David C. Hughes, Writer

“Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others” –Colossians 3:23 NABRE

Archive for the month “June, 2015”

The Clockmaker (Part 1 of 3)

NOTE: The following short story took 1st place in the 2015 Oklahoma Writers Federation Incorporated (OWFI) “Short Story–Adult” category. Thank you all for your continued support–you are all a blessing, an inspiration and the reason I keep relentlessly pursuing this crazy vocation. Happy reading!

 

THE CLOCKMAKER

A long time ago in a faraway kingdom there lived a clockmaker named Horace. Horace, the last of a long line of clockmakers, spent most of his days and much of his nights alone, bent over his worn table crafting exquisite timepieces. With skill and patience he constructed gears and springs, cases and weights, pendulums and faces, for that was his lot in life and he had long ago accepted his fate. True happiness eluded him, but he found a sort of restless contentment transforming bits of metal, strips of wood and touches of longing—the rubbish of mankind plucked from heaps piled along the cobblestone roads—into art that guarded mankind’s most desired possession. Time.

Customers came and customers went, never looking twice at his melancholy form but always gasping with delight when he brought out from behind the counter a pocket watch or pendulum clock, an hourglass or a candle clock fitting their exact needs, wishes and means. The patrons left without uttering a word, their timepieces secure in their purses or packed neatly into sturdy crates nestled in their carts. In this manner, Horace lived day-by-day, catering to man’s need to know precisely where he stood in relation to time’s unstoppable advance. Obsession created time, time the necessity and necessity the provision, a belief Horace could never argue against and was content to uphold.

As days ushered in the nights and nights swept in the days, Horace forged these gatekeepers of time. His foot tapped a steady beat and all of his creations ticked, chimed and rang to the pace of that accurate foot. But his toe tapped most enthusiastically while his fingers were engaged in building a cuckoo clock. Time, it seemed to Horace, danced most gaily while employed in the art of crafting this invention originating from the dark forests to the east. His hands, misshapen since he was a young child from some disease of the knuckles and joints, worked less painfully as he constructed the pipes and bellows to give the bird its voice, a voice he remembered well and with tenderness.

Time swirled around him, elevating him as he whittled the casing, cast the iron weights and carved the cuckoo itself, its head turned without exception to the right. And time held its breath as the minute hand swung toward the twelve for the very first time and released the bird from behind its hatch. Horace allowed for a moment a tiny smile to ply across his lips each time the sorrowful notes filled the shop upon the newest cuckoo’s hatching. Once satisfied, he froze the works, set the weights and hid the clock away in a vault hidden behind the walls of his bed chamber.

Thus Horace had labored for more than twenty-two years, since he was a wee lad of ten, time showing no mercy, it seemed, despite his dedication to its worship. It began to sprinkle silver into his hair whilst keeping silver from his pockets. It lengthened his beard and forced him to wear spectacles at a very young age. It etched lines upon his face and painted dark circles under his eyes. His smiles came less frequently while his pain, especially in his fingers, took more and more pleasure in his company, extending its stay like a tiresome guest in the boarding house of his flesh. And as time took its toll, glances his way—rare to begin with—became even less frequent.

Patrons continued to bring business, but as he grew toward middle age he could not help but peek longingly at the handsome young ladies hanging onto the arms of their dashing young men as they entered and perused the shop. His mother had passed away young, bearing his father only himself, and in his angst his father had spent his remaining years and energy training his son in the art of clock making.

He did not remember much about his mother, but one memory in particular stood out: the look on her face when his father presented her with a cuckoo clock built by the hands of an old Black Forest clockmaker passing through the kingdom. He never saw the clockmaker again. Horace’s mother delighted in imitating the plaintive sound of the bird even as her illness stole away everything but the memory of her voice, which still called out to him when he was most tired. Despite a sudden and mysterious increase in means, his father died a short time later of a broken heart, but not before successfully marrying Horace off at the age of eighteen to the same fickle bride that he and his forefathers had embraced. That is why he at first did not realize what overcame him when the princess walked through his shop door one evening.

That night began as any other. The day had turned into dusk, the dusk flowed into twilight and twilight fell into evening. Not a single customer had entered the shop that day despite the pleasantness of the weather. As he laid in place the last gear of a large clockwork for an equally magnificent clock tower, the door flew open. Startled, he dropped the gear and allowed a curse to escape his lips, one he regretted the moment he lifted his eyes and gazed upon the woman standing in the doorway. Time froze. His heart did likewise. She was radiant, like no other he had seen before.

The woman, wearing a maroon dress trimmed in white lace, began to move through Horace’s shop like mist rolling across a still pond, sure and mysterious. As she drifted from clock to clock, she gave him a quick glance, highlighted with a slight smile which burned into his memory. Around her neck she wore an elaborate necklace decorated with the most brilliant stones. Her raven hair rose above her perfect white face into a mound pulled together at the crest and decorated with a spray of blood red primroses. A bird, possibly carved from wood and roughly the size of his thumb, rested in the nest of her abundant hair. She spoke not a word while admiring the clocks, caressing their faces with gloved fingers, opening doors and peering into their workings.

When she approached the case containing the watches, the woman looked up at Horace. For the first time in years he was given the opportunity to gaze into the soul of another, and what he found there turned the hands of the clock backwards. He stood a little taller and shifted his feet.

“Kind sir,” she said, her voice resonating with the joyfulness of a woodlark. “I am looking for something special.”

“Aye, madam.” Horace stroked his beard. “How may I be of service?” His heart thudded as the woman’s blue eyes pierced him.

“I desire something … unique.”

(continued)

 

Copyright 2015 David C. Hughes

Advertisements

Cross-Country Communications (2015-06-16 Daily)

Mary and I have two different ways of communicating. A common way Mary gets her point across is through sarcasm—she says it like it is, with a thrust and a 90-degree twist. She even wears a T-shirt advertising her talents: “Sarcasm,” it says. “Just one more service I offer.” It’s truly one of her love languages, and she seems to love just about everyone. Yes, sarcasm is the mind’s natural defense against stupidity, and Mary has honed her craft to a sharp (tongued) edge.

I, on the other hand, am a master of passive aggressiveness—I say it like it ain’t. I can attack you without you knowing it, leaving you scratching your head and wondering why you want to curl up on the sofa and devour an entire half-gallon of butter pecan ice cream while watching an episode of Six Feet Under. Waa.

Mary can tell you firsthand of past demonstrations of my sweet PA ninja skills. One evening, when she was pregnant with Hannah, we got caught in a torrential storm while driving to church. As heavy rain pounded the windshield and I craned my neck to see the highway, Mary asked me to slow down. Without a word I let off the gas, moved to the right lane, and turned on the flashers. I drove slowly enough to lose a race against a sleeping turtle. While the windshield wipers slapped away the raindrops in time with the incessant clicking of the hazard lights, she finally spoke: “You can be such an ass sometimes,” she declared. Yes, darling. Yes I can.

During our recent road trip from Texas to North Carolina and Virginia, Mary and I got to practice our respective communication styles with passing motorists. I’m a quiet guy for the most part, except when I’m talking, which is often, and stupid drivers tend to evoke the worst in me. If they do something idiotic I’ll demonstrate my expertise in both PA and pure A. A passing driver may glance at me and think I’m talking to myself, but, no, I’m really carrying on an animated conversation with him; in that moment the driver actually has my focused attention, like a bug under a magnifying glass on a hot summer’s day. Just because I’m looking straight ahead and grinding my teeth doesn’t mean I don’t have his best interests in mind. As long as those interests are for him to surrender his driver’s license and hang up his keys for good.

For instance, I’ll most likely begin a conversation with a driver if he rolls up behind me on the freeway, moves into the left lane, pulls alongside, and slows down, keeping pace. I call these types of drivers “pacers,” wondering if they’re fighter pilots by the way they love to drive in formation. When someone pulls up beside me it’s like invading my personal space—he either needs to speed up or slow down, not keep up three feet to my left. It makes me want to wipe potato chip grease on his passenger-side window. I mean, really, if he was in such a big hurry, why doesn’t he commit and follow through with the maneuver he initiated? It’s irritating. …

Talking about commitment and follow-through, what about those drivers who hurriedly pass you, swing back into your lane, and slow down right in front of you? Ugh! I call these folks “blockers.” They manifest a kinetic form of passive aggressiveness, and since I myself suffer from hostility-with-a-smile, I easily recognize it. What’s that old saying? “Familiarity breeds contempt.” So if someone’s gonna pass me, he should act like he means it—keep going at the higher speed, else he’ll see my lips moving with exaggerated smacks and flashes of teeth as I pass him back, notching my cruise control up another mile-per-hour just to outpace him.

While heading back home from Virginia, a guy driving a scary-looking black GMC Yukon XL kept passing us and disappearing over the next rise. Five minutes later I found myself passing him. Ten minutes after that the same black GMC Yukon XL passed me again, and three minutes after that, I passed him. This pattern continued for dozens, maybe even hundreds of miles, causing me not so much to gripe as to wonder what the heck was going on with him. I nicknamed him the “jogger” because he constantly jogged for position then relinquished it. Over and over again.

Back when I was a kid my brothers and I were big-time into walkie-talkies, and C.W. McCall was one of our heroes. We studied Citizens Band lingo and dreamed of the day Dad would break down and purchase a wicked 23-channel Cobra radio so we could practice our 10-codes using cool handles like “Charlie Tuna” and “Big Toe.” One of the CB slang phrases I remember is “rolling roadblock,” a term describing two vehicles cruising side-by-side at a pace slower than the traffic stuck behind them. Practically nothing can loosen my irate tongue more quickly than falling in line behind two semi-trucks keeping pace with each other in adjacent lanes while we roller skates queue up behind them. This can turn me into a bucket mouth faster than feeding the bears for doing 75 in a double-nickel. 10-4, good buddy.

Another conversation stimulator is the driver I refer to as a “weaver.” You know the type, the guy who’s never satisfied staying put in his lane when traffic is dense but moving along at a tolerable clip. Usually driving hopped up cars like late-model Dodge Challengers or Chevy Camaros, these drivers can evoke all sorts of commentary from Mary and I, such as “I wonder what he’s compensating for?” or “Where are the cops when we really need them?” Weavers also inspire communication on a higher-level: I usually end up praying for the guy, asking God to keep the innocent people safe in the event the driver starts a fiery chain-reaction crash.

While driving on Interstate 20 just east of Meridian, Mississippi, a white pickup truck zoomed up behind me in the left lane while I was passing another vehicle. The pickup driver flashed his lights and I moved back into the right lane as soon as I could. As the pickup passed us, I noticed it was a beat-up old work truck driven by a guy who obviously loved his job—why else would he be doing 95 in a 70 and flashing his lights? Within seconds the “aggressive,” as I like to call these kinds of drivers, got blocked by another car cruising in the left lane (I’ve labeled these drivers “cruisers” because they hang out all day in the passing lane doing the speed limit or below). Instead of passing the cruiser on the right, the aggressive rode up on his bumper and continued to flash his lights. Finally frustrated by the unyielding blockade, the driver of the work truck whipped into the right lane, but instead of passing the cruiser right away and moving on, he waved at the guy using various hand gestures reserved for drunken birthday parties and PG-13 movies. Luckily Hannah was absorbed in the world of Minecraft at that very moment so she didn’t get to witness the friendly exchange and beautiful demonstration of communication at its finest.

Communication while driving is imperative to staying safe and to notify other drivers of your intentions. Whether through the practice of employing mechanical signals, eye contact, application of appropriate (or inappropriate) hand signals, or verbally relaying messages, cross-country trips can also provide a prime opportunity to work on your own style. No matter what your approach, be it sarcasm, passive aggressiveness, or any other form of communication, the driving habits of other motorists can provide endless hours of study, polish and honing of your particular brand of panache. Now allow me to prop my pillow against the window, close my eyes and listen to Mary work on her skills. Ahh, road tripping … there’s nothing better than the sound of the wind, 80’s music and the execution of the subtle art of sarcasm to bring a smile to my face.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by David C Hughes

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: