Saturday, May 14, 2011


I was poking around a favorite thrift shop looking at table lamps and cast off clothing when a little clock chimed a quarter past the hour. There was something eternal about that chime. Clocks go round and around and they don’t seem to know why they do it. Or at least they used to go in circles, until they went digital. I decided that this chime was exactly what I needed in my house to provide the background illusion of timelessness.

So I made my way through a clutter of discarded dining room chairs, sideboards and ancient cupboards to investigate. I deduced that one of two clocks might have been responsible for the chime. The first was a mirror with a painted clock in the cabinet above it. The second and sweetest was a simple beech wood clock, its pendulum swinging back and forth like a heartbeat in the glass cabinet below. How pure, how simple and Shaker-like was this little wall clock!

A pretty girl folding blouses and untangling beads stood behind the check out counter. “Which of these clocks is the one that chimes?" I asked.

”Hmm,” she said. “I don’t know. But we can probably find out for sure in fifteen minutes.”

I looked at some table linens, a bedskirt of crushed green silk and contemplated a patchwork quilt. Then I moved on to a set of silver salt and pepper shakers.

I was trying on a layered lime taffeta skirt when I heard the clock chime again. I darted out of the changing room and sure enough it was the little clock I most admired. “And it’s on sale today,” the salesgirl informed me. “Only $35.”

How was it possible that such a sweet little clock was so inexpensive?

“I’ll take it,” I said, and so I did, the last customer of the afternoon. I loaded it carefully into the back of my car and folded the dog blanket protectively over the top for the two mile drive back home.

Ben was pleased with my purchase. “Lovely,” he said, as we hung it on the wall of the second floor landing outside two of the bedrooms. When it chimed, Ben agreed that the clock was indeed worth the price.

Later we realized why it was so cheap. When the hour came, it chimed its full melody perfectly. But the number was off - usually one chime short of the hour. Sometimes it chimes just once. So it keeps time, in the sense that it keeps up. Sort of. But it doesn’t keep THE time.

What is THE time, I wondered. And does it really matter since I purchased the clock for its timelessness. I’ve always appreciated the secret timelessness of mirrors and clocks.

Perhaps this little clock has found its rightful home. Ben and I like to feel that there is a rhythm to our lives – and the clock agrees with that in theory, every fifteen minutes when it chimes. Do we have to move forward, it suggests, at the same pace as the rest of the world? Can’t we please do things in our own sweet time?

Another thing I’ve noticed: the timbre of the chime enters my mind insidiously, so that occasionally when I’m reading or writing I imagine hearing it, even when it has stopped. Sometimes it seems to chime a different tune than the one we know so well, but I’m not quite sure if this is my imagination. Maybe the clock is playing with my mind. Or maybe my mind is playing with the clock.

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