Friday, March 25, 2011

THE DEAD CLOCK by Dermot McGuigan

I go up the stairs to my room and close the door behind me, as I do every evening before school. I sit at my desk by the window and spread schoolbooks and copybook out as though I am doing the homework assignment.

From inside my room, at the top of the stairs, I differentiate between the footsteps of father and mother. I hear when one of them comes up the stairs or walks from their bedroom at the end of the landing to the bathroom next to my room.

I know to hide what amuses me when I hear the footsteps, return to my seat and text of Irish grammar or geography. Every now and again one of them will open the door and ask if everything is OK, I answer yes and they leave, they rarely enter the room or come to my desk. I know how to look busy.

Sitting on the floor I use the cutting edge of the pliers to snip the pin from a brass tack. Taking the round tack head between the teeth of the pliers I place it on the hot edge of the electric room heater. Then I press the hot metal against the skin of the plastic kit car I have assembled. I let the tack-head sink in and set.

I weld tack after tack onto the sides and top of the car – knowing that at some point I will subject it to increasing tests until I find its breaking point. The car survives multiple crash tests – continuing long after I sped it on its spindly wheels along the floor and into the wall, it lasted longer than all the others.

In the time between models, when the last one is broken beyond the point of interest and before I get the next one with my newspaper money, I turn my attention to anything else in the room, and inevitably, the alarm clock. Over and over I have taken the clock apart and put it back together – and it frustrates as the core will not yield to my curiosity. I can see the spring and the inner workings all punched tight in a metal cage … beyond my reach.

A test, perhaps the most severe, is to drop the object of my curiosity from my window past the dining room window and onto the path below. Father has his breakfast alone in the dining room with the door closed. He opens the hatch to the kitchen table where brother and I sit and offers tea from the pot, and then father closes the hatch. After dinner the dining room is empty. I drop the core of the clock out of my bedroom window and wait until the undefined time when it is acceptable to leave my room, when my homework is assumed to have been completed, then I go to retrieve the core, eager see to its fate. That it no longer works is mildly disappointing, that it remains impenetrable is frustrating. I re-assemble the clock and return it to the shelf in my room. It holds no further interest. Each night the time it tells remains the same. No one asks why; nor would I tell how it failed the test, or how tight it held its inner workings secret.