As long as we’ve been married, there have been no ticking clocks in our bedroom at night, or even in rooms adjacent to our bedroom, and even when I wore a watch, Angela insisted that it be “put out” at night, like a dog. I used to roll my eyes at her antichronometerism, as though to be unsoothed by the ticking of a clock — indeed to find the sound of a clock other than sleep-inducing — was somehow inhuman and bizarre. If you know anything about how stories go, you might foresee that taking this attitude was in the long run unwise on my part.
Yesterday morning Angela came across one of our little decorative clocks in a state of disassembly on the kitchen table. It lay — I knew — with its back off, its battery compartment off and its battery out, in a sort of “exploded view”.
“What happened with the clock?” Angela shouted from down the hall. I thought I heard a tone of amusement in her voice.
“I can explain that,” I shouted back, and then heard her musing at half volume, ”I bet you can.” And I did.
About the Clock
Emilia woke around midnight when we tried to crawl into bed next to her after indulging foolishly in an episode of Granada’s Sherlock Holmes (the ones with Jeremy Brett, than whom no one is better at portraying the great and flawed detective). She was reminded upon awakening that her teeth-to-be were hurting her and began crying.
Angela executed various ministrations in hopes of soothing her back to sleep, but she kept up her doling off and on for several more hours. We have not had a single uninterrupted night of sleep this week (not complaining, just painting the picture for you) so in the interest of self-care and personal responsibility for my own needs, I took my two pillows and our warm duvet after about the first hour and went and bedded down on the living room floor.
I was unsuccessful at falling asleep there for various reasons, among them the city’s new Stalag streetlamps one of which has been installed right outside our living room window, which has no…ah…has no…what is the word, treatments? so that the cold white industrial warehouse light foamed into the room and coated everything with a depressing bright gray. Millie continued to wail at intervals, just as I would be nodding off. The cats downstairs — they sleep downstairs behind a closed door because they have not yet learned not to jump onto the faces of sleepers or climb the refrigerator in the wee hours — would mew loudly ever and anon.
But what was really maddening was a loud ticking or dripping sound that I gradually became aware of. It didn’t sound regular enough to be a clock, the interval seemed much longer than a second and some of the instances were much louder than others. It sounded more like occasional dripping onto a piece of paper outside, which it might be, I thought, because I had opened a window to get some fresh air in the living room and it was probably raining.
I tried to ignore it, but every now and again it became so loud, like two or three ticks in a row that sounded like they were very close by. I lifted my head to see if my ears could triangulate its location, but the sound seemed to be coming first from one direction, then another. What, some kind of strange insect accidentally imported from Sulawesi? A not-quite-randomly-ticking mantis or locust? Really, I was so tired that I sort of imagined such a creature flying around the room, ticking when it alit.
Now it was making me angry. The more I tried to not hear it, the more it became the only sound I heard, like Poe’s telltale heart. Tick…TICK…tick… … …tick…TICK!!!…TICK!!!…tick…Tick…tick, it said.
Finally I sat up. Angela laughs to picture this part in her mind, but I assure you, as I assured her, that it would not have made attractive viewing. Middle-aged guy in underwear, drooling with exhaustion, with an unfriendly scowl writ across his brow and all other facial muscles that can be summoned to the task. He rises slowly, listening to the tick and the tick and the TICK!!!, and he slowly turns — this turning part can actually be imagined cinematically with judicious slow zoom if the lighting is not heavyhanded — until he is looking across the long living room at the baker’s table, looking across the long room to the clock sitting there, the pretty little clock that he and his wife got years ago on one of their day trips to La Conner.
It doesn’t occur to him at this hour, in this drained state, to wonder why this clock is on the baker’s table in the living room. Usually it’s in the kitchen. What he doesn’t know is that only a night or two earlier, his wife had moved it from the kitchen because it was driving her mad with a loud ticking. It is evident to him now that the sound is not moving around the room, it is coming from where the clock sits. How it threw its voice, let alone disguised it as that of a small Indonesian beetle, is anybody’s guess, but that was all a red herring, a trick to throw him off while he lay on the floor. Now fully risen to a man’s height, he is in full possession of faculties incapable of being swindled. He bends forward and steps across the room as carefully as a fox, but maybe looking more like a heron, his ears leading him, his eyes holding the sound in place as with sharp spears, until he comes literally face to face with the rotund little fiend.
I wait. It seems to be making no noise at all for a moment, then I hear several low, quiet, quartzy ticks. And then it goes TICK!!! right up my nose. The ensuing scuffle resulted in the heap of parts Angela found in the morning.
That was my explanation about the clock. But Angela didn’t need any explanation. She had understood all as soon as she’d seen the clock parts on the table, and she felt vindicated. As she put it later, “Imagine my glee…”