Time peace


Whenever a clock chimed or bells tolled Jamie’s teeth were set on edge as if he had bitten into a lemon. If he tried to ignore the sound it seemed to embed itself inside him with a determined push and this set his entire being jangling. He knew of no solution and no-one he spoke to could offer him one. But through his panic he always saw a hazy figure with gun over his shoulder and others behind him firing.

It did not matter if the bells rang out in town squares, in churches or inside houses. Any chiming clock made his heart freeze and his body tremble. He knew his fear was illogical and the one time he confided in his mother, she tossed his anxiety away with a light laugh. It was normal to have a fear of something, she explained. The key was to rise above it and never let it defeat him. So he never felt he could raise the matter again.

But, despite all his efforts to beat it, whenever a bell tolled, fear cramped his heart and the same out-of-focus image appeared. He told himself to ‘man up’. For a time he would feel confident he had conquered his fear. Then a bell tolled and tears shuddered through him until they fell in painful tracks down his young, weathered cheeks. With this fear came a terrible anxiety about the future.

To minimise the frequency of the unwelcome visitations he removed himself from the city where bells always tolled. He gave up being a bank employee in Auckland and became a reliable and hard working farm employee instead. There were no clocks in the fields and the only noise to break his day was the sound of mooing cows at milking time.

Despite being afraid of the sound of tolling bells accosting him he could not refuse his girlfriend, Jessica when she asked him to take her to Auckland for a weekend holiday. She had never been there and with her hands tightly gripped together, and pleading voice she begged him to take her. And he was always clay in Jessica’s hands. She only had to look at him through her long brown fringe, wrap her slender, pliant body around him, then fix her deep blue eyes on his and he was hers forever, placidly agreeing to anything.

Jessica did not know the real reason behind his reluctance to go near the city and he definitely did not want her to think he was pathetic because he feared tolling bells. So he planned the trip to the city as carefully as he could to avoid contact with tolling bells. This was very difficult, as she had set her heart on staying in central Auckland, the hub of tolling church and town square bells. Despite his anxiety, he cleaned his farm blackened nails, scrubbed his sun bleached curling locks, and put on his best pair of jeans and checked shirt.

Her father dropped them at Tirau and with time to spare Jessica insisted they go into the Clock Peddler’s shop. As he walked through the door a tight knot formed in his stomach, making him stiff and upright. Agitated by the jerking movement of every clock’s hands and the syncopated beat of their varied ticking he plunged his hands into his pockets and turned all his bones to steel. As they walked through the door she clapped her hands and laughed aloud declaring in a high pitched, excited voice that it was ‘her favourite’ place. He might have agreed because the clocks were very beautiful. However, black dread began spreading through him like oozing mud. He jumped when a cuckoo popped out of its cage and chirped ten times.

Then he relaxed and smiled. Why had he reacted like that? The clock was really lovely with ornate  carvings around the doorway through the cuckoo had popped.  Then he thought that if he could see the silliness of reacting to a cuckoo clock why he should be on edge about all the other clocks and their menacing hands crawling toward ten o’clock.

Beside him Jessica clutched her hands together in pure delight and her eyes shone. All the clocks around her transfixed her. She giggled loudly as she pointed to the Swiss lady below the cuckoo wearing a red and yellow Dirndl and holding flowers.

All around them were clocks of every kind, grandfather clocks, tinkling chime clocks and cheeky Mickey Mouse clocks.

"Oh look," she cried pointing her brightly painted fingernails to a grandfather clock.

He pretended to be interested but alarm was knifing through him as he registered that its golden face showed it was just five minutes to ten o’clock. As a diversion, he tried to interest her in the black and gold vintage car parked outside.

"That is very cool," he said, pointing to the car.

His voice quivered as the clock ticked away the seconds.

“Yes,” she agreed, off-handedly.

But then she wrapped her arms around one of Jamie’s and said, "This is neat in here. But I love these clocks." She squeezed him tightly. “Do you promise we can have a fantastic clock like this one, one day?”

Her voice, usually melodic and gentle, was persuasive now, up several octaves with excitement and echoing around the shop. Her love of clocks was as intense as his dislike of them. 

“Sure," he squeaked, anxiously trying to get her away from the grandfather clock. The small hand jerked to two minutes away from ten o’clock.

Jessica gave a delighted squeal and wrapped him in her Fairy Dust perfume. Her breasts bunched together under her red and white peasant top and he could not take his eyes from her bulging cleavage. The big hand on the clock quivered before jerking to the next minute. Jamie felt his blood thicken to ice. Another minute shuddered by. Jessica’s red gathered skirt swayed around him filling him with conflicting emotions. His body was urging him to stay and his mind was screaming, ‘get out of here!’

The hand on the clock clicked and his terror returned with all its crippling force. He closed his eyes and waited, hardly daring to breathe, for the clock to chime. He squeezed Jessica so tightly she squealed and tried to slip away. But she was held fast and she fixed him with a mystified frown. He loosened his grip and she remained within the embrace of his farm freckled arms. For a split moment, when her body pressed into his, he no longer cared if the grandfather clock chimed.

The second hand hit ten and the clock chimed in his ear. He stiffened as if an electric shock ran through him.

"I've got to get out of here," he gasped, rushing outside where he gulped in huge lumps of air. The sound of the clock followed him and finally fell silent.

He squinted into the bright sunlight and thrust his hands into the pockets of his jeans. Breathing heavily he fixed his gaze on the vintage car. Jessica caught his arm.

“You okay?” she asked, softly.

He shrugged. “I guess,” he muttered.

He crossed his arms to steady his breathing.

“I’m really hungry,” he said. “Let’s get a hot dog.”

He half turned and the town clock rang. With a pained cry he clamped his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut tight. "Oh my god," he cried. "They're everywhere."

And behind his eyelids, as if they were a screen, he saw the guns and the soldiers through a smoke vapour. He forced his eyes open and doggedly strode across the road to a busy burger bar. Jessica followed him with short, half-running steps. He ordered two hot dogs. To disguise his crippling anxiety he stood to admire the vintage car.

“That’s so cool,” he said with a wobbling voice.

"That is so cute," Jessica cried and, grinning widely, he agreed.

"Look at how they've gold plated the muffler. That’s totally awesome! I'd love to do one of those up," he said wistfully.

"They are very expensive." She caught her bottom lip between her teeth doubtfully.

The town’s clocks were silent and relief flooded through him.

"We can save up." His brown eyes danced.

She chuckled. "I guess. But I want a grandfather clock first." Underneath the overly confident laughter, their mood was distinctly uneasy.

He nodded half-heartedly and miserably looked away over the hills to where the farm was. Jessica set suspiciously narrowed eyes on Jamie.

“Are you okay?”

He forced himself to shrug nonchalantly. “Yes.” He grinned, mischief dancing in his eyes. "We'll keep the clock in the barn."

She playfully batted him. "Sure with your really flash vintage car," she retorted, giggling.

As they made their order she kept looking at him with puzzled eyes. After they got their order they went to sit on the seat and wait for the bus. Jamie pulled out a handful of chips, oozing with bright red tomato sauce and pushed them into his mouth.

“I love clocks that chime,” Jessica declared between mouthfuls. “I want a house full of them.”

Jamie concentrated on eating his hot dog. Jessica was Jamie’s first love and he did not want her to know how much he hated clocks. Every now and then, he cast a quick glance at her to see if her demeanour had changed and her love of clocks did not make her eyes shine the way his had when he saw the vintage car. He was trying to find the right moment to tell her he could never live with clocks that chimed. Instead, she kept naming all the clocks she wanted, grandfather, grandmother, mantelpiece … on and on until his ears burned. Under such a barrage, he did not dare reveal his phobia. He sat miserably beside her and shoved some more chips into his mouth. Jessica was the most beautiful person in the world, with her golden locks and dancing voice and he could never let her think he was afraid of anything, especially clocks, which was ridiculous.

Finally, she realised he was very quiet and she asked why that was. He was about to confess when the bus lumbered over the hill. It was like a magic bus, painted in black and blue with a silver fern running diagonally across each side with red stars randomly scattered all over it.

As they sat in the red and black seats Jessica lightly kissed him on the cheek and held his work roughened hand.

”Was it something I did?” she gently asked.

He looked at her with tortured blue eyes and gravely shook his head. “No.” He gave her a crooked smile and he drew in a deep breath. “Do you know how many chimes you hear in a day?” She shook her head.  “There are thousands!” he told her, despondently looking out the window at the fields passing by.

She followed his gaze and rolled her eyes. Although she tried she could not understand what bothered him.

Jamie wanted to give Jessica the world. But a world without chiming clocks if possible.

She squeezed his hand and then let it rest in his as the bus rumbled toward the city. They were off on an adventure – two days in Auckland. By the time they arrived at the Heritage Hotel he had regained his composure and, exhausted, he fell on the bed, smudging the white cover with his muddy shoes.

“Jamie, don’t make a mess,” Jessica cried.

He sat up to pull off his shoes and, laughing, she pushed him back on the bed and pulled his shoes off for him. She tossed them to the other side of the small gold and white room and fell down beside him. He pulled her to him and kissed her, capturing a laugh in her throat.

Later, they walked down Queen Street holding hands and as they walked, street performers and homeless people began to appear. It was like being at a Fair ground. Some had bizarre make up on, like the tin man from the Wonderful World of Oz who moved when Jamie put a coin into his bowl. Beside him, another man curled up with a blanket over his head. There was a sign in front of him saying, ‘please give me a dollar, so I can go to the job centre.’

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. If you give them money they follow you, begging for more, especially kids.”

Jamie felt his muscles ripple across his broad shoulders and undulate down his spine. “I can afford it so I should share it.”

Jessica pouted. “Why? They started out just like you and me.” She paused and indignantly sucked in air. “They threw their choices away.”

A corner of his heart hardened. “Not everyone,” he murmured and he dropped a coin on top of a fluttering five dollar note.

Another street performer rode by on his unicycle. He held out a top hat. Coins covered the black lining with gold. Jamie again 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 fear. 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 sun behind her casting a long afternoon shadow over them, like the hands of a clock. The chiming stopped and Jamie cautiously moved his hands away from his ears. Puzzled, Jessica took in what had happened.

“What’s wrong?” she demanded. When she got no answer she huffily walked away.

Jamie waited to make sure there were no more chimes to come. He sat hunched with his arms wrapped around his knees. The homeless man’s bony fingers rubbed the knobbles of Jamie’s spine.

“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 his reflection in the jaded blue eyes.

“That could be me,” he fearfully thought.

Just as the idea flickered across his mind, the man gently nodded. “I started out just like you.”

Jamie recoiled from his bad breath and tobacco blackened teeth. He looked desperately for Jessica. But she was looking in a jeweller’s window where miniature anniversary clocks beat out time with golden balls. He tried to get up to join her but found his bones no longer held him. He felt stuck beside the very strange man with the curling beard and lost look in his icy blue eyes.

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 top and set the fabric swaying.

She giggled as she watched him disappear through the crowds, reappear then disappear once more behind darkening street lamps. 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 old man fiercely clutched Jamie to his chest.

“Let him go,” she wildly cried, pulling as hard as she could. But he seemed stuck and unable to move.

“They all said I had a choice,” the old man mumbled. “But one day you will see.”

Jamie seemed to come out of a daze and shifted as Jessica pulled him from the old man’s grip.

He stumbled to a nearby bench where buses stopped, and sat.

The man with the shining silver painted body moved as someone passed by and dropped a coin in his cricket player's hat. He nodded a friendly, ‘thank you.’

Away in the distance, another clock chimed. Jamie froze. “God, stop those clocks,” he moaned.

The clocks in the jeweller’s window started chiming also. Jamie balled his fists against his eyes then thumped the reinforced glass of the bus shelter.

“Shut up!” he screamed. Everywhere he looked, he saw clocks. Jessica was back at the jeweller’s shop staring in the window. He ran over and took her hand. “Come, we have to go.”

But then he was drawn by a child’s clock in the shape of Mickey Mouse which winked at him as his gloved hands moved away from the three. The clocks stopped chiming as if they had heard his desperate pleas.

Jamie’s breath came in loud chunking choking clumps. He was suffocating. He stumbled against the old man, and righted himself by leaning against the shop window, breath misting the glass. His eyes fixed on a watch on a fob chain.

Like an apparition his father, who had died years ago, looked back at him. “Mind the time,” he said. “It goes like this.” He snapped his thumb and middle finger. “You will never notice it missing.” The golden fob chain disappeared.

Shocked, Jamie slid down the wall and sat beside Jessica who patiently waited.

His mother had kept just one clock of the many his father owned after he walked out the door. She said she had no time for all his rattling dust collectors. So after living the first five years of his life with the sound of ringing chimes, the house became strangely silent. Just one clock chimed at midday…marking the time her husband walked out the door. A rustle beside him bought Jamie out of his reverie.

The old man had pulled himself up until he sat with his back resting against the shop window beside Jamie. A whistling wind curled around the corner and came towards them. It smelt like frangipani. The sweet perfume became overpowering as it drew closer, making him cough. Jamie froze and, frightened, Jessica clung to him.

The old man pointed at Jamie. “I knew your father,” he said, his voice echoing as if he spoke down a time tunnel. “He wasted time.”

“No-one does that,” Jamie protested. “We all fill time with what we do.”

The old man gave a little nod. “Sometimes life just carries you along.” He pointed a bony forefinger at Jamie. “Your father did that.”

Immediately fascinated Jamie asked, “What did my father do?”

The Silver Man turned to him and knowledgeably winked. “Sometimes you only have choice if you know about it,” he mouthed.

A passerby in a business suit dropped a gold coin into his battered bucket and the silver man crustily whirred as he turned to face the setting sun. “Thanks,” he said, taking a bow. “I love the streets.” He winked again. “They are free,” he added.

Jessica now tugged Jamie’s hand with sharp desperate jerks. “Let’s go back to our hotel right now.”

But Jamie remained fixed upright and unmoving, like the Silver Man without the Silver paint.

“Don’t,” she cried out as he stepped, like a marionette toward the silver man who beckoned him. The Silver Man’s hand dropped as the old man’s voice rose, more insistent than the Silver Man’s

“Come here son.” The old man tapped the ground beside him with an aging gnarled hand.

Not at all sure whom he should sit beside, Jamie began pacing. Both watched him anxiously stride back and forth. Neither said anything. Eventually he decided he trusted the old man and went over to him.

He carefully 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 lying curled foetal-like in each dark pupil. Jamie imagined his father cradled a broken heart. The old man’s next crackling words confirmed this. As he spoke, he closed his eyes. "We mended your father's torn, shredded heart," he said. "Time does that you know. But it also destroys very strong souls. We stitched his heart together. But then…"

Appalled, Jamie leapt to his feet and cried, pain meshing through his body.

“If he was finally mended why didn't he come back to me?”

A look of great sorrow overwhelmed the man’s craggy face, “we never knew sadness could unpick each stitch.”


The Silver Man carefully turned, afraid he might break his silver coat. "The clock kept chiming so he knew his time was coming."

“What does that mean?”

The old man looked to the sky. “The call. The war. The planes. They broke him. He collected clocks to remind him of the minutes that passed after he was freed.”

Jamie’s frightened eyes fixed on the old man and then bounced over the Silver Man, who, with a barely perceptible flick of his hand bade Jamie leave.

“You must fly.” Jamie’s heart felt as if a river poured into it and as the river streamed, in his heart filled with courage. He would never be like his father.

Suddenly certain of his future, he put his arm around Jessica. He would love Jessica forever and keep her close to him. He could 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 never knew…" he sang. "He was born when chiming clocks spelled doom. War was rolling across the countryside.”

The town hall clock loudly struck six times. He squeezed Jessica’s hand. “Let’s fill our house with lots of clocks,” he said. "I want our house to remind us that time should be filled with happy memories.”

He remembered a homily in a frame in his mother’s kitchen which read, ‘Every laden second is lost forever’.



Thank you so much Angela. What valuable and insightful feedback! I really apprecite it!