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Drama Gay Speculative






“We could make our millions,” sighed Luigi Vampa, and not for the first time, as he adjusted the pendulum of the Bulova C3383 so that it hung perfectly straight. It was a service which, before the great happening, the wizened man had never been called upon to perform and he was taking an obscure pleasure in the meticulousness of it. If tiny detail and exact precision had not delighted Luigi he would have been a miserable and probably very inexpert clocksmith, perhaps no clocksmith at all, perhaps he would have donned some other guise altogether, but they did and he was and, as it had turned out, not a bad one either.

“Yes?” replied Bernard, peering over his glasses, but not at Luigi. They were half-moons and designed to be ignored, besides which they were only glass. He was examining the outer case of an ancient Breguet, the luster of which he had devoted the last month of his life to restoring. Bernard was at a tricky stage now and not about to take his hand from the grindstone. Of course nothing so gouache as a grindstone would have been tolerated within a grandfather clock’s distance of the ‘Right Honorable Horologists Shop,’ not even tipped sideways with another on its shoulders. The establishment of the quaint little shop- emphatically not shoppe- bore every sign of having been the two Messrs- Bernard and Luigi Vampa’s- life's work. But it had not been, only a work of their life.

In truth, only Luigi was a Vampa. Bernard had forgotten to select a last name for himself, but the older and more caricaturish he became the less it seemed to matter. Which is not to say that Luigi had scored over him in being so distinguished; both knew that he had simply been less circumspect, lifting his nom de guerre directly from Dante- Edmund, definitely not Alighieri.

Dusting as lightly as a feather, Bernard moved the matted lump of steel wool over the Moroccan leather. Time had withered the case black, like a dried heart, but with love and attention the ancient clocksmith had managed to ease back the years, oiling and polishing til the deep red which lived still beneath had swelled with pride, as if in an ancient name. The carriage clock which had been nestled inside sat upon the workshop table, its once fabulous gilt tinged now green, now almost black, by those same fleeting years. The invisible acid of children's fingers were eating at it still, nibbling away like a final, tiny act of defiance cast back over hobbling shoulders by the great dames and grandshires who had once been so very young, as they had shuffled off into the dusty gloom of anonymity. Bernard would get to it as well. He would get to everything, in the fullness of time.

No, he would not. Not anymore.

“Our millions?” he said, by way of beginning the conversation which dread had hidden away for two days already.

“If only we knew how to restart all these clocks,” mused the man up front, gazing about himself at the motionless walls, the shelves and mantle pieces; a thick forest of still pendulums, as if someone very noble in the earth had passed.

“You mean, restart time?”

“Oh, time? And what has time ever done for you or me, or anyone else?”

“Luigi,” Bernard said, and the kindly looking old man by the door stopped what he was doing. His shoulders bent just the smallest degree. It was a conscious action. Everything either of the men did was intentional, but so long had they been about it, their great deception, that the counterfeit had assumed a character of reality even to them, the shuffles and gasps and gentle tremor of the fingers like a muscle memory of the mind.

“Luigi,” Bernard repeated.

“Yes, I know,” sighed Luigi. “He has found us at last. I mean, I suppose he must have done.”

“He has,” said Bernard.

“All of yesterday… I was hoping to hear that something had happened, I don’t know, that an atomic weapon had exploded, perhaps. That would have done it, don’t you think; a massive nuclear detonation? That would have stopped the clocks.”

“Digital clocks? Yes, I suppose it would have wiped them out, but we have so few, you know? Well, of course you know.”

“I never would have any truck with digital clocks,” sniffed Luigi, wiping his hands together fretfully and turning from the window. “Nasty, artificial things. They have no, no art to them, no ‘beauty of soul’... or whatever you want to call it. Even a common sundial has more poetry than the most expensive timepiece of that sort. I wouldn’t even call them timepieces, just modern toys; bits of carbon, and circuitry, and… bah….”

“But we don’t have any digital clocks here,” said Bernard. “Not a one I don’t think, not since we- rather I, you curmudgeon- fixed the hinge on old lady McKastner’s and she took her piece away.”

“Still, it might be a blast, mightn't it,” said Luigi, twisting about. “If it were strong enough, if someone took out, say, New York maybe- and who would miss it- a blast strong enough to disrupt the magnetic poles, or… something. That might make even our clocks stop going. Don’t you think? And if the wireless was taken out, and the television…”

“Look at those people out there,” said Bernard, nodding his nose towards the glass.

“The world can spare a few… people,” snarled Luigi, the sudden burst of anger making his nostrils flare.

“It could or it could not, but, look at them anyway,” said Bernard. “Should an event of that sort have happened they would know it by now, somehow. Even were your explosion as clean as the edge of a knife, word would have come back. They would be full of panic, they would be crazed. They might even break in here…”

“Would that they would break in here,” growled Luigi, the muscles rippling up his neck in a greedy spasm.

“See, and look here besides,” said Bernard, smiling gently and affecting not to notice.  

Finally, as if dragged, the other occupant of the shop turned around. Very carefully, Bernard placed a small steel ball into the groove of a wooden mechanism which had sat long next to the cash register. Together they stood watching it.

“Do you remember Sir Congreve,” he said.

“I remember old Bill,” sighed Luigi reluctantly, taking a half step nearer.  

“What a foul piece of work he was.”

“Oh, no fouler than most of them, given the opportunity.”

“He only lived into his fifties, you know; we’ve been hiding in this shop longer than he was alive.”

“We’ve been hiding in this shop longer than the life of any man.”

“That is the truth; how it all slips away.”

Bernard nudged the ball along the track. It moved under his impetus but no further.

“Not anymore,” said Luigi, rubbing at his eye.

Frowning, Bernard shook his head. With an effort he lifted a glass case and placed it over top of the Congreve clock.

“No atomic blast could have done that,” he said. “This is the end. There exists only one being who can stop time. Remember Joshua, and those damn silly Canaanites?”

“That was a trick,” spat Luigi. “He didn’t actually stop time, just swung a meteorite into the path of the earth's orbit until the tail mimicked the sun. It was a trick.”

“Perhaps this is too,” said Bernard. “After all, stopping a measuring device, even all of them, doesn’t mean that what they measured has been interrupted.”

“Just the clocks?”

“Maybe… just the ones in this room.”

Luigi seemed struck by the notion.

“Well, we could find out for sure, why don’t we just ask…’” he said, taking one vigorous step towards the door, but he stopped himself, before the cold metal circle had even entered into his hand, arm stretched out and fingers open as if they felt heat, as if the door were the entryway to a snare. 

Coming silently up from behind, Bernard placed a hand on his companion’s shoulder and stood with him, for a while, gazing out at the holiday shoppers as they moved up and down the street. Intent upon their own affairs, they seemed even more remote than usual, like images projected onto the windows. Even as they watched a man paused, gazed at the metal band which encircled his wrist and moved on, walking faster than he had done.

“We still have our protections,” said Luigi. “Our circles of strength. We can last out here for a long… time.”

The last word seemed to stick in his throat.

“We have always been imprisoned here,” said Bernard, gazing about the room afresh. “We might have been chocolatiers.”

“What?” sniffed Luigi.

“Chocolatiers,” repeated Bernard, sweeping out his hands. “Or cobblers, or sellers of musical instruments. We had, ‘got my trade for to choose,’ and yet we chose to surround ourselves with clocks. Why do you suppose that was? Counting the minutes?”

“Physiological hokus pokus.”

Bernard slid his hand from Luigi’s shoulder. He bit his lip.

“I never wanted to be a chocolatier,” he said, “ or a shoe maker.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, nothing. Nothing really, I just wanted you to know that. I never wanted to be anything other than a clocksmith; sitting here day after day, finicking about with timepieces, and you up front.”

“Perhaps we could enhance our spells?” said Luigi, stepping away, pacing from one side of the shop to the other. “We must be able to do something.”

“You don’t have to limp like that now, unless you want to,” said Bernard, who had not moved.

Luigi spun lithely around.

“What are you going on about?” he roared. “Do you not see, do you not understand? We are trapped here! We have always been trapped here!”

“Yes, but at least it was a quiet trap, of our own choosing.”

“We should have dug a tunnel, I always said we should have a tunnel!”

“A tunnel from him? A tunnel which he could not see, he, who made these very hills and mountains?”

Luigi pounded his fist down onto the counter. It broke asunder.

“Why now?” he bellowed. “After all this time, why now? Couldn’t he just let us be? Couldn’t he just forget?”

“I suppose not,” said Bernard. “But, we have had a good long while. Perhaps it was a gift, his kind of mercy.”

“I never wanted anything from him,” said Luigi.

The two beings stood looking at each other for a long time, till, without a word, they moved into each other's arms and Luigi began to weep.

“Shhh, shhh; it will be alright child,” whispered Bernard.

“I just wanted, I just, I only, hoped…” gulped Luigi. “There was never enough, of anything, never.”

The old creature flashed out in sudden savagery and the Congreve clock crashed to the floor. The steel ball, freed from the celestial moratorium, no longer associated with time and punishment, rolled from the wreckage. Luigi gulped on a sob. Bernard gathered him together, wiping away his tears.

“We will be together in Tartarus,” he said, as firmly as he was able.

“Do… do you really think so?”

For answer, Bernard folded his arms like wings and together they stood, the fallen, called home at last.  

There was no time, but at last they drew apart.

“Should we bring our swords?” asked Luigi.

“I think the time for swords has passed,” said Bernard and, fingers intertwined, they walked together through the door, into a brilliant sun.


December 24, 2021 11:24

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2 comments

22:18 Dec 30, 2021

I loved the mystery that unfolds throughout this story. This line is very wise: "bore every sign of having been the two Messrs- Bernard and Luigi Vampa’s- life's work. But it had not been, only a work of their life." And the imagery throughout - half moon glasses, dusted light as a feather, celestial moratorium, all adding up to the denouement. Masterful. Kudos, sir. This is a terrific work.

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Ben Rounds
02:33 Dec 31, 2021

Thank you for reading, I'm glad someone enjoyed it

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