laughed and said he was normal. Everyone had a phobia about something. However, this did not help Jamie overcome what was increasingly a crippling disability. Her words that he should rise above it only served to make him feel more inadequate.
The only thing he could point to was a terrible, disturbing sense of loss that went with the terror.
Whenever a bell tolled and fear cramped his heart, he told himself to ‘man up’. But despite his very best efforts the effect was always the same – gorse spiking his skin and a hollow emptiness in his heart.
The only way he believed he could overcome this problem was to leave the city and work on a farm. Bells did not chime in cow sheds. He even liked the sound of mooing cows, dogs barking and calves murmuring. So he became a bit of a recluse…working every day and only leaving the farm to buy a few necessities at a nearby town.
But one day, his boss told him he had to go with him and have a drink. The way Jamie lived was not natural for a young man, he gruffly declared.
The gorgeous blue eyed Jessica who caught every young man's imaginations was busily serving behind the bar. She deftly poured frothing beers for the blokes, wines for the ladies and RTD’s to her friends.
Her eyes rested on Jamie as she handed him his pint and he was gone. In love. He had never felt like that ever. Every cell in his body came alive and his stomach cramped in a disturbingly exciting way.
She tilted her head to one side and smiled at him as she handed him his beer. He took it and promptly spilt the head down the side of the glass as it tilted. With an embarrassed laugh he lifted the glass to his mouth and took a long drink. As the beer slid down his throat, courage seemed to swell up from within him.
“Hello,” he said, his voice coming out in a croak.
She grinned. “Why, hello yourself,” she returned.
From then on Jamie was at the pub every Friday night and before long they were walking beside gently flowing streams, holding hands and dreaming dreams while looking at the stars twinkling above them.
“I’d love to go to Auckland for a weekend,” Jessica said during one of these excursions.
The usual knot gripped Jamie’s stomach. “I hate cities,” he told her.
She tilted her head to one side and she stopped in front of him.
“Please,” she pleaded.
Reluctantly, he agreed. How could he refuse the girl he loved more dearly than anyone he had ever known?
Jessica did not know the real reason behind his reluctance but he planned the trip to the city carefully so he minimised contact with tolling bells.
Her father dropped them at Tirau and with time to spare Jessica insisted they go into the Clock Peddler’s shop. All around them were clocks of every kind, loud booming grandfather clocks, tinkling chime clocks and cheeky Disney clocks.
“I love these clocks," she cried. "Oh look." She pointed with her brightly painted nails to a grandfather clock.
He pretended to be interested in it but was alarmed to see that its golden face showed it was just five minutes to ten o’clock.
A black and gold vintage car pulled up outside and he rushed out to look at it.
He could hear the muffled sound of the grandfather chiming. The prickling slid up and down his body but because there was a wall between it and him, it was bearable.
Jessica came up beside him.
“Why did you take off?” she asked, her soft, gentle voice piqued by curiosity.
“I love these cars. I used to have a toy one just like it,” he said.
He looked at her with soft brown eyes. “I could see you beside me in one of these. You would have a summer bonnet with ribbons flying in the wind.”
Jessica gave a delighted squeal. She wrapped her arms around him and her Fairy Dust perfume filled his nostrils. He closed his eyes in ecstasy. She dropped a kiss on his lips. His knees went weak. He wanted to sink onto the wooden slatted seat by the Bus Stop. Instead he steadied himself by putting his hand on the shining car.  
“Young man,” a gruff voice growled.
Jamie leapt away and was confronted by an elderly man in a vintage pilot’s leather hat with flaps covering his ears. His wife, wearing bright yellow, with a large floppy bonnet slipped her arm through his elbow and stood beside him.
The man took out a handkerchief and polished the spot where Jamie’s hand had rested.
“I’m, I’m s-s-sorry,” Jamie stuttered.
The man’s square face, furrowed by wrinkle tracks, broke into a wide grin.
“Don’t be young man.” His voice was smoothed by an upper class English accent. He waved his leather gloved hand to take in his beloved car. “I’m just a bit fussy. It’s my pride and joy.”
“I can see why,” Jamie and Jessica chimed.
The man looked at them steadily.
“Where are you going?”
“Auckland.” Jamie turned to look down the road. “We’re waiting for the bus.”
“How would you like to travel with us.”
Their overjoyed voices chimed together. The man held out his hand. “I’m Captain Fraser,” he said.
His wife held out her hand and said, “Josephine.”
She opened the back door. Jamie’s heart pounded as they ducked to climb into the back seat of the shining black and gold Model T Ford.
He grinned at Jessica who smiled back. She seemed to belong in her peasant top and flaring red apple printed skirt and all he needed was to chew on a piece of grass to complete his farmer appearance.
Soon they were trundling along the road, the wind whipping through the windows and catching Josephine’s scarf making it softy dance in Jessica’s face. Beside her Captain Fraser hummed a tune that the two younger people did not recognise. However, Josephine seemed to because every now and then she joined him with a jaunty chorus.
As they sat in the hard red and black genuine leather seats, holding hands they bounced along the road. Every so often they caught each other’s eyes and laughed. This was an unexpected adventure and they felt as if they had the rest of their lives to get to Auckland. Modern cars whizzed by and motorbikes roared up behind them then disappeared over the hill ahead.  
They bumped along, the engine chugging and Captain Fraser singing. When they finally arrived in Auckland, the bright sun was giving up its daily trek and sliding behind the horizon.
They laughed as the Captain pulled up outside the Heritage Hotel.
Jamie rubbed his sore bottom and his wobbly legs steadied as he stood on the pavement.
“I’d like to introduce you to my friends, young man.” Jamie looked at him with tired, grainy eyes. The Captain scrutinised Jamie. He rubbed his chin with his gloved hands and said, “I know you from the past.”
Surprised, Jamie looked at him, sun-bleached eyebrows raised. The old man seemed to shimmer. “Yes,” he nodded, “I do know you.”
Just at that moment the town Hall clock chimed. The horror of gorse scrubbing his skin ran through him. He grabbed Jessica’s hand and led her, almost running into the foyer of the Hotel.
“Thank you for the lift,” Jessica called after them.
They stopped at the reception desk and he gasped as he leaned against the highly polished wooden counter. The chimes stopped and he seemed to collapse from exhaustion.
He gave her a crooked smile and he drew in a deep breath. “Do you know how many chimes you hear in a day? There are thousands!”
Jessica shook her head, her face perplexed. She dreamed of living in a cute farm house filled with clocks. “No, I love to hear them.”
Jamie clenched his mouth tight. He loved ther and was afraid
 When they booked in he had regained his composure and exhausted, he fell on the bed, with its white cover and smudged it with his muddy shoes.
“Jamie,” Jessica cried, pulling his shoes off his feet and tossing them to the other side of the small gold and white decorated room.
The phone rang. Jessica picked up the receiver. It was reception telling them that Captain Fraser was inviting them to join them down in reception. Laughing, they changed footwear, her into brightly coloured ballet shoes and Jamie into shining patent leather shoes. He had bought them on a whim while surfing ebay.
The Captain and Josephine rushed up to them when they walked out of the lift.
“We could not leave you in distress, old boy.”
“So we thought we’d take you for a walk down the street. They pulled into the curb near Britomart.
“Won’t you get a ticket?” Jamie asked.
The Captain threw his head back and roared with laughter. “Not at all. The meter people know Blaze and they love it so much they can’t bring themselves to give it a ticket.”
Jessica giggled. Jamie chuckled. He had never heard of such a thing.
As they stepped out of the car strange figures filled Jamie’s vision. It was like being at a Fair ground. Some had bizarre make up on, like the tin man who moved when Jamie put a coin into his bowl. Nearby a weathered man with a plaits in his long frizzy beard sat cross-legged on a colourful blanket that reminded Jamie of something he had seen from Mexico. He held a sign saying, ‘please give me a dollar, so I can go to the job centre,’ written in crayon on a torn piece of cardboard.
As he stooped down to give the man a coin, Jessica, grabbed his hand and pulled him away. “Don’t, I saw these people in London and if you give them money they follow you, begging for more, especially kids.”
Jamie squared his broad shoulders, and felt his muscles ripple down his spine. “I can afford it so I should share it.”
Jessica pouted. “Why? They started out just like you and me. They stupidly threw their choices away.”
The Captain dropped a shiny gold coin into the man’s cap.
“Always good to share what we have.” He sent Jamie a wink. Jessica unclipped her little Mickey Mouse purse, took out a coin. As she dropped it into the cap it tinkled against the Captain’s donation.
Another street performer rode by on his unicycle. He held out a top hat. Coins covered the black lining with gold. Jamie tossed a coin into the hat. It landed with a tiny tingle.
Just as it landed, the Town Hall chime went off, filling Jamie with terror. He crouched down beside the homeless man and covered his ears. “Jesus, make it go away.”
The homeless man put a grubby hand on Jamie’s knee and closed his bony fingers over it. “It’ll be all right mate. It stops.”
Jessica towered over them with the dying sun casting long shadows over them, like a timepiece. The chiming stopped and Jamie cautiously moved his hands away from his ears. Jamie waited to make sure there was not more to come. The man’s bony fingers shook him.
“I hate time too,” he said giving Jamie a wink.
As Jamie looked at this man, with his long, unclean, and coiling knotted hair he saw himself in the jaded blue eyes. Jamie recoiled from his bad breath and tobacco blackened teeth. Jamie felt as if he was stuck beside this very strange man with the curling beard and the lost look in his icy blue eyes.

The Captain hooked his arm through Jamie’s and lifted Jamie to his feet.
“That does not need to be you,” the Captain said, reading Jamie’s fearful thoughts.
The old man slowly nodded. “I started out just like you.”
The Captain drew him away.
“My friend sees black everywhere he looks,” he explained. “It doesn’t have to be you at all.”
Caught up in a whirlwind of wild thoughts and feelings Jamie began looking desperately for Jessica. But she had wandered away and was looking in a jeweller’s window where miniature anniversary clocks were beating out time with golden balls.
The man on the unicycle spun past.
“Watch out young fella, you’ll get stuck,” he said as he did a spinning turn and rode past Jessica, who barely acknowledged him even though his hand caught her soft cotton jacket and set the fabric swaying.
She giggled as she watched him disappear through the crowds, reappear then disappear once more behind brightly lit street lamps that were coming on like synchronised laser lights. The sun was disappearing behind tall buildings. He pulled out some red balls and began juggling them as he rode. Then he was gone.
Suddenly seized by disquiet she rushed over to Jamie and tugged at him.
“We have to go,” she said urgently.
But the Captain held up his hand. “Not just yet,” he said. His presence seemed to have woven an invisible mantle over them that took their power to leave away. Jamie did not mind. He felt secure in this man’s presence.
He was strangely drawn to the old man with the plaited beard.
“They all said I had a choice,” he mumbled. “But one day you will see.”
The Captain boomed, “Come on Peter.”
Sharp surprise made Jamie look at the Captain, the words, “I’m not Peter.”
Then he realised the Captain was addressing the man with the plaited beard.
Jamie seemed to come out of a daze and shifted as Jessica pulled him over to a nearby bench.
The man with the shining silver paint moved as someone passed by and dropped a coin in his cricket player's hat. He nodded a ‘thank you.’
Away in the distance, another clock chimed. Jamie froze. “God, stop those clocks,” he begged.
The clocks in the jeweller’s window started chiming also. Jamie thumped his fist against the reinforced glass of the Bus Stop.
“Shut up!” he screamed.
A child’s clock in the shape of Mickey Mouse winked at him and his gloved hands moved away from the seven. The clocks stopped chiming.
Jamie’s breath came in loud chunking choking clumps. He was suffocating. He stumbled across to the clock shop, which had suddenly fallen silent, as if it heard his pleas. He leaned heavily against the window, breath misting the glass and looked in at a watch on a fob chain.
Josephine bobbed on the other side. The Captain leaned on the glass next to Jamie and removed his pilot’s hat. Jamie saw him properly for the first time. He recognised facets of himself despite the old man’s frizzy grey hair that wound around his bulbous head like a monk’s.
He took a gold fob chain pocket watch out of is waistcoat. “Mind the time,” he said. “It goes like this and you will never notice it missing.” He spun a hand and the watch disappeared.
Shocked, Jamie slid down the wall and sat beside Jessica who patiently waited. He had not seen his father for many years. He squeezed his eyes shut. He recognised the watch. His mother kept a replica on the mantelpiece and it chimed at midday every day…marking the time when his father went to get some milk and never returned. A rustle beside him bought Jamie out of his reverie.
The Captain crouched beside him and laid a hand on Jamie’s knee. Jamie tensed.
The Captain shook his head. “No, I’m not your father but I knew him.” Jamie felt nausea rising in his stomach.
A whistling wind curled around the corner and came towards them. It smelt like frangipani. The perfume became overpowering as it drew closer, making him cough. Jamie froze and, frightened, Jessica clung to him. But this was the wind that was to free him of his terror of chiming clocks. He felt it wash around him. As it did it picked up fragments of his broken heart and put them together. He felt himself growing stronger.
The Captain said, his voice echoing as if he spoke down a tunnel. “He lost his way.”
Jamie was about to ask the Captain about his father when the man with the plaited beard said, “Sometimes you have no choice,” he croaked sadly. “Life just carries you along with it.”
The Silver Man turned to him and winked. “Sometimes you only have choice if you know about it,” he mouthed.
A passer-by dropped a coin into his bucket and the silver man whirred as he turned to face the flicking street lights at the intersection further up. “Thanks,” he said, taking a bow. “I love the streets. They are free,” he added.
Jessica now tugged Jamie’s hand with sharp desperate jerks. “Let’s go back to our hotel right now.”
Josephine put her hand on Jessica’s shoulder. “Don’t be afraid. We’ll look after you.” Jessica turned disbelieving eyes to Josephine.
Jamie remained fixed upright but unmoving.
“Don’t,” she cried out as he stepped toward the silver man who was beckoning him. The Silver Man’s hand dropped as the old man’s voice rose.
“Come here son.” The old man tapped an aging gnarled hand on the ground beside him.
Not at all sure whom he should sit beside, Jamie began pacing. Eventually he decided he trusted the old man and went over to him. The Captain gave a knowing smile and hovered nearby.
“Your father was a good man,” he said. “Listen to that man,” he said pointing to the old man.
Jamie slowly slid down the glass window until he sat with his knees up under his chin. Nearby a clock chimed. It sounded like an alarm. It rang over the top of all the chiming clocks, like a warning siren. But Jamie noticed it blew over him like a wind.
He seemed to waken from a dream-like state. Through the old man's icy blue eyes, he saw his father who lay curled in a tight ball, protecting his broken heart. The old man half closed his eyes. "We mended your father's torn, shredded heart," he said. "Time does that you know. But it sometimes destroys very strong souls. His heart took a lot of hard work but we carefully stitched it together."
Jamie leapt to his feet, appalled.
"If he was finally mended why didn't he come back to me?"
The Silver Man carefully turned, afraid he might break his silver coat. "The clock kept forever chiming; reminding him that time is short. He never wanted to hurt you again, ever. He was afraid."
The Captain put an arm around Jamie’s shoulder. “It was the war you know. It left us all with cracks in our hearts.”
Jessica put her arm around Jamie. “Let’s just make our future the shape we want it.”
The Captain nodded. “She’s right.”
He hugged Jessica to him and vowed he would never be like his father. He would love Jessica forever, keep her close to him and never leave her. The Captain held the door open to the Model T Ford. “I think it’s time to go,” he said.
Jamie stayed where he was, holding Jessica tighter. He would be safe from his past. Somewhere a bell chimed and he felt calm as it tolled.
“I understand now.”
The man on the brightly coloured unicycle with the large red painted lips and the clown face came swiftly whizzing along up the road. “Your father was born when chiming clocks spelled doom. War was rolling across the countryside,” he called as he disappeared up the road.
The Captain beckoned to the back seat of the Model T the way a footman would.
But Jamie shook his head. “We’ll walk back to the hotel, thanks,” he said.
The Captain saluted and got into the car. The door clicked shut. The motor hummed into life and with a huff of smoke disappeared into the busy, lit road.
The town hall clock loudly struck six times. He tightly squeezed Jessica’s hand. “Let’s fill our house with lots of clocks,” he said. "I want our house to be really happy and these chimes will remind us that time is a friend."