Place: Maestri del Tempo
Nothing felt as right as a clock. Nothing was so perfect, and so taken for granted, as the little wheels and springs that measure that master of us all—time.
Bella screams as she takes her first breath, cupped in a midwife's hands, trying to focus on a pair of smiling brown eyes behind a mask.
Her nephew Matteo had said that the new games on expensive phones, apps, made pleasure centers fire in people’s brains, which led to addiction. While Bella Ferrara disapproved of the time Matteo—so handsome if you saw him from the angle that didn’t show the scar on his right cheek—spent with his phone, a small, secret part of her understood completely. She felt that way whenever she could make the gears fit, make the ticking happen, make a clock live again. Every tick was dopamine to her.
She hides from bullies in an old clock shop, and watching the old clockmaker's hands work, so deft and so precise, her fear fades, and her own world snaps into place.
Matteo understood. He was her protégé, her lousy brother’s third child, ignored by all except his aunt. He didn’t have the skill, but he had the passion.
Mother laments that Bella will never find a husband, never knowing that Antonio left for the war, carrying her heart, and never brought it back home to her.
Her hands were old now, the knuckles swelling and the movements painful and slow, as if she had just dragged them from an ice bath. Her days as a clockmaker were numbered, she knew, and none of her nieces or nephews wanted the shop that would be their inheritance.
Golden streams of time, snarled and tangled like yarn and smoke and veins of silver. Time is everywhere and everything.
“Zia Bella, why don’t you just retire? You deserve it!” Matteo would say. “Sell the shop, buy a cottage by the sea, and live out the rest of your life relaxing.”
Antonio touches her, lights fires within her, and time slows.
Matteo had the passion but his hands were large and bulky, the hands of a sailor or a construction worker. If she had willed the business to him, he would have had to bring in another clockmaker, and that wouldn’t do. No one else in her family wanted the business. She was sad they didn’t love it as she did, but someone who didn’t love this business had no right being in it. Clockmakers are Called.
Her father dies in a stinking hot room, and time stops. But only for a second.
At night she would dream of time, golden streams of it, how they crossed, some going faster than others, and all she had to do was pick a stream to place a boat upon, and go anywhen. During the day, her shop sang to her, the little ticks and clicks marking her life. Every hour the song reached a crescendo, and then subsided. Going home was always a disappointment. Removing her hands from her work broke her heart a little each day.
She receives riches, as more and more wealthy customers seek her, as Rolex hires her to consult, as she becomes known as the finest clockmaker in Italy, but never leaves her tiny shop.
Matteo’s love for his zia and his impressive business skills (something to do with computer chips, things with even smaller working parts than ladies’ watches) led him to scour the antique shops when he traveled on business, and he brought her wonderful treasures: clocks to fix, clocks to clean, antique tools even older than her own. The latest find had been glorious. He would tell her nothing about where he got it from, except to say that the seller’s name was Norse.
She buys the clock shop from her old master, the man who unknowingly rescued her, both body and soul, the day she ducked through his door. She pays in cash she has saved for decades.
It was a rounding-up tool made of brass. It was clearly old, but had no sign of wear on it anywhere. She knew it was old because these tools simply weren’t made anymore. It sang in her hands, like her clocks did. The wheel spun silently and everything seemed to slow as she worked on her clocks. She had never been happier.
She dies, bleeding and broken in the corner, thinking it is somehow fitting that she dies among her clocks, and she wonders if any of them will stop when she does.
Everything happens at once, and it takes forever.
Place: Sal’s Apartment
Time: 5:47:39 a.m.
Time to clean the house. Get the gloves and the bucket and—
Like a towrope pulling her from deep water, the buzzing phone led Sal from her dream into reality. She blinked, then swore.
She stood in her bedroom, her hands flat on her dresser. Nothing was amiss beyond this—her modest jewelry box still sat in the middle of the dresser, and on the left side was the stack of clean laundry she was too lazy to put away.
She looked up into the mirror and met her own eyes, seized by a sense of vertigo. “Why are you standing here”—she checked her bedside clock—“before six?” she asked her reflection.
It didn’t answer.