From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Timepiece

After the dogs chewed the hands off the clock, we had only the chimes to remind us of time. If we were engrossed in our work and missed the sound of them, we lost the hour. This occurred often, as you might imagine. Winding the clock became the most crucial task of our day. We were afraid that sooner or later someone would forget, then time would stop and the rest of the world would go on without us. But this was in a time before Timelessness.

It wasn’t that our standards were as consistent as that of the outside world. After we moved to this place, the old clock took on a mind of its own. Like indulgent parents, we overlooked its early misconduct. The chimes were not as reliable as they had been–they began to strike odd combinations at quirky intervals, and sound out in peculiar tones. Perhaps we should have considered the possibility of defection in a more serious light. Perhaps we should have thought about the inevitable lapse of synchronism, however tentative it might have seemed then. Perhaps we should have made contingency plans, studied shadows or celestial bodies.

We chose to allow its quirks.

We might have recognized the old clocks inclination to “strike out for attention” as opposed to the smooth performance of contracted function–that being the regular and consistent process of marking increments of time. Beyond the pretext of furniture, it stood proud and tall, covetous of its role as Keeper of Time, reveling in the attention of careful polishing and regular winding by acolytes. For love of furniture goes beyond person-to-object or object-to-object, or even object-to-itself, itself-to-itself; inspiring ever more perverse pairings of which we dare not speak.

Chronometric decline ensued sometime after the move, causing distortions in the pervading continuum: the doors that opened to the clock’s face and works commenced to hang ajar in a state of warp; chiming became garbled and erratic. Ministrations of chronometric practitioners were to no avail. “Best to grant evolution with dignity,” they advised.

“But what of us?” we asked him.

Committed as he was, to the well being of such crucial devices, he could only shake his head at such a question. We were chagrined at our pettiness, shamed to silence.

It was not long after this that the dogs took matters into their own “hands,” as it were. Ordinarily, we trust them to follow their own nature which compels them to protect us from abstractions and affectations. The act of consumption against the agent of continuity was their greatest and most defiant exploit, so far reaching in its effect that we’re humbled by their audacity. We were stunned by their duplicity as our tenuous confidence had rested solely on the dependability of their instincts. We had believed they were the only creatures that could be trusted to be vigilant and responsible. We might not have credited them with this surreptitious act had it not been for their lethargy and metallic-smelling hiccups after its discovery. We awoke that morning to find them lying smugly at the foot of the afflicted timepiece, daring us with hard eyes to challenge their priority.

Thinking back, there had been signs of impending canine betrayal. They’d taken their position weeks before the event. Daily, they lazed at the foot of the clock with looks of boredom and innocence, quietly observing our movements. We attributed this indolence to age and the palpitant quality of ticking, which seemed to function as soothing anodyne. We dismissed intermittent growling, raised eyebrows, and furtive glances. We ignored eyes obsessively following movements of the pendulum. Reluctance at outdoor excursions was regarded as laziness, aversion to cool weather.

The ill-fated morning arrived in fog-draped chill, resistance to endeavor, and the shock of bare feet on cold floor. The dogs, strangely indifferent to our delayed emergence, languished quietly until discharged to their morning run. Housemates went about appointed tasks reluctantly, idling in snug wraps at the windows. We sipped warm liquids awaiting purpose. We watched the river Absolong flow beneath the cliff on which the old house rested. It wasn’t long before the deed was discovered. A call went up, and choking gasps interrupted the quiet morning.

The dogs lapped at water bowls and lounged shamelessly, but there was no mistaking their brazen impropriety; each human sigh and timid admonishment was met by low menacing growls. The pack would not be separated. After that we had no recourse to the collapsing undertones despite attempts at jerry rigging and maintenance supported by regular and ardent windings.

The dogs were indifferent.

Housemates fell into a state of witless communal agitation that degenerated into bouts of coarse blame aimed at one another. They became careless about the winding schedule, futile that it was. As duration and tempo disintegrated, the old house contorted; assessable space contracted, groaned in garbled protest and facilitated invisible leaks. The competent, among which I’ve never been included, regressed and the impulse for polish and winding flagged.

Once abandoned, its primacy surrendered, the old clock betrayed its illusion. As with the flow of the Absolong below us, the moment stretched out ceaselessly. We watched at the windows as the world moved away, expanding beyond our reach. The doors and windows, caught in the distorted framework of the house, held fast. There was no escape. We began a nervous pantomime to counteract the wayworn stillness.

Now only vision remains, and of that there is no limit. It will feed and clothe us and lull us into complacency until rogues climb the steep path along the cliff and break in with their tents and wagons and wives to reconcile world and dog, memory and imagination.

A Manx insomniac who grew up in northern Appalachia, I assisted my dad in his magic act as a teenager and since then have been a waitress, factory worker, welfare worker, catalogued tribal arts for Sotheby’s and worked in Margaret Mead’s office. I’ve had poetry and short stories published in ezines, fantasy magazines and anthologies, and wrote Toxic Avenger II and III. I’ve spent 30 years studying tai chi, qi gong and yoga; have two married children, a long-suffering husband and am watched over by the ghost of a loyal (canine) Australian Shepherd. I lived in NYC for 32 years but now live in Brooklyn, thank goodness, where I’m pretty much a slacker who enjoys teaching my granddaughter “weird stuff.”

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