Dead Man Talking
I wasn’t looking to buy a watch. I already have a watch – not that I wear it. I bought it about ten years ago when I had some money; but I’m damned if I can remember the last time I strapped it on my wrist.
I was walking past a store a while back in which they only sell Dead Men’s Junk. Dead men’s shoes, dead men’s hats, dead men’s suits – you get the picture. I don’t even know why I stopped to look because I’ve gone past it a hundred times before without being lured in. I’m usually not even interested in a living man’s stuff, never mind anything he might no longer have a use for.
It’s a curse of the modern age. Not so long ago, a dead man wouldn’t have owned any stuff. The clothes he stood up in? He would also have been wearing them lying down. My grandfather died something like thirty years ago – aside from his clothes, all he had left was a leather belt, a pair of binoculars that never worked properly and a notebook that had some financial stuff in it about how he could buy himself a pig in secret if he hid a little money away from my grandmother each week. I have the belt and the binoculars right here but I don’t know what happened to the notebook. I must ask my mother. The pig thing actually happened – it was bacon, ham and dog snacks a long time ago but it did happen.
So that was a whole life right there. A belt and a pair of broken binoculars. Exactly the kind of things you would leave behind not so long ago.
Anyway, this watch: it caught my eye for no reason at all – or maybe that’s not strictly true. It’s kind of cool. It’s a pocket watch. It’s not super old, maybe heralding from the 60s – 50s at best – but it spoke to me. It spoke to me with its notched winder sitting on top. It spoke to me because it had the exact time of my birth written all over its stopped face: 6:35. It even spoke to me with its little luminous dots that no longer lume. Not even when you charge them up by leaving it out under the light of a Hunter's Moon.
For some reason, I thought that was supposed to work but maybe not.
I didn’t notice at first exactly how it was trying to speak to me. My hearing isn’t what it used to be. It took two or three people to point it out to me but once it had registered on my soul radar, I couldn’t forget about it.
At first, it just sat in my pocket. When I needed to know the time, for the first week I was still pulling out my phone. It takes time to break a stupid habit. I hate that phone. I hate all the things it stands for and all the things it makes me do. Very slowly, all of these distractions we like to think of as ‘so very modern’ are getting left behind but it’s like trying to get yourself off cocaine.
It feels good though, sitting here in my pocket – but it hasn’t stopped talking. On and on and on it goes, every second of every day. Even after all these years of manufacture, it keeps perfect time. It needs winding every couple of days or so but for reasons best known to itself, it always stops at the same time. 2:52. I have gotten it into my head that, given that it was speaking my time of birth when I found it, I’ve taken 2:52 to potentially be my time of death. Whether that’s in the middle of the afternoon or the middle of the night, I obviously can’t tell. If it turns out to be true, I really hope it’s the middle of the night because somehow, the afternoon seems like a real waste of the rest of the day.
So: the watch talks to me and the really insane thing about it is that I understand every single word it says. More worrisome still is that it makes more sense than any human being I have ever spent time with. It actually talks so much that it’s now been banned from the bedside.
The first thing it says to me – two things in fact – is ‘tick, tock’. I heard it loud and clear and interpreted it as ‘Time is passing by, my friend’. It says that a lot and that’s fine because it’s the one thing I need reminding of more than anything. I could live without it saying it quite so loud sometimes but I guess when you listen to the world, it doesn’t feel the need to shout at you.
It’s also quite fond of ‘tick, tock’ which means ‘Play nice – everybody else's clock is running too’. Over the last few weeks, I’ve also heard ‘tick, tock’ as ‘Turn it up, this is a great song’, and also ‘Don’t sweat it, because tomorrow it won’t be important to anybody’.
Now some weeks have passed, it’s able to speak to me in just a simple tick and that’s fine too. Hearing that single tick is like a trigger for all the tick, tocks it has ever spoken. Last Saturday afternoon, we sat down together at the kitchen table. I had a cup of coffee and the watch had… well, it’s a watch, it doesn’t need anything. Also in front of me was one of those little screwdrivers – the type that you can put a screw back into a pair of glasses with.
My intention was to prise the back off it to see what was going on inside there.
I twisted my coffee mug around on the table contemplating what I was about to do.
“Tick, tock, tick, tock.”
“Go ahead, but you may not like what you find.”
And it was right. There were two ways this could go. I would either find cogs inconsequentially working in synchronicity with each other – nothing but the guts of a watch working behind the curtain – or I would find the entire mechanics of The Universe, magically ticking away, doing that thing that the universe does.
If I were The Universe, I would disguise myself as ordinary watch mechanics. It’s a great idea. What’s the point in being The Universe if you can’t hide yourself in plain sight?
I decided I didn’t want to know. That’s not the kind of thing I want to find out. Maybe it would blow my mind. I put the screwdriver back in the toolbox and the watch ticked a ‘thank you’. I held it in the palm of my hand watching hundreds of seconds turn into minutes. Occasionally I would turn it over so that I couldn’t see my life passing by for no reason at all and eventually gave that up as a pointless exercise.
I pushed the winder down and moved the hands back a couple of minutes to add them back on to my life. I would correct it in the morning, I decided – because when you’ve just woken up, that is a far better time to waste a few minutes in your life.
It didn’t make me sad to know that if 2:52 were to come today, all I would be leaving behind is a belt, a pair of broken binoculars and a pocket watch, but I can’t help wondering what these other two items are trying to say to me.
Given enough time, I might be able to figure it out.
An extract from The Day The Sky Fell Down