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Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa

Grandfather's Clock

by Steven C. Caldwell

First Appeared in Burnt Toast#9, 1991

...but it stopped short
never to go again when the old man died.
Ninety years with that thundering,

Polly wakes to the chimes.

She hates the clock but dare not touch it. No. Not ever, ever. Forever and a day.

Missy Anna lies all floppsy but is quickly safe and happy. The two little girls are snuggly warm in the cold, ugly upstairy room.

His life seconds numbering,

Carol and Mike strip paper from the walls. It's sort of an old fashioned floral print like you see in magazines about interior decoration. They call it Federation design. Definitely pre 1914.

They like the house. A bit too much Carol says that's why they let it get all over them -- clothes, hair, eyes, ears.

But it stopped...

Missy Anna grows all grumbly. Polly's tummy's grumbly too.

Ever so.

Where is papa with the tea. We cannot see him through the pane, and the glass is frightful.

Hopscotch is fun but we have no chalk and Missy would rather have cake.


Old doors always promise secrets, Carol says. Inevitably there are keys that you own which have no locks. At first. They see the door through the old plaster and you can see on their faces that they are thinking of the top draw in the kitchen cupboard.

never to go...

The clock goes on, doesn't it Missy, never ending. Pardon? No, Papa is coming. He's at the door with pound cake and tea. China plates and silver forks. But it's past teatime?

We shall have to ask him to say sorry.

Polly is skipping to the door.


The key turns carefully, but the door is slightly swollen so it sticks. It scrapes an arc in thick dust. It scrapes deeply.

Inside they see a room with an old rag doll in mildewed lace.

Near it a dirty mound of yellowed cloth.

The mound has ginger hair.

when the old man died.

It is never papa, Polly is saying as she lies down with Missy.

He must know it's past tea and we are so hungry.

Beside the mound is a broken mantle clock.

It hasn't worked for years.

Polly wakes to the chimes.


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