Victoria Grainger, The Temporal Hours of Verge Foliot
The Temporal Hours of Verge Foliot
Verge Foliot had contracted an inconvenient aversion to clocks. It’d been building over the last twenty years of his career but seemed like it’d sprung up the same way his black hair had turned white at the temples. He’d not seen that coming either – one day it was just there and two inches long at that. Likewise, his problematic aversion towards clocks seemed to shoot out one day like the cuckooing timber birds he despised. It seemed a sudden, out the blue bolt rejection of the Old Father that culminated on the day his cat Little Lucifer went missing. What was inconvenient about the aversion was that Verge Foliot was an Horologist, or had considered himself so once. In his later years to the community ‘Verge Foliot’s Time Emporium’ became known as ‘Foliots Clock and Locks’, a place to pop in for a new battery – and to get Verge to run off an extra set of keys while he was at it.
Verge Foliot felt himself to be a man surrounded by time as a flower is surrounded by weeds. The world and everything in it the physicists say is enmeshed in ineluctable time, but Verge was encased in an especially obvious audible way. He hadn’t actually noticed the sound for many years. The constant tocks had vanished in the way rumbles of trains trundling lines across the bottom of a garden soon become unnoticeable hums to the owner, having it pointed out only by guests – such is the immunity of familiarity in hearing. And so neither could Verge hear the ticks and chimes that pipped and clanged in his workshop, the amber-hued den that had the dim look of an oil portrait. Most surfaces excepting his glass displays had the clotted look of old paint – thick and dark with the hint of congealed application not so much in the air – the room had a whiff of airlessness and a dry bitter smell of shoe leather and bronzed machinery. That hint of application clung grimly instead to the grimy surfaces and dust choked clogged-up crevices.
He’d never much bothered with cleaning, even when Evie was alive he’d shoo her away from his bench like a pigeon off a Trafalgar lion- sent away cloth in hand to do the glass instead with a stout “Not required this side thank you” – Verge Foliot had seen no need for Mr or his Mrs’s Muscle. He knew that no matter what, soon enough the threaded motes of time would lay its hands on the surfaces of his world for respite and repose, so what was the point?
He was neither cleanly nor Godly but he wasn’t unholy. Something perhaps in the curved hunch of his shoulders as he vultured down in submission to his calling, only peering up dimly when disturbed by a customer- he’d look up, a roused frame, eyes adjusting into eventual focus as they held out their mechanicals under his gaze, as if their watches were solicitations for benediction.
The wise bird perched on his tall stool was a fascinating sight through the window. His dusty feet would be pointed opposite to nature’s intent, tucked primly behind the frame of his stool six days out of seven. He’d sit bent over with hands together as if in prayer, squinting, the tip of his tongue wedged fat between tea-stained teeth as he mouthed faint ‘O’s’ that mirrored the delicacy of twiddling fingertips and the intricacy and precision of his manoeuvres.
The day Little Lucifer had eaten his trout, cleaned his whiskers sedately and without looking back headed out never to return was the day things changed for Verge Foliot. He’d became conscious he’d forgotten things, like what time it was when he’d fallen in love, what time it was when he noticed Evie’s hair had turned completely white. His mind constantly on getting time going rather than his old art of studying, making time happen – he’d forgotten to notice. One day he’d looked in the mirror and seen a rheumy eyed man with slow lidded eyes and no Evie.
It’d become apparent to the community that Old Foliot wasn’t happy. He was never an extrovert but customers noticed a new oddity when popping in on brief visits to collect broken watches he’d restored, or new ones – gifts for ruby weddings, retirements – he’d branched out to keep Little Lucifer in trout, so he copied keys, freshly heeled old shoes and newly zipped good-as-new old boots.
His customers saw the change before he did. He’d banished every mode of timekeeping from his house in furious fits of unexplained rage. He’d smashed his Uncle Abraham’s mantle-clock. It didn’t seem like a direct slight against Uncle Abe but on the fake gilt frame, the italic face with waxed moustache hands whose curlicues were trimmed and blitzed in sudden abhorrence. He’d masked over the sporadic blue flash of the oven clock, smashed and hammered his collection of watches with indiscriminate rage.
Custom waned but retirement came quicker than his client base could dwindle and his High Street clubbed together a reasonable kitty that bought what they thought a highly fitting present, not aware of Foliot’s swelling hatred for the mechanicals of time observation.
He glowered taking the ticking ornamental without a word – stayed silent through farewell drinks but for a ‘Thank you, Damn you all’ which the group took as a good-natured blaspheme representing gratitude for their gesture, and inability to express himself any other way. Verge Foliot, as soon as he could, made his way home. It was home where he let rip a moan, the slightest of tears, and a bewilderment of grief.
Verge Foliot was not a man who cried easily. Not at his wedding, beautiful and moving as the ceremony was – tiny and pure; nor at the birth of his child, as quietly ecstatic a moment as that was; nor at the deaths of those two beloveds did he whimper a drop. His eyes would water in the cold, and a hint of a tear might be wiped away in silent appreciation after a good joke, but Verge Foliot didn’t cry. That day, the same day Little Lucifer fled – for only the second time in his life, he cried. Verge couldn’t blame Little L, accepting it with the resignation of a flower in the rain that cats always have and always will do as they please. He readied himself for a life alone.
The days that melted to weeks merged to months. ‘He was a quiet man’ and ‘Kept himself to himself’ would’ve been his bland impersonal eulogy had it not have been for an extraordinary morning on the last day of January.
Verge, with hair consistently at odds with its roots these days had opened his window a crack. It was icy, an un-thawed, hard white-lawned morning suitable for cold red noses. He opened the window wider, stinging sensations of brittle pain on his morning-warm skin. The window watered as the heat from within and the bitter air out played swapsy – but he stayed. He wanted to hear the bird song.
He put his face to the white sun, closed his eyes and breathed out smoky fillets of fluent fumes that curled out unsteady breath and seemed to chip the air. He heard the diesel rattle of a truck on his neighbours drive. It seemed like a boy to him that jumped down from the height of his seat and sprung out. After a quick disappearance the Boy came out managing an old chest. But Verge Foliot wasn’t watching this transaction. His eyes were held on the open-backed truck, at an item he hadn’t seen for fifty years.
For the third time in his life, the slightest of tears – nothing to do with the freeze – trickled down Verge’s inscrutable rubicund face. He heard the throaty gloat of a gull though he was nowhere near the sea. A pigeon engaged in Egyptian dance strutted across his lawn, finding nothing flew heavily away, unperturbed by the barren ground or Verge’s tears.
The Boy hadn’t seen the birds or Verge at his window smiling the insuppressibly insane grin of true joy, but he wasn’t surprised to see him in dressing gown rushing towards him, it not being the first time his antiquities had sparked the sentiments of a spectating septuagenarian. He knew of Verge, and something in the old man’s face triggered kindness and he gave a good price for old Verge.
That afternoon the item that revived colour to Verge’s cheeks stood against the wall of his living room. Gleaming immaculate was a restored Fromanteel’s ebony framed Dutch Longcase. His Father had been working on one just like it before he died. John Fromanteel, the man who claimed a clock could go one year on one winding! Verge Foliot and his Father had liked to think they’d been like the famous Fromanteels – Father and Son working independently of each other to further the means of time-telling. One of Verge’s first memories was his Father in his workshop, bent over his oil-smudged desk pausing only for notes, working like science in analysing escapements and dissecting cogs of clock’s corpses.
Staring at the polished mahogany frame with twisted wooden spirals either side of the facade giving the appearance of undulating columns framing the gilt flecked face familiarity hit his chest – the boy Verge, his hand no longer plumply swollen with age reached to touch, startled by the noise he made – a croak, from his disused factory of a throat. He touched the Longcase, stroked it like he used to pet Little L under his chin, with an upturned hooked finger, gently, towards him. He caressed the black lattice work at the peak, an ornate heraldic looking shield of intricately moulded iron with two long-necked wide-winged birds perched symmetrical, frozenly, knowingly glancing towards each other. Between the graceful numerals were painted small gold patterns that looked like flowers in the day and stars at night, but the best was yet to come – the interior- the mechanism- the nudges for time to move.
With fingers precise as ever, more so than they looked, he opened the Longcase back like he’d unlaced Evie’s nightie on wedding night and gulped. The wheelwork wouldn’t have been out of place in a Cairo tomb, glorious golden intricate elaborate, even the tiny jagged saw-like edges on the jigsaw of cogs looked majestic immaculate- Verge sucked in his breath. He hadn’t seen wheelwork like this since, since before he became full of sorrow. He sat, dejectedly grateful looking at the Longcase’s digestives like a confidante. When had time got so small? After his Father had passed. When had it started to speed up and spin out of control? For one who’d devoted himself to Time, why hadn’t Time been kinder and let him pass his knowledge before taking his son? As for Evie, between key-cutting, boot-repairing and engravings, he hadn’t had time to see the lines deepen on her precious face, more beautiful than any Fromanteel’s, until the last. Close enough to the Longcase’s exquisitely passive face he stared at his reflection. Too many lines between brows – not enough round his mouth, or eyes.
With the touch of a master, he tweaked, minutely, the golden stomach of the wheelworks. The intricate intestines whirred immediately to life and the slow tocks of the mechanism began to set pace and tick familiar rhythm. Verge Foliot smiled – because Verge Foliot heard it. And Verge Foliot remembered.
Sat in front of the face of the Old Father he’d forgotten, he remembered, for hours – till the sky turned white to dark clear violent violet. He looked forward to the time he’d spend in here, restoring shattered clocks that lay broken hideous and hidden round the house. He was no longer broken. This is how Little Lucifer found him – when he eventually returned home.