Time came up. Out of the ground like lava. Nothing I saw changed any of my opinions about things and the only opinion I had was that nothing actually mattered. Although, I didn’t live that way and you might not have known it to look at me. Things bothered me, like people being rude or my milk not being hot enough in my coffee or the way I looked in the mirror. And then there was the clock. An old cuckoo clock on the wall that had belonged to my grandmother and which I sat across from pondering this impossible dullness. The clock was made of walnut and in perfect working order. It was shaped like a hut with a slanting roof and a carved bird on the crest. The body and roof were covered in ivy, carved out of the walnut. It made it seem forgotten, away somewhere in a wood, perhaps in a Grimm fairy tale. The clock face, not besmirched by the ivy, was smooth and so perfectly round it was like a whirlpool. It had carved bone hands that told the time, and there was a cuckoo of course. It was set on a long white wall that ran the length of my living room, right in the middle on its own with nothing to drown it anywhere else on the wall. At one end of the room was a long window looking out onto the park, which at that time of year was bleak and full of frost and dead looking trees; but in the spring it was filled with blossom and in the summer it was filled with life. Any of these ways, it didn’t matter. They were all the same really. Everything was all the same, whether you were in Timbuktu or Wall Mart or the corner of a cupboard at the back of your room or the International Space Station or anywhere, it didn’t matter.
And my grandmother, she never really liked the clock. She used to go on about how much she hated it and how annoying and distracting it was every time it would strike the hour and the little bird with its beak in permanent chorus would cuckoo: out and in; out and in, like a weary soldier on parade or a low paid shift worker doing the rounds. My grandmother only kept it because her mother had given it to her and so somehow she felt obliged, like it was a reminder of the woman she never quite liked in the way she wanted to but loved all the same. And I didn’t like it either. It was an ugly thing really. Oh, it was fine if you were into Cuckoo clocks and knew what you were looking for. But that wasn’t me, or my grandmother or my mother, who refused to home the thing when my grandmother died. And so I took it on as my burden, although I did love my grandmother, in many ways I loved her more than my mother because of her sense of responsibility and of right and wrong, which were things that I could never fully understand. And the clock seemed so hopeless, so ugly and unnecessary. It had none of the finesse that I felt obliged to look for in life; none of the subtle qualities of knowing observation that were supposed to give life meaning. It just cuckooed the hour like a lame excuse for a grandfather clock or church bells or the news on the radio and it was a poor imitation of nature. Poor and unnecessary. Much like my grandmother had been. Much like everything was. And the problem with all this, in a way, was how easy it was to cope with the idea – that nothing actually mattered and that filling my apartment with a noise I hated and dedicating the largest wall I had to its exhibit was no different to doing anything else.
Except of course it was because every so often I’d come home from work and walk in the door and the clock would cuckoo and for the briefest of moments, less than a second, I’d be an eight year old girl at my grandmother’s house on Christmas eve or some other joyous childhood day and the linking of synapses would be like time travel, like forgetting all of the dullness and being young and innocent and filled with wonder. For less than a second, although I wished it would last longer. I wished, as I sat staring at it and waiting for it to crow, that it could just take me there to where it once was, and to where it still appeared to be.
Rhuar Dean is a poet, writer and occasional journalist, based in Washington, DC. He grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and has found himself living in some of the world's finest cities inclding Fez, Kathmandu, Cairo and Beirut. His work has appeared both online and in print. More information, including links to other stories, is available on his website.