And there was one place, she knew, where her passion would be welcomed—if her pockets were deep enough. A tiny shop, on the corner of a quiet road, in the heart of a town she’d known for years, where history stretched back to 700 AD. The town’s history, that is, not the shop's.
Although… there were those who noted that the business seemed to defy the stock it carried, its paintwork never fading, gilded signs always bright. She’d lost count of how many times she’d gazed in, through the perpetually meshed frontage of Time & Motion. But price tags, turned from view, had robbed her of any wish to enter, leaving only her imagination to take her there.
The smoothness of gloss-covered wood, submitting to the pressure of her hand; the tinkle of a brass bell, suspended from a curlicue of black iron; the smell of beeswax and oil; the sound of clocks filling the air with rhythmic beats… If she stayed long enough, there’d be a cacophony of wheezing gears and a crescendo of chimes—Westminster, Whittington and Winchester.
Today, imagination would give way to reality. In the depths of her purse lay a roll of hard-saved cash and her cheque book. It was to be her reward—for years of determined patience. Not that she begrudged the time it had taken her to get here—true passion was nothing without sacrifice.
Time & Motion was everything she’d expected… and more. Mixed with the chatter of seconds was the sound of muted conversation, and the hollow clomp of her best boots, echoing off rugless floorboards. But with the last note of the brass bell (she’d been right about that) her eyes were drawn to the treasures all around. Anniversary, bracket, carriage, longcase, garnitures… all crying out for soft candlelight, not electricity, and bearing witness to centuries of lost skills. The craftsmen who’d created these wonders, who’d merged beauty with precision, were long gone; replaced by machines and profit-margins.
“May I help you?”
She jumped, the voice as unexpected as the person it came from. Her first impression was of rounded shoulders, and a shrunken frame swathed in grease-smeared cotton. This was quickly followed by the acknowledgement of age. Where the clocks bore no obvious wear, as fresh-looking as the day they were conceived, the same could not be said for their purveyor; wrinkled skin, marred by liver spots, basset-hound eyes that held the tell-tale milky-gleam of vision past its best, the tired shuffle of weakened bones and muscles.
“I’m looking for a clock,” she replied, voicing the obvious. “I don’t know what sort yet… but I’ll know it when I see it.”
“Do you have a budget in mind?”
Typical. Money ruled everything these days… even that which should never carry a price.
“I have £400.”
“Not a longcase, then…” came the dry reply.
“I was thinking of something for my mantelpiece. I like wood, and inlaid designs, if I can get them.”
The watery eyes met hers, calm and assessing, backed by eager avarice. Money, and the prospect of an easy sale, charged the atmosphere, and the sounds around her became clearer than ever. The muted conversation was nothing more than a radio, and the ticking of clocks seemed hollower than ever. Once, their sound might have soothed her, but now it only laughed—mocking and mechanical.
How could the immeasurable be measured? Even the beauty of craftsmanship would one day be dust… but time would last forever.
Shaken, she stepped back. Would she ever get used to the flare of frustration and anger that haunted her existence? She should hate this place, where time was treated like a commodity—wrapped up in precious woods and metal; in parcels fit for a king… or anyone else willing to pay.
The shopkeeper’s gaze held no understanding at all. “Perhaps a Gustav Becker?” he murmured. “I have a fine example here… An eight-day, Napoleon shaped mantel clock. It has a mahogany case and polished dial, with black enamel numerals and blue-steeled hands—Westminster chimes, striking on the quarter, half, and hour. It’s a handsome piece, and within your budget.”
Budget… she hated that word. The clock he’d indicated was priceless in her eyes. It was an insult that should require penance. Ignorance was no defence.
“I’ll take it,” she replied, noting how ridiculously pleased he looked, but not really caring.
She’d have what she’d come for.
The Gustav Becker looked good on her mantelpiece, its internal mechanism having ground, obediently, to a halt as soon as it became hers. It wasn’t the oldest in her collection, but still precious.
She polished the case lovingly, enjoying the true sound of time; silence. The cloth dislodged a few spots of dry, iron-rich red, camouflaged against the dark wood. She flicked them away with an impatient hand.
It was a pity that Time & Motion had closed… but maybe someone else would see the business’ potential?
The Becker had been the old man’s last sale.
She’d paid by cheque in the end, signing her name with a flourish, needing him to understand. The myths had it wrong, and some things should always be bartered not sold. No one knew that better than she: Kronos, mother of time.