My Grandfather Clock By Jennifer Christensen

Posted: October 13, 2015 in Blog Posts, Short Stories
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What is time? It can be considered a great many things. It can be an object you hold in your hand, like a fob watch. Or someone’s life, usually someone close to you. One thing is certain. It is never-ending. Time does not discriminate, nor does it change. Time never stops.

            I am in the hospital. Not in a bed, but looking down at one. There is an elderly man lying there, covered up to his shoulders in a thick sheet. He means a lot to me. I take his hand gingerly, noticing the dark veins as they contrast with the chalky, pale hue of his skin. His color is whiter than it should be. I fear that one wrong touch of his cold hand could break one of the bones, so I set his hand slowly back down beside him. He is becoming weaker.

            On the bedside table is an antique brass pocket watch. It isn’t open, but I know the little hands inside are telling the exact time, pointing to each Roman numeral in a most precise manner. Intricate leaf designs curl around the outside covering. The finish on the lid’s hinges is fading, but on the inside it still tells the time perfectly. This is grandfather’s watch. I don’t know much about it, except that it still works, even after centuries of use. He says he doesn’t remember how he got it, only that it was a long time ago. Suddenly, he stirs. It’s as if he feels my presence and there is something important to be told. Those foggy, ancient eyes open up and become young when he sees me. His voice is raspy and weak. “Is that you, Ben?”

            “Yeah, Gramps. It’s just me.”

            “Just you? If I wasn’t attached to an IV and all these other contraptions I’d be hugging you right now, Benny boy.”

            That puts a grin on my face. Grandpa always knew how to cheer me up. Still does, even in his hospital bed. There is something about the way he calls me Benny Boy. Even when a man is in his twenties, he can’t escape those childish nicknames his family gives him. But I don’t really mind, even now. Grandpa starts to ask a question. “You’re here. But where’s your father?” He eagerly awaits the answer, fishing for information about his loved ones. That was gramps. Always putting others first. “So? Where’d he go?”

            “He, uh…”  I start to say. “Dad’s not here yet. He’s still at work.”

            Grandpa seems disappointed. I don’t blame him. After all, Dad is never really there when you need him most. That’s a job only for Mom. But Grandpa looks to the pocket watch. Even the simple act of turning his head seems like an effort. “I wanted to give him something,” he says.

            “Well, I’m sure he’ll get here soon,” I lie.

            “No, Ben.” Grandpa starts coughing loudly. He clutches at his sides, trying to make it stop. The coughing fit seems as if it will never end. But when it finally subsides, he continues, “He’s not here so I’m going to give it to you. I think you would have gotten it eventually.” He looks to the pocket watch again. “Can you bring it to me?”

            I am confused. Why would he want the watch? But I bring it to him just the same. He turns it over in his hands for a few seconds, drinking in the sight of the beautiful brass finish on the lid. “I got this a long time ago,” he says slowly. “For as long as I can remember, it has never stopped working. Never even had to wind it up,” he remarks with a grin. “But it gets me through everything. All I know is that it’s old like me, and it changed hands through many generations. I got it from my father, I guess. And he got it from my grandfather. But I think he found it somewhere else. I can’t remember…” He trails off and closes his eyes.

            “I thought you never remembered where you found it,” I say, wondering if Grandpa is really beginning to forget everything he once knew.

            “No,” he says. “I told you that to make the story more interesting.”

            I smile and wait for him to continue. He doesn’t. “Will you tell me the real story?”

            “You already know bits and pieces,” Grandpa says. “The only reason the bullies never bothered me was because I had that watch. In the schoolyard, I never got into many fights. But I won my first one pretty quickly. And that was in my pocket,” he says, peering at it from beneath his drowsy eyelids. “Remember the war stories? Maybe your father told you some others.”

            “Yeah,” I say. “But you told me most of them.”

            “There is one I haven’t told you.”

            Grandpa starts coughing again, this time shaking the entire bed.

            “Are you ok?” I rush to the edge of the bed because it is closer to him. But he stops coughing. Within the next minute, his pocket watch is shoved into my hands.

            “It is yours now,” he says in a weaker tone than before. “It brings good luck.”

            “But Gramps, you never believed in luck,” I say. He had always been the realistic one.

            “I have for a long time,” he insists. “It started during the war when I was in Japan. You remember a few of those stories, don’t you Ben?” Grandpa starts to cough again, but he doesn’t go into one of his horrible fits. He is calm in a matter of seconds. He continues, “One of them was right in front of me with his sword drawn. You heard me talk about katanas, right?”

            I know he is talking about the samurai swords that Japanese soldiers used in the war. I hear these types of stories from Grandpa quite often. But I have a feeling that this one will be different.

            Grandpa lifts up one of his fingers and points. “That watch saved me. You see, there were bullets flying over our heads, and we had to stay low to the ground. It was so hot over there that we didn’t mind lying on our stomachs in the mud. But I was young and stupid. I started to charge at one of them. His sword was drawn, but I had my gun ready. The next thing I know, there’s something falling out of my pocket. I look down and it’s the watch.” Grandpa sighs, as if he is scolding himself for something he did wrong. “I let it fall right into the mud, so naturally I tried to pick it up. I stooped down. Just as I did, a bullet whizzed over my head and hit the Japanese soldier instead.” He is silent for a minute. But then he continues, “It was terrible. But I’m alive now because of that stupid watch. If I had put a chain on it like I should have, it would never have fallen out of my pocket. And I’d be dead right now,” he adds.

            “How come you never told me that before?” I ask.

            “I’m not sure,” he says. “Maybe I just knew it wasn’t the right time yet. Besides, that wasn’t the only time it brought me luck. Your grandmother only started talking to me because she saw it on me one day. There she was, in that little old diner down the street. I still remember what she was wearing. I told her she looked like the tablecloth because her dress was red and white, like those checkerboard table coverings.” Grandpa starts chuckling. “Boy, she was offended after that! It took her a few days before she’d talk to me again.”

            I start to laugh with Grandpa, too. It seems that I always take his stories for granted. I shouldn’t, because these are the best stories. My father doesn’t tell me stories like this. Now we don’t even see each other much. I remember what it was like when I was still in school. It was silent each day when I came home. Our rapport consisted of small talk. The how are you’s and one word answers played like a broken record in my head. We didn’t really talk about much. I’d come home and go to my room to do homework while he’d sit at the table reading a newspaper. His eye would be pressed to the magnifying glass, eagerly awaiting the next word on the page. I don’t understand how the politics and problems of the world fascinate him. Sometimes it seems like that is all he sees. After all, he never sees me.

            My thoughts are interrupted by the door opening. We both look to see who it is. It’s my dad. He looks exhausted and worn out. “I came as soon as I could.  There was so much traffic,” he says between deep breaths. I can tell he ran up the stairs. Dad’s dark hair is sticking up at odd ends and his face is white, making him look like he hasn’t slept in a while.

            “So you didn’t have a meeting after?” I ask.

            “I skipped the meeting, of course,” he answers. “My father is in the hospital. I’m sure they will understand.”

            I am astonished. My dad, who never seems to care about anything but his job and his newspaper, is here at the hospital. He is actually making an effort.

            I realize that time is forgiving.

            Grandpa suddenly gets a very strange look in his eyes. He was never one for goodbyes, after all. I start to remember little things. Like the times I had been at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for lunch. Grandma would make us a meatloaf or lasagna, or whatever she felt like making that day. She would set the plate in front of Grandpa, who would complain that it wasn’t his favorite. He’d tease her and ask why she never makes steak anymore. Then she’d smile and tell him to shut up and eat it because everyone knew he would like it anyway. Grandpa would then dig in, clean his whole plate, and pat his belly, telling her she should make it more often. Everyone would laugh, including my father, who seldom showed much emotion.

            I am still in the hospital. Not in a bed, but looking down at one. My grandfather is not moving, and there are nurses and doctors all around him. They tell me that I should leave, but I’m not really hearing them. I’m hearing the sound of Grandpa’s voice and the high-pitched ticking of the pocket watch as I listen and hold it up to my ear. Suddenly, the ticking stops.

            It is now seven days after Grandpa left. Things aren’t the same. It is like he’s taken a long vacation and he won’t be back for a very long time. He doesn’t come over for dinner twice a week anymore. Grandma can’t scold him about making a mess at the table. And what I miss most of all is hearing his stories about how times have changed. I used to take them for granted, but now I wish they would come back to meet me like an old friend. Mom says she misses him too.

            I know that Grandpa taught me many things. He taught me how to swim and how to fish. He even helped teach me how to ride a bike. But now, I realize, he is teaching me something else. Time stops for no one. The watch stopped, but grandfather didn’t. This I will never forget.

            I never found the secret of the watch. All I know is that the morning after Grandpa died, the watch started its ticking again. It was completely silent in my room, and as I awoke from a deep slumber, I heard it. I threw off the heavy covers and jumped out of bed. Once at my desk, I gently picked up the watch, staring at the intricate designs as if they were puzzle pieces. The ticking continued as I glanced down and pressed open the lid. The tiny hands were slowly moving around the clock face. I could see that the watch was alive again. A thin smile stretched across my face immediately as I remembered Grandpa.

            Everything stops living if it lives enough. This I know. But time is different. What is time?

            It can be considered a great many things. It can be an object you hold in your hand, like a fob watch. Or someone’s life, like my grandfather. But one thing is certain. It is never-ending. Time does not discriminate, nor does it change. Time is forgiving, and time never stops.

                                                    Jennifer Christensen For Beyond Sanity Publishing        


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