By Bonnie L. Phillips
Thirty-year-old Agnes had vague memories of being in a stark white hospital. She remembered seeing a tunnel of brilliant white light, heard masked people giving orders, and saw rivulets of slick blood follow the contours of their gloved fingers. Around the same time, she saw a man whose mouth and nose were covered with a green band and who wore strange glasses that made his eyes really, really, big. He asked her lots of questions in his soft voice. She couldn’t understand everything he tried to say to her. And when she tried to answer him, strange gurgling sounds came from her throat.
The doctor took her parents aside and spoke to them. They held each other for a long time. They cried. Then they took her home. After Agnes’s surgery, her mother and father gave her, her “special” daily medications and took care of her every need.
Three years later, Agnes sat in front of the wall of large and small clocks with their faces encased in gleaming teak, brushed brass, and titanium skins. She was surrounded by the hundreds of irregular beating hearts; all that was left of her family since her parents died in a subway tragedy. She dusted, polished the clocks, tried to wind them and waited. Day after day she waited for her parents to return.
With her parents gone, Agnes was hungry; every day she waited for food and the company of her mother and father. She had no reason to live upstairs in the apartment so she moved a pile of blankets into the shop corner, behind the counter and cash register, curled up at night, and fell asleep to the clocks’ soothing symphony.
Encapsulated in the sounds of “time talk,” she smiled when she realized she could hear more of her world without human words distracting her. It was full of ticking, humming, clockwork voices that spoke to her of magic, space, and possibilities. She understood their language. On the hour, every hour, the clocks vied for her attention with a soft cadence or loud jostling noises.
She settled into a daily pattern of hearing the womb-like heart-songs of her clocks One day the songs were different. For a brief moment, Agnes thought they were trying to tell her something that she didn’t quite understand. Then the thought was gone.
She began to labor less and less on her beloved clocks. Some of them stopped working. The rhythm was different but still quite beautiful.
Agnes, although weak, was leaning across the counter late one afternoon, gazing outside. It was drizzling and the city was shrouded in a mist of exhaust and fog as strangers hurried past the store.
One man stood across the street and stared at her. He seemed to drift across the street with a gust of wind. When he got closer Agnes realized she could see people and cars through his grayish figure. Her heart began drumming in her chest and then there was pain. The man floated through the shop’s locked door. He had no facial features and made no sounds. She grabbed at her chest and sank to her knees.
Agnes strained to hear the clocks, as one by one, they stopped ticking. Until all was silent. She took her last deep breath as the dark man hovered above her and said. “Time beckons and I have come for you.”