The carriage clock on the mantelpiece was a grim anachronism. It loomed there in the living room, a constant reminder of the past. It had been a wedding present from her mother and father, and was almost as much a reminder of them as it was of him, and so the clock remained.
Rose had been a restless sleeper ever since the fight – or the accident, as she called it. Sometimes while sleeping the pain would tear through her left side, radiating from the crossshaped scar on her upper thigh, making her bolt in the middle of the night. But she also wondered if her sleep wasn’t disturbed for an altogether different reason. She wondered if, even now, she was still afraid. Would she be happier if she wasn’t alone? She had her son, but he was almost eighteen, he wouldn’t be around forever. She couldn’t actually hear the ticking of the clock from her bedroom, even through the paper-thin walls of the East Finchley flat. This was a small relief. But sometimes she thought that she could hear its hourly chimes, and even in her sleep, those relentless tranches of seconds still ticked through her head, slicing through her life.
When Rose woke up, the third time that night, it was still the pitch dark dead of night, the only light illuminating the room the pale, washed-out orange from the streetlamp outside which crept through the mottled curtain drawn against the window. The room was an outline of dim shapes. Still half-asleep, she thought she could hear the chimes of the clock, faintly, from the living room, and turned her head back to the pillow, emitting a nearly silent sigh that was as much one of boredom as it was of disappointment. But the sound came through again, clearer this time, an irregular pulse that sounded more like something shattering than the passing of time. Then the sound came again, louder, a second, third time.
Rose lifted herself from bed, placing the weight on her right foot first, then her left, wincing only slightly at the stab of pain that ran down her left side like a highway of marching, biting, tiny little ants. She reached out for her dressing gown, blue, woollen and worn, and moved methodically for the door. In the living room the clock ticked on, obliviously providing a metronomic click to the irregular cascade of noise coming from beyond the living room window. It was the sound of broken glass – of glass being broken, and of glass being crunched underfoot. The sound was getting closer.
The pain on her left side had eased after the first few steps, and as she stepped quietly over the threadbare carpets, past the doors to the other bedrooms, Rose tied her dressing gown tight over her hips, hugging its lapels to her chest. Every winter, always the same – the flat was so cold at night. She pulled the curtain back, the dim orange light streaking through the rectangular shoebox shape of the living room, and peered out through the murky window. A character, a creature, half walked, half dragged itself down the street. It was dressed in rags, in clothes that were torn and jagged around the edges. It beat its fists into the windscreens of passing cars, and when they did not break, kicked loose their wing mirrors, sending shards of fallout tumbling down onto the street.
No alarms rang out. Save for the sound of falling glass, the street remained silent. The creature looked up, and Rose glimpsed its eyes as they fixed upon her, briefly, for just a second. She wasn’t sure what she saw there. Shame? Dirt? Then the thing looked away and shuffled on, punching the
wing mirror of another car as he passed, sending waterfalls of glass into the night. Her body shook slightly. Now there was nothing, save for the repetitious sound of the striking clock, as the creature disappeared into the distance.
Rose turned towards the clock. Its beats were regular. Its time did not decay. It was a screaming anachronism now, an unbearable reminder of the past. She walked over to the clock and paused in front of it, her mind still half on the man, his sunken-in, beaten-up face. With a swift, semi-subconscious movement she swiped the carriage clock from its perch, sending it tumbling down onto floor below. The glass front cracked open, split into two. The ticking stopped. She stared at the clock for a long time, stared at its smashed-up face, and then turned away.
She sat down on in one of the two old armchairs; her left leg crossed over her right, and lifted a cigarette from the nearly empty packet on the coffee table. Lighting it with shaking fingers, she felt like crying, but she did not. She was lonely, but she needed the quiet. Her son, semi-naked and shadowy in the dimly-lit flat, poked his head out from behind his bedroom door. Their eyes met, and between them there was a shared moment of silence. ‘What is it?’ he asked, ‘Are you okay?’
‘It’s nothing,’ she said, smiling faintly. ‘Go back to bed.’
He closed the door. Then, again, there was silence.
by Richard Allday
Illustration by Dave Cardy.