The grandfather clock ticked for 82 years before finally stopping. The clock, a mahogany masterpiece with silver gears, always felt out of place when compared to the squalor of its surroundings. Perhaps it was fitting for it to break down and become nothing more than another piece of junk sitting in the back of an attic. The clock was built in 1924 by Johan Green, a clockmaker known around the globe for his exquisite skill with gears. Green sold the clock to a now-defunct store for 500 dollars. There it sat, for another three years, until it was bought by Henry Rollins.
Rollins, a Great War veteran who stumbled into vast wealth when he struck oil, always struggled to fit in with the high society types of his time. No matter how hard he tried, his roots kept shining through his guise of class. The way he pronounced certain words, his ignorance of societal norms, his clothes that never seemed to fit quite right, these things made Rollins stand out against the wealthy plutocrats of the 1920s like a beacon shining on a foggy night.
Rollins hated the fact that he was different, and dedicated himself to hiding his imperfections. Rollins spent money on fast cars and loose women, golden watches and smuggled liquor. He bought a massive mansion to host glamorous parties. And, in 1927, he bought a mahogany grandfather clock to display in his parlor.
If the clock had eyes, it would have seen the way Rollins acted at his parties. It would have seen the way he skirted around the dance floor, looking for a beautiful woman to dance with. In 1928, it would have seen the day Rollins guided Elenor Truman to his study.
In truth, Elenor and Henry never loved one another. Their marriage was one of convenience. For Henry, Elenor was yet another way to prove he belonged among his wealthy peers. For Elenor, Henry was a way to preserve her lavish lifestyle. This marriage, one absent of love, could have survived if Henry’s wealth persisted. But, when the market collapsed in 1929, Henry and Elenor’s relationship followed it into the abyss.
Henry abandoned his schemes of social growth and jettisoned his lavish spending habits. The parties ceased, the cars were sold, and the mahogany grandfather clock was moved into his study. Henry’s attempts to save money were a blight on Elenor’s existence. The two spent countless hours fighting over money.
One early sticking point for the couple was the topic of housework. Henry, being the pragmatic man he was, resisted the idea of wasting money on servants. Elenor, a pampered socialite unprepared for the labor required to keep such a massive mansion clean, complained and forced Henry to hire a single maid. Years later, when a bitter Elenor looked back on her life, she would often curse herself for this decision.
The maid the Rollins’s hired was a young woman by the name of Elma Truman. Although Henry initially disliked wasting money on Elma, he soon grew to appreciate the familiarity she brought to the mansion. In his attempts to purge himself of all evidence of his past, Henry had abandoned those who he once considered friends. Elma, a woman whose poor grammar and old clothing was so similar to those of women he knew in his youth, easily stole Henry’s heart.
If the clock had eyes, it would have seen the passionate kisses Henry and Elma shared in the study. It would have seen the beginnings of an illicit affair. And, in 1935, it would have seen the day Elenor entered the study holding a gun.
The clock would have seen the tears dripping down Elenor’s face, shed for reasons she couldn’t explain. If the clock had ears, it would have heard the sound of a gunshot. And, if it could feel pain, it would have screamed in agony when a bullet pierced the heart of Henry Rollins and dented the clock’s silver gears. The clock, a masterpiece built by Johan Green, kept functioning for another 71 years after Henry’s death. Still, the dent in its gear caused an annoying scraping noise that accompanied every tick.
If the clock had ears, it would have heard Elenor’s terrified call to the police. It would have heard her claiming that a negro broke in and murdered her husband. It would have also, three days later, heard Elenor’s sobs when she learned that Henry had willed the house to Elma Truman.
Henry’s death shook Elma to the core, not just because she lost someone she cared about, but because she was unable to tell anyone why his death affected her so deeply. Elma’s husband Jack, a kind man who worked in the local canning factory, assumed his wife was just being overemotional. Perhaps that is why he ignored her pleas to sell the mansion.
The Trumans moved into the mansion. Soon, word spread through their extended family about Elma’s newfound wealth. Two weeks after the death of Henry Rollins, Elma’s brother Scott Lincoln joined the Trumans in the mansion.
Although Elma loved her brother, she hated the way he mooched off his loved ones. Scott, the youngest of eight siblings, had lived with his parents until his father kicked him out of the house at twenty-five. Scott then did a circuit of his family, taking what he wanted with no remorse until he was inevitably kicked out.
If the clock had ears, it would have heard the hushed conversations between Elma and Jack about their new houseguest. It would have heard Elma politely asking Scott to clean up after himself and heard her yell at him to get a job. It would have heard, two years after Scott moved in, Elma ask him to leave and never come back.
If the clock had a nose, it would have smelled the smoke of the burning mansion. If it had eyes, it would see the crimson flames that engulfed the study. And, if it could feel heat, it would have felt the blazing inferno Scott set the night he left the mansion. The clock, a masterpiece built by Johan Green, kept functioning for another 69 years after Scott sat the mansion ablaze. Still, its once beautiful mahogany casing was charred into an ugly mess by the heat of the flames.
The Trumans moved back into their cramped two room cottage. The clock, recovered from the smoldering remains of the mansion, was placed in the Trumans’s living room as a memento of their now combusted home.
If the clock had eyes, it would have seen the day Jack received a letter from the army telling him that he’d be leaving home. And, two years later, it would have seen the day Elma received a letter from the army telling her he wouldn’t come back.
After Jack’s death, Elma spent a lot of time staring at the burnt grandfather clock. The clock, a reminder of her affair with Henry, hurt her in ways she couldn’t explain. With tears in her eyes, she moved the clock into a back closet.
Elma joined her husband in 1959. Her nephew, the illegitimate son of her brother Scott, inherited the house. The nephew, a struggling musician named Will Plume, had helped take care of her in her dying days. Will sold the two bedroom cottage to a newly married writer. The clock, he kept.
Will gave the clock to a girl named Marcy in an attempt to woo her. His wooing attempt worked, and the two wed in 1962. The clock was placed in storage. Will and Marcy traveled the country, playing music to small crowds of hippies. In 1965 Will, like his uncle before him, received a letter telling him that he was going to war. Unlike his uncle, he came back alive. For the most part.
Part of Will stayed behind in Vietnam. The laid-back, cheerful man who Marcy fell in love with disappeared, replaced by a broken shell. Marcy worked as a schoolteacher and raised her and Will’s children, as Will drifted further and further into depression.
Marcy tried to understand Will, tried to comfort him when he had his night terrors or on the days when he couldn’t get out of bed. A few years after the war, Marcy got the old clock out of storage, in an attempt to cheer Will’s spirits.
The clock reminded Will of his Aunt. He spent a lot of time thinking about how peaceful she looked when she died. Will shot himself in 1974. The clock, a masterpiece built by Johan Green, kept functioning for another 32 years after Will’s death.
Marcy raised her children by herself. Her elder daughter, Jenny, became a politician and fought for veterans health. Her younger daughter, Elma, studied medicine and became a psychologist. Marcy was so proud of her children. She wished Will could have seen them grow up.
In 1998, Marcy invited her daughters and their families over for Thanksgiving. If the clock had eyes, it would have seen Elma’s son Eli bump into it, distracted by his Gameboy. If it had ears, it would have heard Marcy’s screams of rage and the apologies she gave afterward. If it could feel, it would have screamed in agony as its face popped off and rolled away. The clock, a masterpiece built by Johan Green, kept functioning for another 8 years after being knocked over.
Marcy, unable to relinquish her memento of Will, moved the clock into the attic, where it sat for another eight years. During this time, the clock kept ticking, kept keeping time for an audience of cobwebs. In 2006, the clock finally stopped ticking. If it had eyes, it would have cried.
Marcy died in 2008. The clock was inherited by Jenny and placed in a storage locker. There it sat, alone and broken, for nine years. In 2017, the locker’s contents were auctioned off to the owner of an antique shop.
The shop owner was delighted to find a piece made by Johan Green abandoned in the back of a storage locker. The shop owner paid a man to restore it. The dented silver gear was buffed into shape, the charred mahogany was sanded and repainted, the missing face was reattached, and the old gears were rewound. The clock, a masterpiece built by Johan Green, ticked once more.