The BOOKPRESS June 2000

Double Time

Stephen Poleskie

Two brown clocks on your brown desk, almost identical clocks, are keeping almost identical time. The one on the left is new and therefore a slightly darker shade of brown. You have acquired the new clock only yesterday as a replacement for the clock on the right, which you have owned for the previous three years. The older clock is worn to a lighter shade of brown and has a yellowed face. The new clock has a white face.

Several gray days pass, during which time the sun does not appear and it snows a little, but still the two clocks keep identical time, a time which corresponds to the time shown on the glowing green dial of the digital clock in your bedroom, the time you always set to the time shown on your television, the time you accept as the correct time––the time you believe to be the real time.

You take the new clock, the darker one, with you when you go to work. As it is an exact replica of your other clock, your co-workers have not noticed that you have a new timepiece. They no longer consider it strange when you pull a small brown travel alarm clock from your pocket when you need to know the time. Occasionally you forget, or the button gets pushed up accidentally, and the clock sets off an alarmed beeping in your pocket. This caused you embarrassment until you realized that most people, hearing the sound, took you to be a most important person being paged to take a most important call. So you have taken to setting your clock to sound at times during the day when you will be in a meeting, or engaged in some other odious task, giving you an excuse to run off to attend to a more pressing matter.

Several more gray days pass, without snow, and your two brown alarm clocks continue to keep identical time. This makes you wonder why you had bought the second clock as a replacement for the first.

The original clock had stopped working, and when you took it back to the store where you had purchased it you were told that the batteries were probably dead. You replaced the batteries, but still the clock refused to work. As the clock was rather inexpensive, you bought a new one, intending to mail the old clock back to the factory for repair. But you had misplaced the warranty. Now the first clock sits on your desk keeping perfect time, as it has done ever since you introduced it to its successor.

When you bought the new clock you were certain the older clock was not working, and you had not intended to begin a competition. You only meant to compare the two clocks to be sure they looked exactly alike. Examining their mechanisms, you absentmindedly set the old clock to the time which was displayed on the new clock and turned your attention to the pile of papers on your desk. While working you probably glanced at both clocks, but it was only after several hours, when you decided to stop working, that you became aware that both clocks were showing the exact same time.

Since then you have developed the habit from time to time of taking both clocks in your hands, putting one to each ear. First the new clock, then the older one: "tch, tch, tch ..." each emits an identical quartz sound. The new clock speaks and the old one responds simultaneously. Perhaps to see which timepiece will stop first, you listen for several minutes, the clock sounds echoing in your head.

You eat your dinner alone, without appetite. Your meal finished, you rise, leaving the dirty plate on the table, and go to your desk. The two clocks are there, still keeping identical time. You go to the window and stand looking out. Across the square you can see the illuminated clock on the public library, its hands folded in exactly the same position as the two clocks on your desk.

A frisson of fear pierces the fog of your mind. Pressing your face against the cool window, you gaze out at the darkening street where a hurrying man looks down at his wrist, and then up at the brightly lit library clock. You feel your soul flattening and dissolving, plunging ever deeper into dull apprehension at the gathering of night, while the body that is you stands listless, staring at the clock across the way through dimming eyes.

The old brown clock was not supposed to work. It had not worked for several weeks. Even after you replaced the batteries it did not work. Now you hold it in your hands and it will not stop.

With your left hand you carefully place the new clock back on the desk, while your right hand violently shakes the old clock. Comparing the two faces, the time is identical. In anger, you slam the old clock to the floor, and kick it across the room. It ricochets off the baseboard and slides under your bed like a wounded animal trying to escape.

Retrieving the battered timepiece, you place it against your ear and listen. The old clock is silent. Carefully, fearful that your movement might cause it to start up again, you place the old clock back on the desk next to the new one.

The next morning, filled with anticipation, you rise from your bed and go to your desk. The slanting rays of the weak winter sun reveal the two brown clocks side by side, their hands in identical positions.

You pick them up, the battered old clock and the new clock, carefully putting one to each ear. You hear nothing.

Both clocks have stopped.

Stephen Poleskie is the author of two novels, a nonfiction book on flight, and three collections of stories.

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