Written by Montana Rogers
The city clock chimed. Emil Osterud resisted the urge to cover his ears as half a dozen smaller clocks in the shop echoed the bells outside. Late afternoon, and it was already dark.
The oil lamp sputtered, casting dark shadows around the shop. Emil stood at the window overlooking the square. A few people, black umbrellas arching over their heads, hurried from one street corner to the next, all with a destination, a purpose, some place to go.
Emil returned to his workbench. He sat down and picked up a wristwatch. A child’s watch. A man needed time to work and provide for his family; a woman to run the home. Certainly a child didn’t need to keep time. Time is the least of a child’s concerns. The face of the watch was cracked.
When Emil was a boy he had enjoyed time spent in the shop. He had sat next to his grandfather, twisting tiny screws and helping to maneuver small gears and gadgets. On the hour, he would stand on a small stool and conduct the chorus of chiming clocks, cueing the dulcet tones of the grandfather clock in the corner, then the small tinkling of the ￼￼￼￼￼mantle clock on the shelf. In those days, Emil had all the time in the world. After helping his grandfather he might have run outside for a game of hopscotch or a race with the neighborhood boys.
Time flowed freely and was marked for him only by the disappearance and reappearance of his father, who worked in London and visited as often as he could. Periods between visits were full of time, but time flew when his father was home. Then there came a time when his father didn’t come home. When his grandfather told him the news, time changed for Emil. It counted down days, pushed relentlessly forward until the end when it would finally stand still.
“Time for dinner,” a voice called from behind him.
Emil turned. He had not heard his grandfather come into the shop. His grandfather did not work much these days. One day, without so much as an official word, the shop had become Emil’s. Now Emil sat day after day, listening to the clocks around him tick. In the past, when time had been abundant, he could have studied better, gone to university; he could have been a doctor, a businessman, a conductor. Even now, he thought maybe there were places he should be going, other things he should be doing. ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Emil removed the broken glass from the watch and began fitting a new piece.
“Very nice,” his grandfather said, admiring the watch. “A new model.” Emil watched his grandfather. In forty years, this would be him: hunched back from hours spent fixing clocks. His brown hair would turn gray, the soft skin around his eyes would wrinkle, the spark in his dark eyes would grow more faint.
“Perhaps,” Emil said. “I’ll be up shortly.” His grandfather nodded and climbed the stairs to the apartment.
Emil set the watch on a shelf near his workbench and took a broom from the corner. He began to sweep the dried mud from the entry. Mondays brought the most customers. People weren’t worried about the passing of time over the weekend, but they always wanted to be sure to count the minutes from Monday to Friday.
The bell above the door jingled and a gust of wind snuffed out the lamp.
“I’m terribly sorry.” There was a stumbling at the door.
Emil struck a match and relit the lamp. The woman was dressed in green. Her wool coat was only half buttoned. Her hair was dark and wet.
￼￼￼￼“We’re closed,” Emil said picking up the broom again.
“Yes, well, I…” The woman started rummaging through her purse. She pulled out a pocket watch. “Can you fix this?” She took a step closer to him. Emil studied the woman. She had been crying. He leaned the broom against the table.
“Tomorrow would—” Before Emil could finish his sentence, the woman pushed the watch into his hand. The metal was cool. In an instant he knew this watch was of another time. The chain was thin and long; it was a man’s watch. The crown, usually circular, was in the shape of a star. The case had silver vines crawling along the edges and a many-branched, leafless tree had been engraved on the front. Emil clicked the watch open. The crystal was intact. Behind it a dial denoted the minutes and hours, and a smaller dial ticked away the seconds. Emil moved the watch closer to the lamp.
“There’s nothing wrong with this watch,” Emil said, turning it over in his hand.
“It’s losing time,” the woman said.
Emil held the watch up to the shop clock and listened. As Emil watched, the second hand of the pocket watch hesitated a few moments too long, before staggering forward.
“It’s my father’s. He’d like to have it now. He’s very sick.” The woman looked down at the watch. “He wound it every morning. He’s had it with him his whole life.”
Emil sat on his stool. He took his tools and lay open the watch, exposing its gears and wheels. The inner workings of the watch had been carefully constructed. The design was flawless. He could not see how to fix it.
At that moment, his grandfather came down the stairs again.
“Oh,” he said spotting the woman. He glanced at Emil’s furrowed face. “May I have a look?”
Emil stood, letting him sit. His grandfather took the watch, turning it slowly in his hands. He held it up to his good ear, listened for a few moments and smiled a soft, sad smile.
He looked up at Emil. Then said to the woman, “I’m sorry. It can’t be fixed.” The woman let out a long-held breath and nodded. She took the watch and went back out into the rain.
featured in our spring 2019 issue