It is late at night, or rather early in the morning when he turns on the light by his bed and dims it low enough to just see the face of the small alarm clock–for he doesn’t want her wife asleep next to him to be awoken by the light.
His face faces the face of the watch. It is sort of a symmetry, his face on one side, the clock’s face on the other; the clock ticking (too loud for this time of silence) and his heart beating.
Contemplating the clock he begins to consider it. It is a wonder of technology, a quartz oscillator’s output is divided down into a pulse per second and the pulses drive the mechanical wheels, and the wheels the hands. He doesn’t know the details, just the general picture. The whole clock, or at least the outside of it, is made of plastic. It is a clean design, forget the plastic part, after all, what’s wrong with plastic? Nothing.
The alarm clock came into his possession with a broken leg that he glued back in place. The ‘bandaged’ leg makes him smile. Because of the broken leg he got the clock : one day it was written off as ‘damaged by customers” in the place he works, and thrown in the garbage by another shop assistant. Later when there was no one around he retrieved the clock, it’s broken leg broken but still attached. He plugged a battery in it kept it on top of the computer screen on the sales counter until the little clock showed it was time to go home. This didn’t happen today or yesterday but several years ago.
He wonders if the plastic cog wheels he imagines inside the clock are slowly wearing off until one day they will not engage each other and will spin and spin inside while the clock hands remain immobile; then time will stop for the little clock who couldn’t anymore.
There are times when its battery begins to run low in electrons. When in this condition, the seconds hand moves one “tick” forwards and one backwards. He knows it’s crazy but he doesn’t like to see the clock in this sorry condition, trying to push time onwards, and failing. It’s not for lack of trying, it pushes the second forwards, but it is too weak and the second falls back on it; but it tries again, and again … When he sees this happening, he replaces the battery. “There you are” he tells it softly and now the seconds don’t fall back.
A long time ago, when he was a child, there was this clock, a pendulum clock on the wall of the big dining room of his maternal grandfather’s house in the south of Argentina, real south, so far south, that once, his grandfather, when a horse ride had taken them miles from the house, dismounted, and after stretching his old stiff legs, holding his horse by the reins, touched his leg, pointed somewhere in the vast expanse and said :
“Over there is Punta Arenas and beyond the South pole”.
He wondered how his grandfather knew which way was south, for all around them it was the same: under a gray sky, a vast expanse of flat land, dotted with flocks of sheep. He knew that not all the world was like this, Buenos Aires where he went to boarding school was different and the cordillera, although unseen here, existed. But after a few weeks in Patagonia the rest of the world seemed unreal, something one has dreamed of or read about in fairy tales.
The South was special; he intuited that there was only one Patagonia and nothing else like it in the whole world, and the realization made him feel melancholic, missing what was still all around him.
The morning after that horse ride, he wound the clock in the dining room, it was his self appointed duty. He loved the sound of the wheels groaning as the key in his hand turned them.
At night, sometimes when reading until dawn, he listened to the clock sound the hours, it’s pendulum keeping a steady beat. He had taken it up to him to wind the clock after his grandmother had told him, and he had believed it, that the clock, the only one in the house, made the time move forwards and if the clock would happen to stop, time would stop and they would become frozen in time for ever. This he was told when he was very young, when he had asked her grandmother why was she turning a key in the clock. Later when he found out it wasn’t true, he somehow still believed the clock had some kind of power: although time wouldn’t freeze if the pendulum clock stopped, something bad would happen. He didn’t know what, he only knew when.
Now old and living far away from that southern ‘estancia’ in Argentina, he often wonders, well, not that often, but tonight yes, what happened to the old clock in his grandparents house.
He was living in Europe when the coldest winter in decades and the subsequent drought decimated their grandparents sheep. His grandparents cut their losses, sold the house and moved north as far north as Uruguay, where they tried their hand at raising cattle, and failed for they were too old for that kind of labour. He saw them for the last time at his father’s home in Mendoza and almost cried to see them so old, beaten by age, by time really. He didn’t mention Patagonia and neither did them.
Looking at the small plastic clock as he slowly falls asleep, he imagines that all clocks, old and new, mechanical or electronic, made of plastic, or wood and metal are part of a big family, or perhaps … yes, that’s it: they are all members of a guild of time makers, making time for all eternity.