The Watchmaker – The 33rd Anthology, 2017

Originally published by The Drexel Publishing Group in 2017’s The 33rd Anthology as 2nd place prize winner of Drexel University’s 2017 Creative Writing Award.

 

Short Story

I started feeling for my husband again when April came.

We had an early spring that year, so by the time April came around, all the rains had stopped, the flowers were in full bloom, the air was gentle, and the sun was out. It reminded me of our first April together, when we’d first started seeing each other, talking and smiling on a stone bench in a quiet park where the trees had soft green dust that fell upon our heads.

We married two Aprils later, and I gave birth to our little boy on the fourth April we shared. We called him Junior, because we’d named him after his father, hoping he’d be like the great man, one day.

The three of us were happy together, living in our quiet little house in the middle of a cul-de-sac with a white picket fence and all. For years, it was day in and day out of running after Junior, asking my husband about his work at the thrift shop, and working at my office job in my same old cubicle. For years it was one day following another, weeks and months passing, and Aprils meaning nothing.

 

Junior is big enough to run around and talk now, and I started listening to his stories and his jokes more than I listened to my husband’s talk of work.

Sometimes, I wondered if my husband noticed it too—how we didn’t really talk anymore, or how we didn’t even really look at each other anymore. We took care of Junior. We did that really well, I supposed. We love Junior more than anything. But we were just there, two bigger figures in the boy’s life. I sometimes wondered if he even knew his dad and I had been inseparable souls before, not just two distant figures moving about in the same house.

 

One day, I’d left the house to drop Junior off at his best friend’s house a few blocks away in another cul-de-sac. I came home to find that my husband was home early from work. He sat at our dining room table with this feverish look about him, staring over a pile of random little pieces I could only assume was a tiny broken clock. It turned out to be a pocket watch.

Apparently if you took a watch apart, it always seems bigger than it actually is. I told my husband this, and he laughed. The sound of his laughter was strange to me—like I was hearing it for the first time.

“That’s like looking at Time, as well,” he told me. “Just gleaning over it, Time is just Time.” He shrugged, then looked at the working clock on our wall, and told me the time. “It’s four in the afternoon,” he said. “But if we start to unpack it, like break down Time, there’s so much!”

I smiled at him. My husband had never been much into thinking about Time or looking at broken watches. But there he was, this familiar stranger smiling back at me, with a new and beautiful light in his eyes.

“Are you going to fix that?” I asked him. “Trying to be a person who fix watches?”

He nodded, then shrugged. “I guess. I’ve been feeling crazy nostalgic lately. Maybe I’ll fix it, and then make it go backwards! Wouldn’t that be fun?” I noticed a mischievous look come to his face. I noticed ideas turning in his head. “Oh, I could rework it. Maybe if I figure out how, I could make this watch better, not just fix it.”

“So you’re trying to be a quirky watchmaker?” I teased him. “Where did you find it?”

“Some funny-looking man came in a while ago. Dropped it off, and that was that.”

“Was it already broken?”

“Yes.”

“You took in a broken watch?”

“I’m going to be a quirky little watchmaker, like you said!”

“I never called you ‘little’.”

He smiled at me, then nodded and explained, “I didn’t pay him for it. I just thought I’d take it off his hands.”

That was the beginning of April. Days after, I watched him sitting at that dining table, poking at the delicate gears and cogs with tiny tweezers and a flashlight he’d wear on his forehead, like a ridiculous crown. He’d read all these strange articles and books about how to fix a broken pocket watch, and he’d recount them to me. He’d tell me about how none of them gave him what he was looking for, however. None of them would tell him the secret to actually fixing that watch. So all that month, the watch remained in pieces on our dining table, and my husband remained a fixed statue there, trying to put it together.

I thought it was funny. By the end of April, I’d grown fond of seeing him always there, mumbling over the watch, and then mumbling to me. I supposed that nothing really changed, but in a way it all did. There was a brighter light to him now—like he had a purpose. I thought it was all so funny, how meticulous he was with the watch, and I took to teasing him endlessly.

He’d laugh about it. I remembered how great his sense of humor had been. I remembered how he could really take a joke, and make one right back at me without even thinking. Junior even joined in, and some nights the three of us would sit there, telling random stories and making jokes to each other.

It was the end of April, again, and I really felt for my husband.

 

Then one day, I came home after dropping Junior off. That time, I was dropping Junior off to school. I came home to feel a sudden emptiness about the house. I noticed that the dining table was empty, and my husband and the broken pocket watch were both gone.

It felt odd, to say the least. It didn’t really scare me. It was just a bit of a shock, to have someone or something always be there, and then without warning it vanishes.

“Will?” I called, running around the house looking for him. “Will Bishop!” I shouted when I grew frustrated being unable to find him.

“Hey, hey. I’m here,” he called, breathless and stupidly smiling from the top of the stairs.

“What happened to your watch?” I looked up at his beaming face from the bottom step.

My husband came hurrying down to me, holding a glass jar and not a watch in his hands. “Look what I did,” he told me. He handed the jar to me, that bright smile still not vanishing, and the watch nowhere in sight.

Inside the jar there were two small twigs still with soft white blossoms clinging onto them, and seed-like leaves that looked hard and dead. Scattered around the bottom were a green dust that look almost like sand.

“Tree dust,” he told me, grinning and meeting my eyes.

I hadn’t made the connection then, so I just looked at him and raised an eyebrow.

“Tree dust from the park in April on our first date!” he explained, his voice a little hurried, a little impatient that I didn’t understand, but endearing.

“You’re kidding,” I laughed.

“No.” He was still grinning, and while I didn’t know what to believe, I didn’t dare take it away from him. “Really, the same dust that fell that day.”

I relented, and went along with him. “The same ones that fell on our heads?”

“Exact same,” he nodded. “I stole them right out of Time, right from April 30th of 1985. I don’t know if I ever told you this, but I’ve always wondered how we looked. I’ve always wondered what you and I looked like, falling in love, just being together. I wondered how another person would have seen us, and if they could feel it too—all those feelings. So I figured I’d go back in time and check it all out, you know?” He shrugged at me, all plain and simple, and smiled.

“Brilliant!” I beamed, allowing myself the illusion for his sake and mine.

“This is good, right? You want to see more?”

I hadn’t thought much of it then, what he meant. I just nodded, and smiled. As shallow as I was, I didn’t think much about anything, then. I was just delighted he remembered strange little things like that, and happier that I could really feel for him again like I once had—like on April 30th, all those years ago.

 

In the days following, my husband would bring me random little things from our past. Each time, he’d tell me how he’d stolen that item right out of Time itself for me, so I could keep it forever, and not have to worry about the turn of the world erasing all the memories we’d made.

My husband brought me a steaming cup of coffee from the coffee shop we once loved. The drink was still hot and I drank slowly it as he told me about the baristas who worked there, the people we’d since forgotten over the years. He told me about the concert they invited him to, so many years in the past. I remembered a hint of cherries and salt in the coffee I drank—just a gentle node, not quite a taste—and it was exactly like the ones we’d drank so many times at that old coffee shop.

One time while I was out in the garden, ripping out weeds and grumbling at the stupid uneven dirt, my husband ran out of the house with Junior laughing and dangling from his neck. They both crouched down beside me, and presented me with a bouquet of fresh blue hydrangeas. I’d seen blue hydrangeas many times before in my life, but there was this one time when my husband and I had glimpsed upon a bush of blue hydrangeas the color of sapphire gems. They were the bluest flowers I’d ever seen. It was a long time ago, before we were married. My husband stealthily plucked a cluster out of the bush sitting on the edge of someone’s yard. He presented me the stolen bouquet as a present, then held my hand and pulled me as we ran away. That was the day I remembered telling him I loved him, and I was in love with him. So years later, my husband presented me with blue hydrangeas as a reminder, and I didn’t think much of it.

On a random day as spring was about to end, I walked up to my bedroom to find that a large glass bowl had magically appeared on my bedside table. My husband was sitting on the bed, putting something away tucked just under the pillow on his side of the bed. He looked over at me, then directed my attention back to the bowl. There was a lily pad floating in the center, moving steadily to the side as a scarlet red fish swam by it. It was a Siamese fighting fish. That exact same fish in the bowl reminded me of one we’d seen when we first moved in together, thinking we should add another life to our little apartment. We’d bought that brilliant red fish, and named him Noodles, because we were kids then and Noodles sounded like a good name.

“Is that Noodles?” I asked him, remembering.

He grinned at me. “The exact same.”

I bent down to admire the fish. I couldn’t tell if it was really Noodles, brought back from the dead or not. Noodles died shortly before we moved out of that old apartment, got married, and got our house. Our Noodles was dead long ago. But I figured I would accept this imposter, just for the sake of my husband.

“Did you steal him out of Time again?” I asked, just for the fun of it.

“Exactly,” my husband nodded, his smile everlasting.

I hadn’t thought too deeply into it then, my husband bringing back life from our past. I hadn’t given much thought to any of it.

The day after, I came home from a long day at work, hoping I’d find my husband somewhere with another random little piece of nostalgia to show me. Junior was off at school, having had to stay late because the poor boy managed to get detention. I didn’t even know they gave detention in the fifth grade.

I came home, and the house was empty. I wasn’t about to call for my husband, thinking he’d show up somewhere smiling with a little knickknack from the history we shared. Instead, he was nowhere to be found, but on the empty dining table he’d left me with a single photograph.

The photograph was in black and white. It was a picture of us, when we were still very young. It was how we’d looked that day, when we went on our first date, April 30th, 1985. We were sitting on a stone bench in the sunlit park, and wind was blowing at us. You could see the leaves frozen by the photograph as they danced in circles on the flagstones. You could see the birds, mid-flight, against the breeze. That same wind blew the tree dust upon us, and swept a strand of my dark hair across my face. You could see my husband facing me, his eyes soft and dazed, a permanent smile etched upon his face. You could see us falling in love in that photograph, the way I looked at him, the way he looked at me.

We never took pictures that day. We’d been too shy then, to ask for pictures. Yet that photograph was there, in my hands, presenting me with a window into the very moment I remembered feeling for my husband for the very first time. I could remember the feeling. It was like a hand was playing with my heart, gripping one of the veins or heartstrings that made me feel, and tugging. It was at once frightening and ecstatic, and it made me vulnerable.

“Will?” I called, hoping he’d come bounding down the stairs.

I turned the photograph over, and found several words scrawled on the back in my husband’s sloppy handwriting. He wrote: This is us, falling in love. I hope you like it. I’ll be back soon with even better, greater moments, and not in the form of photographs, but better things. I promise.

He didn’t come back after that. He left me with a bunch of stolen memories and a growing son, in late spring. I searched under his pillow and all over the house for that pocket watch, but I never found it either. I just knew that it’d gone off somewhere with my husband, taking the place that my son and I should have had.

I didn’t call my son by Junior, anymore, after that year. I started calling him Will, because he was named after his dad. We named him that, hoping he would grow up to be like the man, and do great things. But I started calling my son Will, because I hoped he wouldn’t be a junior to his father, a replication. I didn’t want my little boy to be like his father and just leave one day without a proper, logical explanation. So I called him Will, not like his father, but as his own person, hoping he’d grow up to be someone different and not a man who smiles and leaves.

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