“Can I help again today Dad?”
“Of course son, come on.” It was time to wind the watch. He looked forward to watching his father reverently remove the watch from its stand in the glass case on the bookshelf in the den of their house. Gently he took the watch down and laid it on a soft piece of material on the desk next to a lamp. He sat on a stool next to his father watching his father’s skilled hands polishing the watch’s casing. Then he slowly opened it, blew out imaginary dust from the hinge, and polished the crystal. Then, with his eyes glued to the project, he watched his dad carefully wind the watch three and a half times, listen to it tick and listen to it tock. Then, following another quick wipe-down he tenderly set it back in the glass case. “This watch must be wound every day. It is important never to let it die.”
“Do you know whose watch that was?”
His dad always asked the same question and the same response was always given: “I think I remember, but I am not sure.”
“It was your Great-Great-Great Grandfather Roger’s watch. It was a gift from an unknown woman.”
“It wasn’t from grandma?” The same question was always asked.
“He always claimed to have received the watch before he met his wife. He never said who the woman was that gave him the gift.”
“Why’s it so special then?”
“Well, it is the only thing we have left from Roger. As the story goes, he was a great man who was always quick to help those around him, a good husband, and a good friend. However, one day…” His father always paused at this point. “Are you sure I haven’t told you this?”
“Pretty sure.” The almost automatic response escaped his lips.
“Ok well, one day an old neighbor lady knocked on the door early in the morning because your Grandpa Roger had promised to help her move some crates. When she received no answer she got worried and got the police. Inside the house they found your grandma, dead, draping over the cradle protecting her crying child. Roger was nowhere to be found and the only thing left in the house besides the baby cradle was that watch,” his father pointed to the glass display case, “clutched in your grandma’s hand by the leather strap that used to be attached to it.”
“Why didn’t he take the watch?”
“Well, no one really knows where he went, or why he did what he did, or even if it was him that killed our grandma. He just disappeared. We don’t know why the watch was left, but that little baby lived and the watch was given to him and then to his son and so on until it now sits on that shelf.” He pointed again to the top of the bookshelf.
“Will I get it one day?”
“Not today,” he father winked as he gave his rehearsed answer.
“Any luck Tweed?”
“We’ve looked everywhere.”
“Apparently not or we would have found it.”
“I’ve searched this whole room.” He sounded hopeless.
“Hey!” Tweed yelled. “You lost the watch. You have to find the watch. So shut-up and keep looking! Get over there and look harder.”
“I’m sorry Tweed, You’re right.”
“I know I’m right. Find it!” Tweed brushed some dirt off his black shirt sleeve. He thought that Tweed had been wearing a white shirt, but assumed he must have not been paying proper attention.
The two friends were in the den standing at the bookshelf. “Look at it, it’s fantastic.” Tweed had never seen the watch before.
“I know, it’s going to be mine one day too.”
“Can we look at it?”
“No, no one can touch it, but my dad right now. And he only touches it when he winds it.”
“Come on, let’s take it down.”
“Pansy. Grab that chair.”
He listened to Tweed and slid the chair over to the bookshelf, climbed up on it and gingerly opened the case. He heard the familiar tick tock as the watch was freed from its glass cage. He had never touched the watch before; he reached for it and hesitated just before contact.
“Hurry up.” Tweed called from below.
His friend seemed miles away. The only two things in the world were the watch and his hand sitting in the air only inches from the gold. Finally his fingertips brushed against the smooth cover. He felt it. There was an energy that emanated from the watch, it was warm and welcoming; it seemed to be aware of the virgin contact. At the moment of contact he knew that the watch was to be his. Never before had he been drawn to anything as he was at that moment to the pocket watch.
“Let me see it.” Tweed, now eons away, called out.
He climbed down from the chair cradling the pocket watch in his hands still feeling the life from it. Tweed, standing there, reached his hand out. He handed his friend the watch reluctantly. Tweed never got a handle on it. The watch fell slowly to the floor and collapsed loudly against the hardwood. Both boys stood staring at it, afraid to move. The watch lay there in a heap. For the first time in his life he saw the watch as dim and old. This illusion didn’t last long however as a tall shadow crept on the floor over the fallen treasure. The boys looked up.
“Son.” The tall shadow belonged to his dad. “What are you doing?”
“I’m sorry,” he stammered out. Tweed stood there silently. “I just wanted to see it.”
“No, you wanted to touch it. You can see it from the floor.”
He hung his head in shame and started to bend to pick up the watch.
“No. I’ll get it. Go to your room, please.” His father was cordial, but stern in his command. It was followed.
The rest of the night was boring and slow with only Tweed and him in the room. Tweed slept over, as he did most nights.
“I can’t imagine what your dad would say if he knew you lost it.”
“I didn’t mean to, I didn’t. I have taken good care of it.” He was crying trying to look, but could hardly see through his tears.
“If your dad was still alive you wouldn’t have the watch and we would still know where it is.”
“I wish he was alive. He would know what to do. He always did.”
“Well he’s not alive! He’s not here for you anymore and you aren’t going to see him again. The only thing you have now is that watch. We have to find it. I can’t believe you lost it.”
“I heard it tick-tocking and then it stopped.”
“You let it die!” Tweed screamed and pushed him down onto the ground. “How could you do that? What were you thinking?!”
“I looked for it,” he was on his back on the floor, tears streaming now. “I tried to save it.”
One night, he didn’t remember exactly when, he was walking through the house in his pajamas and bare feet. He walked down the hall past his father’s den. The door was closed, but muffled voices could be heard. With his ear pressed to the door he made out his father’s words: “…inside the house they found your grandma, dead, draping over the cradle protecting her crying child. Roger was nowhere to be found and the only left in the house beside the baby cradle was that watch.”
His heart stopped. “Who is he talking to?” He whispered to himself. He found a spot around the corner where he crouched and waited. “I must know who is in there,” he whispered again. There, crouched in the dark he waited until a sliver of light escaped the den as the door opened. His father exited the room followed by Wayne.
“Your little brother?” Tweed asked when he learned who had been in the den with the watch.
“Yeah. I don’t understand it. Why would Dad be showing him the watch?”
“Do you think he’s mad at us for looking at the watch before?”
“He was mad, but that was weeks ago. Do you think he would give it to Wayne instead because of that?”
“I don’t know,” Tweed said slowly. “Maybe.”
“But that’s my watch. It’s mine.”
“Right now it’s your dad’s.”
“But I’m the oldest. It always goes to the oldest.”
“You said once it didn’t.”
“Yeah, but that was a different circumstance Tweed.”
“Even so, what if he’s decided to give it to Wayne.”
“He can’t…can he?”
“We can’t let him.” Tweed’s black shirt added into the darkness of the room as the stars shone down on the cold night.
The next morning he was awake early. His mom and dad came down into the kitchen to the smell of bacon and eggs. “Morning,” he said cheerfully. I thought I’d make you breakfast.
The whole day was filled with doing everything he could ever remember his parents asking him to do. He did the dishes, took out the garbage, swept the floor, did laundry and even cleaned out the cat’s litter box. When the sun set he walked around the house looking for his father. Finally, in the living room, he found him. “Can I help tonight dad?”
“With the watch.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, son. Wayne and I did it while you were doing laundry.”
“I’m really sorry. Maybe tomorrow okay, buddy?”
He and Tweed sat in his room that night with all the lights save the lamp beside his bed off. “I tried everything today Tweed. He’s going to give Wayne the watch, I know it.”
“We can’t let that happen.”
“How can we stop it?”
“Same way we stopped that squirrel from burying nuts in the back yard.”
“No! What? What are you even saying?”
“How important is the watch to you?”
In his room he stopped looking and slowly turned his head to his friend. Tweed stood there in his black shirt.
“You remember?” Tweed asked.
“No, not really.”
“What did we do to the squirrel?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes you do. Think.”
“I can’t remember. I can’t”
“Yes you can! Use your head!”
He sat on the floor cross-legged choking back tears and memories. “I asked him for the watch. He wouldn’t tell me if it was mine or not. I had to have it.”
“I know. I know you did.”
“It was mine!” he shouted. His voice echoed of the walls of the room.
“Yes!” he yelled this loudly, but did not believe himself. “There was only one way it would be mine.”
“I know. It had to be done.”
“I had to have it, I had to have it, I had to have it, I had to have it, I had to have it…” He repeated this over and over out loud. Tweed stood there silently.
Then, suddenly: TICK……………………………..TOCK.
The sound was loud, so loud it shook the room…TICK…“It’s alive!” he screamed and stood up…TOCK…“We have to find it. Help me Tweed!”…TICK…it was getting louder and faster…TOCK…it started to hurt his ears and he shook his head to try and clear his mind…TICK…“I found it! Here it is!”…TOCK…the crack of the second hand knocked him over and he grabbed his ears trying to shut out the sound…TICK…“Give it to me.” Tweed, unaffected by the painful ticking of the pocket watch…TOCK…“Make it stop! Tweed, help me! It hurts!”…TICK…it got louder, louder, louder, louder…TOCK…“Give me the watch!” Tweed screamed again. “It’s mine now!”…TICK…“No, no, no, no, it’s mine! It was always mine!”…TOCK…his eardrums shook and pounded with each movement of the ticking second hand…TICK… “Make it stop!”…TOCK… “Give me the watch!”…TICK… he stretched out to hand the watch to Tweed…TOCK… Tweed’s fingers touched the watch and the world went silent.
The two friends looked at each other for a moment in the overwhelming silence. There was no movement, no breeze, no creaks of floorboards, no crickets in the distance, nothing. Silence.
“Now you remember, don’t you.” Tweed’s statement was not a question.
He nodded and stared deeply at Tweed. “But it was you,” he accused.
Tweed slowly shook his head, almost in pity or frustration. “It makes no difference whether it was me or you. You know that.”
“But I told you to leave. To leave me alone. You killed him…with that knife we found and then I ordered you to leave!”
“And I did, my friend, I did.” His black t-shirt rustled as he took two small steps closer. “But then you asked for me again didn’t you.” Once again, this was not a question.
He remembered now. While searching for the watch he had indeed wished for Tweed to be there. “But you killed him, my dad. Why?”
“Because, as much as you want the watch, I want it more. It called to me the first time I saw it. And now I am going to have it, keep it, and love it.”
“But it’s mine.” Any authority that had been in his voice was long since gone.
“It’s in my hand.” Tweed’s lips were curled into a snide smile.
“I am getting it back now!”
“Then you’ll die your father!” Tweed lunged forward and wrapped the chain of the watch around his friend’s throat. They fought and struggled around the room. The lights began to dim as the blood stopped flowing into his brain and then, with a final audible tick……..tock from the watch echoing in his ears, everything, including Tweed, disappeared from his eyes.
“How long does he have to stay in here, Mom?”
“I don’t know Wayne. Your brother is very sick. What time is it?”
Wayne revealed a golden pocket watch from his left pocket, holding it up by the chain he responded: “3:54.”
The walls leading up to his room were white and clean; the fluorescent lights flickered along the length of the hallway. Finally, at the end of the hall, the doctor unlocked and opened the door. There, in the middle of the room, surrounded by a torn apart mattress and pieces of foam and rubber from the walls lay the body. Dead. Tight around his neck was wrapped a short leather strap.
His mother screamed and ran towards him, cradled his head in her arms and sobbed deeply. Wayne, silent, in shock, looked down at the strap strangling his brother and quietly asked, “isn’t that the old strap Dad had on my watch? I thought he threw that away when he bought the chain?”
His mother looked up, and, with her tear dripping onto her dead son’s face and slowly nodded, asking herself the same question, as the tears continued to fall.