From the author: Pancreatic cancer is cutting watchmaker Ardit Kreshnik's life short. While working on his last commissioned time piece he follows advice from an unlikely source to gain more time...
The hand-crafted, chalet cuckoo clock hanging on the wall struck noon–triggering the squirrel to leap from his spot on the ledge as he did every day. And for the first time in eighty years Ardit Kreshnik missed it. The old man should have been home hours ago.
On the worn workshop table, just below the clock a scattered assortment of watchmaking tools, lay abandoned: pinchers, key lots, magnifying glasses, dust blower and twenty or more tiny screwdrivers. Even Ardit’s prized original German Steiner Jacot tool was left awry, which meant none of the small wheels, hinges, crystals or bands would be assembled today. “Time won’t keep itself,” Ardit always said.
Several hours ticked away in the familiar rhythm of time, with each passing hour punctuated by the coo-calls from the weathered cuckoo bird’s door. Finally, at six-fifteen in the evening, Ardit arrived home. Entering the cozy room in nothing but a blue hospital gown and a pair of chintzy slippers, Ardit dropped his crooked body into his tattered recliner, took one look at his beloved cuckoo clock, and closed his eyes.
“Quirrel, I didn’t think I’d ever get out of there. That dense witchdoctor tried to keep me for good this time.”
Your doctor’s been trying to commit you for weeks. How’d you escape?
Ardit lifted his heavy lids to reveal two piss-shot, milky-grey eyes. He stared hard at his only friend in the world, an inanimate wooden squirrel. “I told the nurse I needed to stretch my legs. When the heifer wasn’t looking, I ran down the back stairs and out the emergency exit.”
“Ran, hobbled, what’s the difference.” Ardit laughed along with the squeaking giggles he heard in his head. “No one stopped me. Don’t know why everyone insists I stay in the hospital, when all I want is to be at home. People die alone every day.”
At one time, Ardit knew the squirrel on his cuckoo clock didn’t have the ability to talk, but long lonely years had softened his mind. The day his doctor diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer and informed him his life would end in months rather than years, Ardit muttered his anguished thoughts to an empty workshop, only this time there was a response. Quirrel announced his presence with a chirp and the promise to accompany Ardit through the last days of his life.
When the sun arose the next morning, Ardit was still slumped over in his recliner, dreaming of a life he never took the time to live. Every waking hour of his adult years had been spent in his little house and workshop making sure time was kept. Kreshnik’s watches were highly sought-after timepieces, famous all over the world, but Ardit had never taken a second for himself. Not for a wife, not for a family, not for friends – a hermit alone with his craft and his cuckoo.
Ardit! Quirrel cried out to wake his off-colored friend. As he continued to watch Ardit’s restless sleep, he scanned the contents of the workshop looking for a remote control to adjust the hue of Ardit’s sickening color.
Hey, Old Yeller, wake up! It’s time to make the watch.
“Stop calling me that. I have liver failure, I’m not a dog.” Ardit replied without opening his eyes, and then shuddered violently with a series of uncontrollable hacks.
Bark. Bark. Get to work Old… Man.
Ardit struggled to remove his narrow butt from the well-worn chair by rocking himself back and forth until he’d built up enough momentum to propel his fragile bones into a hunched, standing position. After a long visit to the bathroom that was accompanied by several loud moans and a string of colorful curses, Ardit seated himself on a short stool in front of his precision-crafted, personalized worktable.
The hours slowly passed as Ardit worked non-stop on the ornate owl pocket watch. Some Hollywood big shot had contacted him with a high-paying, high-priority project. The quick-talking man had gone on and on about a great accomplishment by an actor in a blockbuster motion picture and an award ceremony for an Oscar something or other. But none of that mattered to Ardit.
It wasn’t until the coos of noon chimed that Ardit paused to watch his friend Quirrel make his leap along the ledge of the clock. Lunch time, but Ardit couldn’t eat any more, not with the pain in his gut.
Not eating lunch, you know you already skipped breakfast?
“My stomach’s a mess, besides not much point in eating.”
I guess you’re right. So, what happens when you finish with the watch?
Ardit studied the empty, fine-brass casing and the metal-crafted owl eyes he’d designed and decided they looked very wise. He was creating another collectible work of art and knew the watch would be loved above all others, because this would be his last.
You know, you’ve spent most of your life keeping time, why not make some instead?
Reluctantly Ardit lifted his eyes away from his work. “What do you mean?”
If you reverse those wheel-gear thingies, you can get some time back, do the things you never had a chance to do.
“Quirrel, don’t be ridiculous.” Ardit rolled his shoulders once before reaching for his headlamp and securing the thick strap on his head.
I’m not being ridiculous.
Ardit shot his wooden friend a nasty look. “Yes, you are.”
How do you know if you’ve never tried?
Ardit examined several of the wheels under his microscope, gazing into the idea of a possible future, and then shook the crazy notion out of his head. “Physics. That’s how I know.”
What about me? Does physics explain why you spend all your time talking to a squirrel figurine on an old German clock?
“I’m a sick old man.”
So, sick old man, do it. You’re holding the gears in your hand. I know you’re thinking about it. You’re thinking about the ‘what ifs’. What if I don’t have to die? What if I feel better? What if I have the time to make a real friend? Come on, Ardit… what harm can it do?
Ardit didn’t speak to Quirrel the rest of the day. He simply hunkered down to finish his work.
Night had fallen by the time Ardit was ready to test his handiwork. Methodically he wound the top knob counterclockwise, the spinning balance wheel tightly winding the spring. At last it clicked, the clock was fully wound. Placing the clock on the worktable, Ardit stepped back and watched as the hands spun to life. Spinning so fast he lost track of the tiny arms that were now only thin shadows speeding over the watch-face.
What did you do?
“Only what you told me to do.”
Since when do you listen to me? Hey, your color’s back!
“What?” Ardit ran to the small mirror hanging on the wall. The face looking back at him had vibrant grey eyes and wrinkle-free skin. No more jaundice… He was healthy and young. Very young. Ardit smacked his face and pinched his smooth forehead, just to make sure it was real.
A rapid knock at the door drew Ardit’s attention away from his reflection. He moved quickly through the workshop, but when he reached the front door he was too short to grab the handle.
“Quirrel, I’m a child!” Ardit squealed. “I have a whole life to live.” Tears stung his round cherub cheeks.
The workshop door flew open, but Ardit couldn’t see anyone or anything. It was so dark. Then a single pinprick of light appeared in the distance. The burning white orb expanded, growing bigger and moving fast toward the open door. Ardit tried to close it, but his infant hands were too small. He didn’t have the strength.
The light kept coming.
Ardit crawled under the table seeking protection. He yelled for Quirrel though his fear had turned his words to indistinguishable sobs. And still the light came, flooding the workshop with a blinding-white heat. Ardit’s only escape was to close his eyes.
The next afternoon, the old cuckoo clock struck noon and Quirrel leapt from his spot on the ledge, a familiar daily event that would continue to happen even though Ardit was no longer there to watch.
This story originally appeared in Waterfront Writers .