January 13, 2011

THE WATCHMAKER'S WINGS: IN PROGRESS


Okay, this time I mean it. This will be the last thing you'll read from me here for a bit of time (and space). After the events of the past couple of weeks, I have decided to delete my newsfeeds from all those political and journalistic sites that I have followed for the past years, in some instances over the past eleven years or more. They are corrosive to my mind. And distracting. Because they do prompt me to point out things, and that then takes up far too much time... and doesn't lead to anything.

And I am alternating between several projects that demand my attention, more so than David Fincher does. Or even Sarah Palin. Or Glen Beck. Or whoever is shouting the loudest, or doing the dumbest thing right now in this world. And let us be honest, who the hell cares about showing how the media works today, eh? No, really. Who cares? Nobody, really.

And like I said before, I want to leave something good behind.

Something that may put a smile on somebody's face. It is the reason why I began writing The Watchmaker's Wings again. And it is virtually impossible for me to tell you something funny and sad and true, if all I can see is the crap that is being done everywhere.

And so, what I want to share with you right now is the first chapter of The Watchmaker's Wings. Because what most of you have seen here so far is me being angry. And truthful. And annoyed. And ranting.

Now, I want to show you my real voice, or at least one of them (I keep the others stored in my head, for further use in different situations, hey, shut up, all of you in the back of mind. I am the one who's talking)

Chapter One
BEING A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO YOUNG MR. GOODHALL AND THE IMPORTANCE OF TIME

I.
Now, if there was one thing that young Mr. Goodhall was sure of, it was this – everything could be fixed. If you put your mind to it, that was. And gave it time. And if there was one thing young Mr. Goodhall knew plenty about, it was time.

You see, young Mr. Goodhall was a watchmaker, just like his father had been before him and his grandfather before his father.

In fact, for as long as anybody could remember, all the Goodhalls had been watchmakers, and it can be rightly said that that third proper clock to have ever been built in this country or any other had been a Goodhall.

The country in question being England, of course.

Now, it wasn’t that time moved any different in England compared to other countries. Time was a rather universal affair, but when it came to observing and measuring it, one might say – and young Mr. Goodhall had indeed said it on several occasions – that no other country in more recent history had been more obsessed than England.

In England, being a seafarer’s country after all, watching time had slowly but surely taken over from watching the heavens.

Navigation, once a celestial thing, became a matter of men measuring minutes, breaking them down to seconds that were ticking-tocking away, telling the sailors how far they were from home, and how close to any danger, be it currents or depths so deep they would swallow their souls.

And since souls were somewhat important, as I’m sure you agree, there was comfort in such certainty, and so the sailors took good care of the clocks. They wrapped them in red satin cloth, encased them in wooden boxes and put those on little tables.

It wasn’t quite worship, mind you, but to the untrained eye the daily gatherings in the belly of each English ship could have easily been mistaken for a ceremony celebrating a yet unknown church of science.

Men, dressed in uniforms that carried with them the faith in thinkers and tinkerers, in engineers and craftsmen, were reading from written paper, from bound books. Men who calculated, added and subtracted as if not only their location but their entire lives were bound to time itself.

And they were, as all lives are. Bound to time.

Thus it came to pass that the heavens were no longer needed to safely sail the stormy seas, leaving the skies open for other things, themselves still watching but no longer being watched.

And watch they did.

In all those centuries that followed.

Centuries that were filled with big triumphs and little tragedies, or perhaps little triumphs and little tragedies, that depended on your point of view, really, since someone's triumph would always be another one's tragedy.

But whatever they were, triumphs or tragedies, they were worth watching, since they definitely beat what was happening in other parts of the heavens, even with all of its suns and moons and supernovae, for nothing could burn as brightly as the human heart.

And isn't that a sight to see?

II.
Young Mr. Goodhall's heart, I regret to inform you, had never burned brightly in his life.

It wasn't that it was cold or hardened or unfeeling, this heart, although it would have been easy to mistake it as such if you were to meet him. It simply had never been ignited, and so the best it had ever done was to tick-tock with the same precision of the clocks and watches he fashioned.

With such precision came politeness, perhaps even kindness, but never a proper warmth, for that burning feeling inside surely would have stopped his heart, if only for a moment.

That was a thought that young Mr. Goodhall found to be somewhat terrifying. A broken heart, like a broken clock, was an impossible proposition, and it comforted him to know that there was at least one of those that he could fix while the other was something he tried to never had any dealings with.

He dealt with people, all right, and here was one of them, a regular customer by the name of Hanson Appleby, rich by birth, bored by life, and collector of things that didn't belong to him. He was a valued customer to young Mr. Goodhall, although I would never be able to bring myself to call him a good one.

Annoyance followed in his wake, a wave of discontent and frustration that parted the room as he looked for things new and old, already believing – as always – that all in the watchmaker's store was for sale. A big-bellied bully, dressed in arrogance and tailor-made suits, he tried to look down on young Mr. Goodhall as the watchmaker shook Mr. Appleby's hand, careful not to hold it too long for fearing that some of his customer's attitude might be a socially transmitted disease.

Considering that Mr. Appleby was by a good five inches shorter than young Mr. Goodhall, the attempt to look down on the watchmaker was a valiant one, but ultimately rather unsuccessful.

"You know why I am here, Mr. Goodhall," Appleby said, and his tiny eyes had already focused on the object of his desire, standing on a chaotic shelf in the back of the store. "Again."

"Like every day, Mr. Appleby," said Mr. Goodhall.

"Every day is a new day," said Appleby.

"But every day the answer is the same, Mr. Appleby."

"One of these days – "

"You'll never know," said young Mr. Goodhall, trying to be polite.

"That's why I am still coming around," said Appleby. "I have time."

"And money," added young Mr. Goodhall

"Yes," Appleby said. "A lot of money."

Young Mr. Goodhall smiled. It was a boyish smile.

It made him look years younger than he was, placing him in his early and not late twenties. When the smile vanished, the actual age returned, cloaking all youthfulness with worries wrinkling his skin around the eyes and his mouth. The smile had been carefully practiced over the years and was part politeness, part sales tool, and all for the benefit of the customers.

Young Mr. Goodhall walked back behind the store's counter to pull out an assortment of beautiful watches, all of them made by him, each of them little miracles of masterful workmanship, with the tiniest springs and cogs that could fit in a metal casing and still be functional.

"And maybe I just have the right objects for you to spend that money on," young Mr. Goodhall said. A sale could still be made, he hoped.

After all, watches like those he made were little pieces of art, and it was hard to put a price on art. And so young Mr. Goodhall laid them out like that, on a black satin piece of cloth that was as dark as the night's sky and let the watches sparkle in the store's light like stars coming out to shine.

Appleby gave them as much attention as the old seafarers gave to the heavens, which is to say that he gave them no attention at all, instead nodding at the ancient clock that had once been indeed the third clock ever made in all of England and had been in the hands of the Goodhall family ever since.

"I want this," he said.

"And I'm still afraid to say that you cannot have it," young Mr. Goodhall replied. A silent sigh escaped his lips, for the following conversation would be similar to yesterday's and would surely be one that would come up tomorrow. "It's a family heirloom."

"It's a clock that would look much better if it were in the study of my estate," said Appleby, who indubitably had imagined it to already stand there, among the other trinkets and things that were slowly but surely gathering dust as their owner was forever moving forward, always looking for the next thing to fall into chubby and well-manicured hands that had never seen, never done a day's work, honest or otherwise.

"It's broken," young Mr. Goodhall said.

"Then I will pay you to fix it," Appleby said. "And you will make twice the money."

"It can't be fixed," young Mr. Goodhall said.

"You don't want to fix it," Appleby said.

That, incidentally, was the truth, although I can also tell you that Mr. Appleby and the truth were not and had never been on a first name basis. Neither had Appleby and young Mr. Goodhall, come to think of it, although that may have been at least in part due to the fact that young Mr. Goodhall didn't care too much about being on a first name basis with anybody, considering it a kind of intimacy that made him feel uncomfortable.

"I can't fix it," young Mr. Goodhall replied, repeating a lie that was not white, at least not completely, but if there were good lies and bad lies, this one here you could perhaps call a good one, for the truth was very personal and concerned young Mr. Goodhall's father. He had made his son promise to leave the clock as it was, for reasons young Mr. Goodhall had never understood.

"I will even buy up all of your new watches," said Appleby. "Surely they would make good Christmas presents. Just give it to me, that one clock. It is wasted here."

Here, I can now tell you, was a small townhouse in the heart of London. It was old, old-fashioned and attempting to age as gracefully as it could, considering the fact that its owner had not been all that successful in keeping up with the times.

Watches and clocks, once having been guidance to entire empires, were a curiosity. Unless made near the mountains of Switzerland and laced with utterly useless diamonds, gold or rare metals and primarily used as objects intended to incite jealousy, they had been replaced by electrical currents that lit up touchable screens and gave the time in strict, digital numbers on phones that people even younger than young Mr. Goodhall barely ever used as such, preferring short messages typed on smooth surfaces and cutting down thoughts to 140 characters or less, perpetual status updates sent to the invisible electronic bubble around them.

They had become less than practical, the things young Mr. Goodhall was proud of being able to craft with his hands. They had become a difficult way to pay the bills, of which there were many, stacked in an ever-rising pile at the side of young Mr. Goodhall's working desk in the back of the shop.

Truth be told, Mr. Appleby had not been merely a valued customer in those past months, sometimes he had also been the only one, and it would be correct to state that without Appleby's obsession and the wealth that could pay for it, young Mr. Goodhall's store would have already been forced to close for business.

III.
As it was, though, the time for that had not come yet.

The end of the store's existence, always in sight, had been pushed back by one week, sometimes two weeks, with each new purchase by Mr. Appleby. And so, while young Mr. Goodhall was still running things, he was running out of time.

There would be a day, not too far into the future, when the clock Mr. Appleby was so desperate about would also be on sale, because pride could not fill a belly, and a promise could not pay a bill.

However, today was not that day.

And while this tale concerns time, and both the clock and Mr. Appleby were to play a part in the events that followed this morning's misery, let me be clear that it is not Mr. Appleby's story.

If somebody had told him, though, at this very moment, Mr. Appleby would have had very strong feelings about such an assertion, without a doubt all of them negative.

After all, a man like him, by virtue not only of his wealth but also his girth, considered himself to be somewhat of planet of his own, the way smaller men would consider themselves an island.

Only that if you were a planet, you did expect other, smaller objects – like a poor watchmaker, for instance – to orbit you and respect that gravitational pull. Something that young Mr. Goodhall had been careful to avoid, choosing to remain at a respectful distance. And did I not say that annoyance were sure to follow Mr. Appleby's wake? This was this annoyance, coming to the surface and flushing fat cheeks with the first signs of anger.

"It's merely a clock, man!"

"It's a special clock," young Mr. Goodhall said.

"To you?" asked Appleby, who could not understand the very concept of something being special, for he had collected so many special things that all of them had become mundane. Such was the fate of things that were unique and stood out in a crowd, you see, if captured and caught and collected.

"To my father," young Mr. Goodhall said.

"Bah! It's just a clock!"

The clock in question was quite an excellent clock, broken or not, and if it had still worked, it would have chimed perfectly, with each hour, from its place up on the shelf in the back of the shop.

Young Mr. Goodhall remembered the sound well from his childhood, and he had come to miss it, just as he had come to miss his father and mother, and if there hadn't been that promise, he would have certainly already fixed it, merely to hear those sounds once more and remember.

"Then why do you want it?" asked young Mr. Goodhall, who had been a shop owner long enough to see a shift in strategy by a customer. "And come back every day?"

"Because!" said Appleby, exploding in desperate anger.

The collector who was not allowed to collect, not this thing, not this time, sighed. "Tell you what, if I do buy these –"

Appleby pointed at the watches displayed in front of him.

"– will you promise me to think about my offer?"

"We can discuss it next week," young Mr. Goodhall said.

"I'll be here," Appleby said.

"I know you will," sighed young Mr. Goodhall.

The transaction that followed was short and without an attempt to haggle on Mr. Appleby's part, who did indeed have all the time in the world and made no secret about the fact that he was going to spend a considerable amount of it on wearing down young Mr. Goodhall, feeling that with each passing week he would come one step closer to his goals.

"Have a nice day," said Appleby as he left the shop.

Young Mr. Goodhall, who was not entirely sure what a nice day would look like, nonetheless politely wished the collector the same before counting his blessings, all 732 pounds and 18 shillings that would have to be split up in smaller chunks be given away to others again, and fairly soon.

Twenty pounds, though, a crumbled up note, he did put into his wallet and made a mental note on how to best spend it. A nice day this wasn't, but it would be a good one, young Mr. Goodhall thought.

Twenty pounds would pay for a good meal, and perhaps some polite conversation over tea and biscuits with one of the waitresses at the coffeehouse a few blocks down the road and that he was frequenting often enough to have its owner and staff know exactly what young Mr. Goodhall would order the moment he entered.

The shop around him, empty now of all but himself and his work, was only filled by the ticking of the clocks and watches that had stayed behind, a rhythmic reminder of how little he had been able to make today, while his life was ticking away. And still, none of them matched the beating of young Mr. Goodhall's heart.

He glanced up at the clock that was Mr. Appleby's object of desire, a space of silence around it that was almost audible.

"Can't fix you," young Mr. Goodhall told the clock, "can't sell you. What is that you are good for, then?"

Now, it would have been a remarkable miracle if the clock had answered him, wouldn't you agree? But it didn't. It merely continued to stand there, having been handed down through the centuries, from father to son, from mother to daughter, until it had broken while time had moved on, its display still showing the exact moment it had ceased to be of any use to anybody.

It showed it one minute to twelve, its hands almost touching each other, close enough to mistake them to be one, so close were they, behind a cracked glass that had been allowed to gather dust, a milky film of at least ten years gathering on it.

Strangely enough, one to twelve was the exact moment that young Mr. Goodhall had chosen to look at the clock, and as far as miracles go, this one ranked about on the very bottom of any list, somewhere between a lucky penny working out and winning maybe three pounds in the National Lottery, so you may forgive him for not noticing that – if it only had been big and loud, colorful and beneficial enough – would immediately have been recognized as a miracle.

The other clocks in young Mr. Goodhall's shop started to chime, ring and buzz, telling their creator and owner to give all of his attention to them, and them only.

"Good timing," said young Mr. Goodhall, whose belly had begun to growl to remind him that it had not been filled with anything that day, save some morning coffee and four spoons of sugar turning said coffee into a thick, syrupy mess that had been enough to keep him going all morning.

And it was. Only young Mr. Goodhall would have no idea as to why it was until much later, for that is how they work, you see? These little miracles that nobody noticed while they were looking for the big ones.

But it was. It was a good timing, indeed.