The weathered armchair in the back corner of the store had lost its lushness and I was having difficulty feeling comfortable on its scratchy fabric. At last I resolved to stand, finding it gave me a better angle on the tiny ticker I held cradled in my right hand. The magnifying eyeglass was held snug by a band around my head and I felt the rim pressing its signature into the thin, wrinkled skin around my temples.
Taking a moment’s break, I glanced up from my latest project and peered past the crimson-colored curtains. It was cloudy. I thought of all the Harvard students kneeling on their window sills praying for sunny weather for their precious boat race. I never did understand what all the fuss was about. Then again, Harvard scholars seemed to be pretty damn fussy about most everything. Just then, one such scholar strolled past.
It was a Tuesday but he was dressed from head to toe in his Sunday best. Clearly the kid was trying to show up all us humble working folk in our shops lining Maple Street. Harvard students always seemed to make an appearance at the opportune time, trying to make you feel foolish for ever having thought you had it pretty good. I pulled the eyeglass down around my neck so I could get a better look at him. I had never seen anybody look so put together and so disheveled at the same time. His hair was perfectly slicked back without a strand out of place, but he still looked a mess with his pale green eyes darting to and fro. Kid probably got himself all worked up trying to find the most expensive stack of flapjacks in town for breakfast. His parents brainwashed him good, “The more expensive, the better it tastes…right Junior?”
I sat people-watching for a little longer and then I got to working as I adjusted the strap of my eyeglass and slipped it back around my head. The tic-tock-ing of a hundred clocks entertained me as I began to settle into my project. I often fantasized about the hundred people who had worn those hundred tiny tickers and led a hundred different lives with two little hands apiece keeping time by dancing circles on their wrists.
I had hardly focused my eyesight, rearranged my tools, and let my mind slip away before the kid I had seen strolling by a few seconds before came shuffling backwards and marched right through my shop’s door.
I gave him my most enthusiastic greeting but he barely responded, in fact, his gaze was locked on his feet. He pulled a barely recognizable silver Half Hunter 6th edition from his pocket and handed it to me. It looked as if someone had taken a sledge to it. I was amazed that it was still running. The glass appeared to be crystallized sand crunched into the crevices of the watch’s face and the delicate second hand was ticking violently back and forth between two and three. Although the symptoms looked fatal, I politely told the boy that I would have to look at it later.
In the midst of my explanation he reached out and snatched it from my work space. Twenty years of business leant itself to dealing with many unwieldy customers, but I was still confused by this kid’s absurd behavior.
Examining his mannerisms closer, his strange actions started to make sense. As he turned to leave I noticed that his eyes were glassed over and he was walking with a bit of a swagger. He was bleeding badly from his pointer finger but did not seem the least bit phased. Perhaps it was not expensive flapjacks this kid trekked to town for, but instead a classy nine-AM pint. My suspicions seemed satisfied by the boy’s next question.
He had abruptly turned back with a speculative stare and asked if any of the clocks in the window were right. He had “lost a bet and forgot his glasses in the dorm that morning.” It was a likely story for someone who could not see straight for a different reason. I started to offer the time but he cut me off mid-sentence, obviously embarrassed by his early morning indulgence. I kind of liked the thought of an embarrassed Harvard student and so I pressed him further asking cleverly, “What’re you celebrating today?” He did not take any notice of my jab so I began to think he was really out of sorts. Hoping to take advantage of his state of mind, I tried selling him one of the wrist watches in the window. He turned down my offer and left with a “Goodbye, sir.”
“Sir.” It was rare that I got any respect from a Harvard student and I felt a little sympathy for having poked fun at him. My stomach clamped up as I watched him disappear slowly into the distance, counting the pieces of gravel as he went on his way. He looked back in my direction once and as our gazes met, I wondered what was going on behind those sad eyes. Why was the poor kid drinking alone on a Tuesday morning? He was all dressed up in that clean suit with no girls to impress or nothing. I hoped he would come back later to let me take a look at his broken watch and I promised myself I would do my best to fix it for him. If he did come back I would tell him about a bar I knew of down the road that was always full of people. I hoped he would go there and meet some young-ins to keep him company and lift his spirits a little.
I couldn’t get those mysterious, sad eyes out of my head and I rushed to work the next morning to get to work on his watch. A small boy was selling papers on the corner so I picked one up on my way and glanced down at the front page headline. “Accomplished Harvard Undergrad Jumps to his Death.” I didn’t need to read anymore, I knew he was dead.