What does it look like? It has three faces mounted in a rounded triangle of black marble. The top face is a clock face with the traditional roman numerals and an exposed escapement. Below on the base of the triangle on the left there is a circular mercury thermometer that measures temperature in Fahrenheit and on the right a barometer. The black marble is engraved and has blue decorations. When I got it from my father, the base had been broken, one of the glasses on the face had broke and the bell for chines was missing. It was a bit of a mess, but still beautiful. The clock is heavy. It is, after all a triangular chunk of marble whose sides are about 60 cm long, it possibly weighs about 20 kg. It has, you may say, presence.
When my father died, I inherited the clock and put it on a mantle piece, I wound it and it never ran for more than five minutes before lapsing back into a demure and dignified silence. The clock was always there reminding me of my fathers gentle obsession and his unaccountable hesitance to take it to a qualified watch maker. I had suggested it occasionally and he had refused quoting expense, lack of access to good workmen, and so on. I never argued. It was a private and gentle chess match which he ultimately lost. I am not a workman, I cannot do intricate and delicate things. Despite having hands half the size of my fathers, I manage to do create more destruction and creation so I did not dare to even open the back of the clock. Still it rankled and eventually in a fit of irritation, fury, impatience, I found a very eccentric Swiss watch maker in Adderley Street and made an appointment to see him.
The moment he and his strange and beautiful wife saw the clock there was an awed silence broken only by the ticking of many, many clocks.
"It is beautiful. French. Late 19 th Century. For export to England. The thermometer is in English degrees you see."
He walked around it. "We have some lovely black onyx to fix the base. The bell will of course have to be imported. Our glass man will sort out the broken dial glass. We will contact you with a quote and then when it is fixed. It may take some time to assemble all the relevant pieces." He thought for a moment."Maybe 6 months? A year?"
"It will be beautiful when we are finished." He stroked it much like my father had. The resemblance was eirey. I walked out there knowing I had done the right thing.
It was as he had predicted a year before all the parts had been acquired and assembled, the mechanism serviced and the worn surfaces polished to a high gloss. And also as he predicted, it was beautiful.
It is a finicky thing. It needs a perfectly flat surface that can support its enormous weight and foot print. It ticks gently in a genteel and competent manner. The chimes are surprisingly a gentle "ting" that can be heard all over the house. It now dominates the time keeping in the house. It runs a bit fast so it needs resetting every two or three days but it isn't really a problem because such a piece of technology needs special attention by its appointed acolytes.
I was used to having to wind a clock every two days and kept to that regimen till we went on holiday for a week and when we got back the clock was still running and tinging with smug satisfaction.
I lengthened the time between winding to a week. Saturday morning became the new official winding time. Another holiday indicated the clock could handle two weeks without winding which surprised me so I changed my habits to acknowledge this change. Still it worried me. Two weeks is quite a long time for a clock to just run.
The clock behaved impeccably, running slightly fast, but tinging the hours and half hours defining the time in the house. Granddaughters demanded to taken to the clock to listen to the chimes and it became a feature of the house.
It remained stable, unflustered and beautiful as the years went by. One night, after it had been running for about for about five years and I had gotten used to the winding regimen of two weeks, I had a sleepless period in my life. I listened to the midnight chimes, then the half hour. I was waiting peacefully counting my blessing and waiting for the hour when I heard a noise. At first I couldn't identify it. I held my breath and listened, waited and then the sound came again. Unmistakeably the sound of the clock being wound. My wife was peacefully asleep next to me so it could not be her and anyway she never wound the clock, it was my pleasure and privilege.
Curious, I got up, crossed the floor to the door of the bedroom and peaked out. Standing at the clock winding it was a young man. Black hair, moustache, it looked like my father as he had been in his thirties, except there was something not quite as I remember him from his pictures. A slightly different, cast to his face, the peculiar roman nose and piercing blue eyes were right though. He smiled gently at me and then faded. Faded? I shook my head hoping it was sleep that had clouded my eyes, but he was gone. "Dreaming." I muttered to myself and staggered back to bed.
The next morning I remembered the dream and to prove to myself that I had actually been dreaming, I went and wound the clock. Except I couldn't wind it much, it had been very recently wound. To my guesstimate in the last twelve hours and I knew I hadn't wound it, it had been the dark haired man who had wound it and then faded. I didn't tell my wife, but I must tell you, I was worried.
The next Friday night I went to bed remembering it was time to wind the clock in the morning, just before 1 am the sound of the clock being wound woke, once again I got up and headed for the door, once again the man who looked like a young version of my father stood a the clock. He looked up, saw me and this time he offered my the key.
I smiled. "No, you do it. You obviously enjoy it." He smiled and finished the winding. Again, he disappeared, fading into the moonlight.
I became used to winding the clock every second week and hearing it being wound in the in between weeks. Somehow my wife never heard it.
Maybe a year passed and I heard the clock being wound, but it was being wound slightly differently. The ghost, because that is what I decided the apparition was that was winding the clock every second week, had a slow, measured turn to the key, tick, space, tick, space tick space. A complete circle. How he managed do a complete circle was a mystery to me, but that was how he did it. I wind the clock quickly with one quarter turns. Tick, tick, tick. Turn hand, click, click, click. No spaces. This one was the slow measured turn but only half a turn and a longish pause as the hand was rotated.
Intrigued by the change, I got up to see what was happening. Standing at the clock but not winding it, was the not-quite-my-father man. Standing at the clock, was an almost identical replica of him. This time however, it was my father. The cast of his face was right. The picture that hung in my study was identical to this man. My father was winding the clock. I stood there, completely transfixed, "Dad?" He looked up and smiled.
"I got a pro in to fix the clock. I hope you don't mind." He shook his head. "Please go on. Finished winding it." I said, he smiled turned the key one more time. Just as he finished the clock chimed one. He raised his hand to me and both he and what I suspected was my grandfather faded away leaving the clock ticking gently.
My wife stirred. "What you doing?"
I didn't try to explain. "Just looking at the clock in the moonlight. It is rather beautiful." She murmured and drifted off to sleep and I returned to my bed. I didn't sleep much that night, but it didn't really matter. I was happy.
The years flew by my grandfather, my father and I wound the clock in strict rotation. I didn't always wake and greet them, sometimes I just lay in bed and listened to them winding the clock, sometime I didn't hear them at all. I kept my strange story to myself as a child keeps a treasured possession secret.
One night I went to bed early, not feeling to good. I had a bit of difficulty breathing, probably a bit of flu coming on, possibly a bit of asthma which had been plaguing me recently. Possibly just plain old age. I fell asleep easily, but woke sometime in the night. There was this huge pain in my chest. I felt as someone was kneeling on my chest. I couldn't breathe. Then there was a loud "Bang." the pain receded and breathing became easy again. The intruder on my chest had gone. Silence returned, then I heard the clock being wound. One of the ghosts was winding the clock, but a couple of days early. I got up to see what had prompted the early winding. Both ghosts were there which was rather unusual as the normally arrived singly to wind the clock. They both looked up as I peered around the door. My father held out the key and this time I took the key and started winding the clock.
I heard my wife's voice from the other room. "Are you ok?" I stopped winding and said, "Yes, fine, just winding the clock." And wondered how I could explain the strange midnight excursion.
"Charles? Charles! Charles!! Wake up!"
Wake up? I was a awake, I was winding the clock. I stepped into the room to reassure her. She wasn't looking at the door, she was looking at the shape in the bed next to her. Not only looking but shaking the still form. "No, No,NOOOOOO!! Please wake up." She was almost screaming now, I stepped forward to reassure her, but my fathers hand, now solid restrained me. I turned to look at him, he was more solid than I had ever seen him before, so was my grandfather. I turned and looked in the bedroom, my wife was crouched over what I realised was my body and weeping gently.
I turned to them, nodded and we all just faded away in the moonlight.