art by Shane M. Gavin
The Watchmaker's Gift
by Rich Matrunick
It begins the same as always, with the sound of the shovel scraping over the country road. I sit upon the dashboard of the idling car--being a turtle, it's the only way I can see--watching as the old woman lifts her shovel, carrying the mangled carcass of a squirrel.
She opens the rear door and places the squirrel into a shoebox on the back seat. The smell is not pleasant, but I say nothing. She seals the lid.
As the old woman slides into the front seat, she picks me up, and sets me upon her lap. "Messy one this time," she says. "Lots of work."
The key turns, the engine revs, and we make straight down the road.
The old woman's shop moves to the constant tick of the wall clocks. Though most are still in working order, others are missing parts that have been borrowed over the years: a gear here, a rod there, and a drive over there.
From my vantage upon the workbench, I watch the old woman, working under the light of a single bare bulb dangling from the ceiling.
Her golden monocle is focused upon a three-legged stool and the squirrel that sits atop. Her wrinkled hands gently turn a gold-handled screwdriver upon a golden screw.
Everything is gold. The rods and gears and drives that she meticulously places within the squirrel's pelt catch passing flickers from the light. The stitches sewn into his pelt glint as she turns the fur over in her hands.
"It has to be gold," she said to me, once.
My rational side tells me it has something to do with its conductance, some electrical conveyance that allows us to function. It is my hope, however, that the true reason is something more romantic--it is gold, and therefore special, which in turns makes each of us special.
And on that basis, I search for the "why" of it all: our reason for being. It is a secret the old woman keeps closely guarded, though I do find encouragement in my quest.
As usual, her work takes her through the rest of the night, into the sunrise, and finally into nightfall on the second day. The squirrel is complete.
In some places her craft is evident: A leg without fur--exposing gears of the knee--a small section of ribcage held together by nothing but thread, the small knob protruding from the back of his neck, and gold eyes, currently silent.
Satisfied, the old woman leans back in her chair. "I need a bit of sleep now, Turtle. Keep an eye out. We'll give him a wind in the morning." She always says this. Though, despite the incessant ticking of the gears in my head, I never manage to stay awake through the night.
Come morning, she will have started his windings and promptly left, leaving me as his sole liaison into this new life.
My eyes open to the shuffling movements of the squirrel upon the stool. Like most, he is examining the stitching in his arms, testing the movement of his legs, and wondering at the dexterity of his digits.
"It's all there," I say. They always jump a bit at my baritone drawl.
Unsure, he sniffs the air, then, decidedly, makes the short leap from the stool to my workbench.
He examines me, high on his haunches, his gold pupils shuttering like a camera lens.
"Where am I? Is this the afterworld?"
"I don't believe so. I can't think the afterworld has much use for time."
"But I feel different," he says. "Something is not quite the same. More than the gears or anything. Or, maybe, because of the gears. It's a ticking. And. . . ." His voice trails there, leaving the half-finished thought lingering in the room.
He is close to the question; I can hear the gears turning in his head as he attempts to sort out the strange addition to his consciousness.