I have a special treat for you today. I can’t say enough about the author of the story I’m sharing with you today. Margaret Shaw is a member of the writing group that has changed my life. She has pushed me to embrace the things I fear in order to move my career as a writer in the direction I want it, and has always been a writer I look to for encouragement, advice, and support.
She placed third in the Wyoming Writers, Inc. contest in the category adult fiction. I’m immensely proud of her, and thrilled, not to mention honored that she agreed to allow me publish her story on my website. I hope you all enjoy “Big Time in the Big City.”
Cars flashed in the display window, creating an aquarium effect, fish swimming over the watches and clocks ticking away on the inside. Passersby tended to check their own wristwatches reflexively as they became aware of the bank of time, as it were, out of the corner of their eye. Fifty timepieces filled the window, mostly wristwatches of elegant allure, bounded on the sides by larger wooden table clocks and two grandfather clocks further inside in the showroom floor. Maury Feldman, just completing the morning dusting of the display clockworks, reaching for all he was worth to make the most of his abbreviated length. He ran his cloth a second time over the grandfather clock on the left, listening briefly to assure himself of the hefty tick tock he counted on. He had vacation time coming and didn’t want anything to happen to the clock, any irregularity, to occur before he could take off his jacket and climb in. On other vacations he’d found himself in Big Times of history, in the Senate in ancient Rome, for instance, and at the completion ceremony of the Great Wall of China.
Maury Feldman, besides being a clock salesman and low-level technician, was a reader. After folding up the NY Times around nine and downing his last swallow of coffee in the easy chair he kept in the store for just this purpose, he opened a book to while away the time between customers. He varied his reading, alternating between biographies and historical fiction and even with a good recommendation, an occasional novel. He thoroughly enjoyed taking in a history and following it up by reading the same story as historical fiction. This sequence occurred only a couple of times a year, as his tendency was to go ahead and read any book that came his way through customers and enticing reviews at the NY Times.
His marriage sort of wafted into his myopic life and wafted away again, the girl, his wife, being somewhat of a reader herself. They eventually read their separate ways and left their marriage behind like a secondhand book. Truth was, Mr. Feldman got more attention from his customers, whose momentary exchanges lit more fire in him than his wife’s dramatic summaries of her romances. On the average of a couple times a week, someone came in who had something to say about the written word, or who dropped in to hear about Mr. Feldman’s latest recommendation.
There was someone now stopped to look over the timepieces in the window. Mr. Feldman checked his own reflection on his side of the window, straightening his overworn blue sports jacket and smoothing back the sides of his otherwise bald head.
When the customer’s eyes found the grandfather clock on the left, he entered the store, setting off the brass bell at the top of the door. Mr. Feldman had been there so long that the sound of the bell set him automatically into salesman mode. He put on his abbreviated smile, covering his uneven teeth. Pleasantries were exchanged until the customer finally inquired about the grandfather clock.
“Does it work?” he indicated the clock with an opening of his hand.
Mr. Feldman assured him that this particular clock set the rhythm for the entire store.
The customer stepped closer to examine the grain of the wood, a smooth cherry with a deepening stain. The wood appeared to cloak the clock face and drape in a gentle swale to floor, creating the effect of a hooded figure. The customer exchanged a companionable look with the proprietor, indicating his appreciation. “Is that a scythe? How appropriate.”
Mr. Feldman took in the man, the way his broad shoulders filled the uptown overcoat. His greying hair was coifed in the way that big city men often did. He watched as the man slid his big hand across the side of the clock cabinet and up, looking more closely at the carvings that framed the face of dial. “Mahogany?” he inquired.
“I believe it is cherry of some sort from the forests of northern Maine. Such a fine carving.”
The customer placed a hand on the latch to open the back. “May I?”
“I’m sorry, sir. We prefer that the works remain undisturbed. You see,” he chuckled to himself, “it ain’t broke.” He waited for the customer to realize the rest of the old line.
The customer, six inches taller than Mr. Feldman, checked his Rolex against the time on the grandfather to note that the floor clock was exactly one hour different. He frowned. He glanced casually to see a price tag, but finding none, asked.
“Unfortunately, this clock is not for sale. I’m sorry, sir, but here,” he indicated the clock on the right, “is one that is, a timepiece that would grace any environment, home or office?”
The customer took in the over ornate carving of the other clock and furrowed his brow. He returned his attention to the original timepiece in question. “No, not really. I much prefer this one.”
Mr. Feldman made a little clicking sound, shook his head, pursed his lips and sucked in through his teeth. “I understand. But, as I said, this is the clock that sets the tone for the entire shop. He was thinking, of course, of his upcoming vacation, to who knew where, some Big Time in history.
“I’m prepared to offer you any amount you state.” He paused before pinning Mr. Feldman with his gaze. “This is the clock I want. You see, I recognize the style.” He looked carefully at the folds of wood and fingered the latch on the back. “Our family had one like this, perhaps even this very piece.”
Mr. Feldman listened politely, nodding.
“I used to play inside it.” He risked a glance at the shopkeeper. “Of course, our clock was inoperable.” His shoulders relaxed as he spoke, remembering his childhood. “I used to close myself in there with a book and a flashlight.” He invited Mr. Feldman to share a laugh.
“Then I did, mostly science fiction.”
“Ah. I see. I’m partial to histories, myself.” Mr. Feldman took a step toward the clock on the right. “Interesting how people are, you going toward the future and I going toward the past.”
“The stories were so real I feel as if I’ve actually been an astronaut.” He swept his arm grandly. “I even helped colonize Mars.” He shook his head privately. “Such a rich life for a boy.”
He let that sit with Mr. Feldman for a moment. “So you can begin to see my interest in this particular clock.”
Mr. Feldman could see his interest. Indeed.
The man went on cautiously. “Once in a while, I made up stories about the future and danged if they haven’t come true. I dreamed, if you want to call it that, that I would become a fire chief and, sure enough, that’s what I became. I dreamed my wife, right down to her pink checkered apron.” He stopped talking with a glance at his listener, who had cocked his head, putting together this string of events.
The customer gathered himself into his wool coat. “Kids,” he said dismissively.
“The future, you say?” Mr. Feldman was thinking of possibilities for his vacation.
The customer warily took in the shop man and considered for moment whether to continue. He took a deep breath.
“The last time I saw Maine was when I was seven.” He stopped to allow the salesman to insert a question, but when none came, he went on. “I climbed into the clock and dreamed my way to New York City. I arrived as fire chief on September 11, 2001, amid smoke and fear.” He let the import of this date sink in. It wasn’t lost on Mr. Feldman, who had spent that month cleaning his store of a thick layer of dust.
“You’re the fire chief?” he asked, deliberately missing the larger point.
“I’m retired now. But I was one of the fire chiefs on that horrible day and for ten years hence.”
In the long silence Mr. Feldman realized that he himself was in the middle of this man’s Big Time and that his secret was no longer his own.
“And the boy you were?” he asked gently.
The customer shrugged. “I don’t know. He went in and never came out.”
Both men gazed at the grandfather clock, its folds of time. Finally Mr. Feldman said, “I see.”
The customer wrapped up his story. “My wife has passed.”
Mr. Feldman murmured a half-felt, “I’m sorry.”
“And my children are now grown and gone.”
Mr. Feldman picked up the thought. “And you want to go back to your childhood.”
They stood together, silent, both deciding how to handle the situation, their sacrifices.
Finally, Mr. Feldman said again, “I see.” He placed a protective hand on the entry door of the clock. “You’ve done your Big Time and now it’s time to finish your Little Time.”
Looking now directly at the shopkeeper, the man nodded. “Worth a try.”
Mr. Feldman met his eyes and winked. “I’ll get the key.”