Time and Again, by Deborah Jean Lucas

The Prescot Festival is pleased to announce that Deborah Jean Lucas is the winner of the 2017 Prescot Festival Short Story Competition. Her story is below, and it will also be published in the August 2017 Prescot Parish Magazine. She also receives a cheque for £100.

Time and Again

I was given as a wedding gift in 1926 to Mr and Mrs Burton, my Dora and Albert. Our dear Queen was born that same year and the General Strike almost brought the country to its knees. But I had a job to do, proudly measuring time for Mr and Mrs B. They placed me on their plain mantelpiece and there I stayed through the hours, the days, the decades. Striking, for me, meant not stopping work, but the very opposite. Ticking, I took in my stride, swinging my pendulum with ease. It was like breathing to me. I could doze and dream as I ticked and tocked. But it took effort to strike my little hammers against the gongs and chime out the quarter, half or full hour with my mellow, golden voice.

“A lovely tone,” Dora used to say I had.

Dora loved me because she was a clock person and it was Dora’s simple love that blessed me with a kind of life. I could not explain it. I did not know how or why I saw and understood the things that I did. I only knew that it was so. It was always Dora’s hand that held the large brass key. Every  eighth day she would use that strong, reviving metal to wind me back to full vitality, ready to pace out another week.

Once, long ago, Dora became unwell, somewhere in the house, unseen by me. I heard a baby cry faintly and briefly until it cried no more. Then it was Dora and Albert who cried and no one wound me on the eighth day. I slept until Dora returned with my key in her hand.

Time passed as time will.  Items joined me on the mantelpiece. Along with my more permanent companions—the framed wedding photo, and Albert’s pot of colourful paper spills for lighting his pipe—photographs of nieces and nephews, birthday cards and postcards periodically shared my space above the hearth. Ever Christmas, Dora balanced a sprig of prickly, glossy holly on me, careful not to scratch my polished oak skin and, in the spring, there were vases of fragrant, butter-coloured jonquils or bowls of blue hyacinths.

Once or twice, flakes of ceiling plaster snowed down on me as Hitler’s bombs droned and screamed around us and the world held its breath under metallic skies. Finally, the wireless told of Peace and Victory and Dora and Albert exchanged weary smiles and held each other. Streetlamps glowed optimistically through our curtains once more.

One evening, the old King’s life drew peacefully to its close and I wore black ribbon. But soon, jaunty union jacks adorned me and young Elizabeth rode to the Abbey in her golden coach. Dora and Albert sipped sherry with neighbours, proudly watching the coronation on their brand new television set in its walnut veneered case. It coldly illuminated the corner of the parlour, casting our faithful old wireless into shadow.

The coal fire which had for so long whispered, chattered and sometimes roared beneath me was replaced by a gas contraption, lit at the flick of a switch. Wrinkles appeared on Dora’s hands and they grew less steady. But still she wound me weekly, giving me life and purpose. The television was replaced by a succession of larger versions. Each spilt and spat confusing and bewildering views of the world into our little paradise. Bob Dylan was right. The times were indeed a-changing.

Albert had long ceased to go out each day and I ticked and clicked and chimed away his hours for him as he dozed in his armchair. Then one day, he smiled and closed his time-worn eyes as Dora stroked his hand. He did not wake again. Dora wept silently as she cleared his pot of spills from my side and his reading glasses from the table by his chair.

So now it was just Dora and me, the television and the wireless. Dora continued to wind me with her age-twisted fingers, her wedding ring loose on her knuckle, sometimes brushing against my brass and wood like a caress.

Then Dora slept too, and I knew that those hands would never again wind me or polish me, or give me the gifts of holly or flowers. Her eyes would no longer see my face and ask me to help measure her days.

I’ve been away for a long time now. I don’t know how many hours, days or years, only that I have been in the deepest of sleeps, an empty place full of black velvet nothingness where time itself, my life breath, seemed denied to me. But I feel life reaching out to me again. The cold brass key is waking me and I cannot fight against the urge to stir my cogs and springs. I have no desire to resist. I know that soon I will speak again. I will whirr and tick myself into a new day, a new beginning and my sturdy hammers will strike cheerful, bright chimes.

Time and again, I remember Dora and Albert as though they are somehow absorbed inside my wood and metal and glass. But there is another woman now. She is young, not unlike a youthful Dora, full of hope and love of living. A new life grows inside her. I sense it is strong with a heartbeat that ticks and ticks as regular as clockwork. The young woman is a clock person too and she never forgets to wind me as I begin to mark out these newly minted hours. She looks at me often and I know that somehow she sees me, as I see her.

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