Michael set the kettle upon the hob and lit the gas. The blue of its noisy light occupied his gaze momentarily. Then he turned away, his eyes upon the mottled brown of the floor-tiles. These simple acts had had their effect, nonetheless, and knowing that the darkness still sat in the chair that he had shared all afternoon he looked up and scanned the pale cream walls in search of some further distraction.
When it came the distraction was obvious, a delicious surprise, as though he had not stared at it for hours, sitting in the gloom. It was something of his old self that lifted the ornate, French clock from the place where it had long hung, its weight familiar and the feel of its gold casing adding to the certainty that was forming. He gave a bashful smile to the markings that remained where it had been.
What had prompted him to such an act he was as yet unwilling to consider; the broken clock had hung in that spot above the kitchen table for ever. What he did know, and what he was unafraid to acknowledge as he stepped from the kitchen, making his way to the lean-to workshop, was that the clock he held, a birthday present from his children, deserved to be repaired.
The weeds between the paving-stones showed their usual resilience, the thick green of their stalks robust as they peeped between every available crack. Michael was not a gardener, he took no pleasure in such work, and if his mood had been a fraction closer to its norm, he might not even have noticed the decay. As it was he kicked idly at the weeds as he passed the kitchen window and into the shed.
There, with the exception of the light left burning carelessly, he found things as expected. The old leather chair, the only gift he had accepted from City Clocks, was just so, and he felt the reassurance of its much-worn leather as he pulled it out and took a seat. The bench in front of him showed all the order he had acquired during his many years of work, his back-log of jobs tidied with his usual care.
He gave no thought to these as he placed his own clock on the bench; nor did it worry him that the front room remained cluttered as before. The task ahead required his full attention, and he had no space for other thought as he unpinned the delicate hands and unscrewed the gilt-edged face. He might, thus, have slid from under Mary’s feet, just as she had been telling him to do.
To his right, in a cabinet he had bought during his first week of retirement, were the tools he would need for the repair. He used these to remove the movement, arranging the casing on a tray where the four upturned screws stood in a row. The next step was easy, the mainstay of his career, and though he had often worked with such mechanisms, he enjoyed the slow, patient concentration it required.
He returned to the drawers of the cabinet, reading each label though the tools were in place. The let-down key, stored neatly in a size-ordered set, was his particular favourite. He had fashioned the handle himself out of wood, and though there were few now to appreciate the skill he had employed in the making of such a simple device, he had enough self-pride to enjoy his own work.
He examined the handle slowly, appreciating its weight, before attaching it to the barrel. The movement was similar to many he had seen, and he was already guessing at the give of a bushel and the wear of a pivot as he prepared to release the ratchet. He did not do so, however; the wheels, trains, barrels and fly remained untouched as the let-down key paused above the spring.
©2011 Padraig De Brún