a question of time

‘I was a clockmaker’
‘Horologist?’
‘Well – I was going to use the official name, but you see – I didn’t want you to think I was showing off.’
‘Fair enough. It’s just I don’t get to say the word horologist very often. And now here I am saying it twice.’
Ray turns his filmy gray eyes onto me.
‘Of course, a person can use a thing too much,’ he says.
I help him back into his favourite chair, and then re-arrange his blankets, hot water bottle and padded stool for his feet.
‘Restored!’ he says.
Whilst I finish writing out the paperwork I ask him about his work.
‘You must’ve had such a steady hand.’
‘Everyone says that, but it wasn’t something I thought about. You get used to these things. You adapt.’
‘I suppose you do.’
I write some more.
A clock on the wall sounds the hour. It has a dark and sombre look to it, reliable, relentless – the kind of thing I can imagine hanging on the wall in a Victorian station master’s office. And as if the chimes have prompted the thought, Ray says: ‘If you could go back in time – anywhere at all – where would you go?’
‘Me? Ooh – loads of places. The Aztecs? Dinosaurs? I’d love to see a dinosaur, although depends very much on the dinosaur. If I had a protective suit I’d feel happier. Or I was invisible. Erm – I’d love to see a Shakespeare play, with Shakespeare in it. Dunno. What about you?’
‘I would like to see Stonehenge. As it was.’
‘Now that would be cool!’
‘What were they doing there?’
‘Stonehenge. Definitely!’
‘I mightn’t like what I saw, though. One thing that’s always struck me – how cruel people can be.’
‘Absolutely. And it’s not something that’s restricted to one period of time. There’s no end to it. So I suppose what you have to take from that is that there’s always a potential for cruelty in humans, and the best you can do is take it seriously, and not get complacent.’
Ray adjusts his hot water bottle, drawing it up his body a ways, nearer to his heart.
‘Yes,’ he says after a while. ‘Stonehenge. Like an enormous stone clock. I think I should like to see that.’
‘Well if you go this afternoon, leave a note so we know where you are.’
He laughs.
‘Don’t worry,’ he says, and then reaching out a hand, extra-warm from the hot water bottle, ‘…and who knows? Maybe I’ll send a cart back for you.’

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