The Day the Clocks Restarted
by Ian Tallach
At the school where Larkey should have been that day, the pupils didn’t know his name. They called him ‘Larkey’, yes, but his real name was lost - most likely taken by the mists of time.
‘What is your name, laddie?’ The man over by the café window must have been almost a hundred.
Larkey blinked and cleared his throat. This was his first time skipping school and he’d begun to wonder, in his mind, to more exotic places than Inverluib. ‘Ehm… Larkey?’ His voice came out all shaky, like he wasn’t sure. At times like this, he simply wished to disappear.
‘You feel’n guilty, son?’ The old man’s face was hidden, for the most part, by a generous white beard.
‘G - guilty?’ Larkey stammered. He sat up straight and did his best to look defiant. ‘Why would you think that?’ His banana split was long-since finished, but the dregs of ice-cream at the bottom suddenly became of interest.
‘Man gives his name like it’s a question is most likely feel’n guilty; so says a hundred years’ experience. Besides, Larkey’s not your real name… is it?’
The boy, making to leave, let out a nervous chortle, but the other’s eyes had such a warmth and humour in them that he changed his mind. The old man laughed and Larky laughed again and then they laughed together. There was something comforting and timeless in the old man’s smile – that and the smell of coffee and the sounds of chinking cutlery and crockery and chatter from the other customers. Larkey relaxed.
The old man closed his eyes. He nodded by degrees and gradually his beard descended to the table and spread out. It began to engulf the remains of his breakfast – half a muffin and a slice of toast. Larkey smiled; he’d seen something similar on David Attenborough – starfish on time-lapse hoovering up clams and mussels.
When he’d slipped into the café he had chosen a rustic orange sofa, perfect for slouching. But now he seemed to sink a little further. The cushions slowly enveloped him. He found himself under the shadow of the padded armrest and, feeling he was being swallowed, he began to grasp about until, with all the desperation he could muster, he got out.
He lies there on the floor, catching his breath.
The old man is staring at the clock.
‘HEY, MISTER!’ Larkey shouts. ‘Did you SEE that? I almost disappeared!’
The old man doesn’t move. And there is something else a little strange – absolute silence; nothing from the kitchen; no more conversation; no cars passing outside; not even that hissing sound that waves make on the beach beyond the promenade. The other customers sit motionless, holding their mugs. Some look a bit like gargoyles, with their mouths wide open.
‘Larkey.’ The old man’s voice is sonorous and deep; it seems to come from far away.
‘Wh – what’s happening?’ Larkey blurts.
‘Nothing. Precisely nothing. Time… is elsewhere. We find ourselves… outwith the times. Poised, like a wave about to break… a dewdrop in the brittle air… an isolated incident… of calm.’ There is something hypnotic about the old man’s voice: the ebb and flow of tides.
‘Will I go back?’
‘Aye. You will. You are back… and you have gone back.’
‘I - I’m scared! My friends will never BELIEVE this.’
‘Your friends don’t know.’
‘Y - yes. But they WILL... when I tell them.’
‘No. The future has no purchase here. There is no memory of this in time. This… is a moment.’
‘Tears well up in Larkey’s eyes. ‘Are we trapped… in a moment?
‘On the contrary, my son. There’s much more in a moment than you think. Let me take you outside.’
‘B - but, how can we MOVE? … when everyone else is… is frozen… coffee cups and all? Look… even the crumbs - stuck in the air.’
‘They’re not frozen,’ the old man laughs. ‘We’re just taking a break from them. Be careful where you put your feet.’ And with that, he leaps up and makes his way towards the door.
Larkey runs after him. ‘Fff - for how long will we be… like THIS?’
The old man doesn’t answer. On the promenade he turns and says ‘Now, Larkie. Let me show you things. Things… that can change your life.’
‘How is that POSSIBLE if… if what you say is true – about there being no memory of this?’ The tears are on his cheeks, but dry. He feels anger, terror and curiosity, all mixed together.
The old man swivels like a dancer, touches his nose and winks. ‘Just follow me. Careful! The grass is sharp! You see that bird in flight? Let’s go and see its yellow feathers.
In the café, Larkey watched the old man staring at the clock.
‘Mister,’ he ventured timidly. ‘Why are you staring at the clock?’
‘Because, my son, it stopped. Most curious. It’s started though… again.’
Larkey thought the old man might have lost his marbles. But then he thought some more.
‘Maybe not,’ he decided. ‘Perhaps he knows more than he’s letting on.’ Then, digging deep into the pockets of his dungarees, he found just enough change to pay for his banana split.
Larkey often goes back to the café. They expect him now – mostly at weekends and during the holidays. He likes to sit on that old rustic orange couch and close his eyes. And when he does, he thinks of giant waves, dewdrops and fleeting things – not very boyish things – like hummingbirds and butterflies and Golden Orioles.