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Goodbye Old Tick Tock
written by: Elizabeth Montague
She's five the first time she notices it. Before it had been a thing to pass, another oddment of the world to waddle by as she held on to supportive fingers or, later, raced passed in pursuit of adventure in the garden. Now she is older and she understands clocks, how they mark time. This one speaks it. The deep tick tock – rhythmic, measured. A heartbeat of wood, metal and glass. The black hands move slowly round the pale face, barely noticeable unless you watch it. It saves its best for the hour though, big hand on the twelve, small hand on the required number, unlocks the magic. The chime is deep, ringing round the hall and all through the house. The larger hours are the best when it drones on, clang after clang. One note ringing out over all others.
It's a comforter. Sounding throughout the night, letting her know that all is well. She's not scared the first night she stays, her grandparents in the room next door and the old Tick Tock marking the hours at the bottom of the stairs. The silent sentinel; he would tell her if anything was to pass him by, warn her of the threat before it could reach her. Their guard in the night.
When she's ten, its fascinating. She watches Grandad tend to old Tick Tock, ensuring he keeps the right time. The chain scrapes through the metal loop that suspends it, chattering like teeth as it runs to a pause. The ticking has ceased, the hallway oddly empty as the pendulum stays fixed in place.
Grandad repositions the hands then picks up the copper cylinder that acts as a weight, attaching it to the chain. With a click the pendulum starts to swing once more and the familiar rhythm rings out. The warmth of it chases the chills from every corner, seeking out the shadows and lessening their scares.
She sits before it even after Grandad has returned to the living room, waiting for the hour and the familiar chime.
When she is twelve she watches Grandma polish it to a gleam and rolls her eyes at her doing 'women's work'. She promises herself she won't be the only one to do the housework when she's older. She'll be a strong woman, equal to a man. Grandma gives her an indulgent smile, tells her that she'll have her own house to keep when she's older. She snorts at the thought. She'll have a flat and career. No screaming children and her furniture will be cleaned by someone she hires. She picks up her Walkman and heads towards the living room, pulling her headphones over her head and turning on her music, drowning out their sound of the clock.
She's nineteen when she brings in someone new. She's already introduced him to Mum and Dad, not seeking approval but glad to receive it all the same. This is more of a formality. There is the obligatory awkward silence. She knows they still see a skinny eight year old with scabby knees where she sits and the man beside her is unknown, a threat. They won't trust her judgement, they've barely started to trust her father's even though it's been years since he was a little boy.
Her eyes are not as clouded as theirs and she's a little frightened by what she sees. They were once strong and capable, helping her over stiles in the forest, helping her hold onto a kite but now she sees them smaller than they were. A cup trembles in Grandma's hand and Grandad's forgotten to dye his hair, grey showing through the usual black. Time seems to drag with the stilted conversation but she realises that the whole rhythm of the house is slower. She listens out, the old clock is slower, cogs not wound as regularly as they should be and time is slowing. She glances at the pale face as she leaves, the black hands in the wrong place. The clock is slowing down.
She's twenty-five when she has to go round with her dad to deal with the aftermath of the night. Paramedics, social workers, doctors. There's been a steam of professionals in and out of the house and too many professional words – hospital, dementia, risk to self, section, Mental Health Act. All it meant was they were taking Grandma away, to make her safe, to treat her. To ease his burden. He doesn't see it that way. That's why they had to step in and why they're dealing with it now.
She's so busy helping, checking, worrying that she doesn't hear the final tick.
She's thirty-three. The house is dusty and unkempt, a mausoleum of knickknacks and memories that mean nothing to anyone but those who loved them. She looks up at the old clock, pendulum still, the pale face yellowed by age and paint chipping off the black hands. She opens the door, unsure if anything was left inside, the eccentricities of her grandparents' latter years giving way to quite a few surprise hiding places. She finds nothing but the old weights, the chain hanging low and rusty. She closes the door once more, stroking the dark wood that was once polished to a sheen.
The doorbell rings and she lets the stranger in. The cash is ready in his hands and the transaction is quick. For more years than she has lived, the grandfather clock has stood in the corner and now it moves. One single strand of spider web clings on to the moulded top of the wood but it snaps as the stranger gives it one last tug. With a few grunts of effort the clock is out of the door and in the van, doors shut fast as it retreats up the driveway.
The hallway is silent, even more silent that it was when the clock ceased ticking. It had counted the hours over so many years, stood sentinel and true. A tear breaks loose and flows down her cheek, the pace slow like the glide of a pendulum. She looks at the blank wall, empty now.
“Goodbye old Tick Tock.”