About the clock

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.

"...until he comes literally face to face with the rotund little fiend."

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.

What is a clock if not the beating heart of time? Illustration of "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Harry Clarke, circa 1919.

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…”  


11 Responses to “About the clock”

  1. 1 Kip December 19, 2010 at 07:44

    How fortunate that the clock had a battery! I shudder to thing what may have happened if that poor clock was of the old fashioned winding variety, and the time to complete wind down was still hours away. Maybe it would have been sent to keep the cats company behind the closed door, or sent out to mind the annoying street light. In our bathroom, we have a battery operated clock to tell me how I am doing on time in the morning. My poor wife can hear it, but I have apparently stopped acknowledging the noise. For the most part. There are times I hear it, and it takes a moment to figure out what that infernal noise is, then I realize what it is and I’m able to put it out of my head. I can also sympathize with the sleepless nights. Claire has been sick for a few days, and has been up sobbing for the past 3 or four nights. Friday into Saturday was the worst, I thing I may have has 3 hours consecutive sleep, Ami about 2. Last night was better, but Ami still had to get up with her. Looks like a nap for Mommy today!

    • 2 jstwndrng December 19, 2010 at 10:26

      Two and three hours, you folks must be hurting. My sympathies are with you. Some interesting possibilities there, Kipper, I mean about where to send the clock. I think the winding clocks of which you speak are generally more regular, so they’re easier to tune out. The quartz clocks tend to start fading in and out and getting louder and less regular as they age. It’s just an inferior technology that way. Score one for things done right before the space age. I’m sorry to hear the princess is under the weather. I hope she’s right as rain soon.

  2. 3 Librarian Girl December 20, 2010 at 15:26

    Come to think of it, I don’t have any clocks that tick in my entire house. I wonder if I would be kept awake by something that seems like such a sleepy sound.

    I agree with you about Jeremy Brett.

  3. 5 leatherhead109 December 20, 2010 at 16:03

    I also do not know of any “tick, TICKing” clocks in my life. But I wills say that there is an infernal experience in the firehouse that is akin to this. Let me explain.

    A call rings in, the tones drop, “Dong, dong, beeeeeeeeeeeeep”. A dispatcher sounding like a Charlie Brown adult begins to yap at full spate. The mind is instantly alert, feet hitting the floor, pants up, boots..oh…”its a medical”..So the engine crew fades back to dream land while the medics grumble out the door and into the night.
    Then, about five minutes after you have resumed your slumber, ,..its starts. “Beep, beep”..someone has left their pager on and it is announcing its presence with cheerful little bleeps. Stuffed in a gym bad, under the bunk, in a jacket, etc. Its sits there happily harping its little beep every two minutes. Now, mind you, two minutes can seem like a lifetime when you are trying to nod off. Just as you slip away again, there it is, “beep, beep”. There is an entire engine crew in the bunk room and no one will get out of bed to turn it off, even though it’s thumbing its little “parts” at everyone. AHhh, I the officer, older, needing to get at least some sleep, growling down the hall. Kicking the door in and rumagining about to find the offensive electronics elicits no spark from the crew as they all pretend to be asleep and as I go back to bed I can hear them snickering as if to say, “Yep, ‘knew the old man would come and turn it off for us…”

    • 6 jstwndrng December 20, 2010 at 16:48

      So unfair. Can’t you just bark at someone, some underling, some wet-behind-the-ears fireboy, to go turn off the pager? This is akin to the rule in gang-of-friends rental houses, wherein the one with the lowest tolerance for dirty dishes always ends up having to do the dishes.

      • 7 leatherhead109 December 20, 2010 at 17:15

        I am allowed the priviledges of rank, howsomever I will admit there is some satisfaction in “kicking” in the door and sounding like something conjured up from Mordor. You can tell from the particular type of snickering that they enjoy the effect as well. They are adrenalin junkies after all and they probably enjoyed getting their “Da” chapped at them as well.

  4. 8 leatherhead109 December 20, 2010 at 17:17

    By the way, after looking at your illustration, ..I don’t think I will sleep at all well tonight.

    • 9 jstwndrng December 21, 2010 at 09:36

      Isn’t that a perfectly horrific image? I found it after I had written the post and it seemed to look exactly like how I described myself, except that the guy is not in his underwear.

  5. 10 Marni December 21, 2010 at 01:37

    I love my wind-up wall clock with it’s mellow tick-tock. Puts me to sleep most nights. I miss the mellow chimes…MUST find a clock repair shop, MUST find a clock repair shop. Couldn’t handle the scary quartz clock thing!

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