One leg suspended. Numb except when warmed by fleeting daylight. Days, weeks, months idled by. His knee shattered by ground sniper fire but he had crawled free from the wreckage into the bosom of routine and orderliness. Rested in a place where the ground squeaks to confirm even trepid movement.
Flitting through thin pages of the New Testament. The small hours would arrive with a radiant apparition at the foot of his bed. It was the Virgin Mother, looking just as she does in the paintings. A knowing friendship developed, although they never really conversed. She would smile and nod as he mumbled Psalms from memory.
Time gathered pace: it slipped through bony fingers. Before he knew it, he was home – marriage on the horizon, like a fat red sun. Tins stacked in the cupboard. Evaporated milk. Bolts on the door.
Receiving a small army pension, he didn’t work. He became consumed with repairing broken time pieces for neighbours, pro bono. His straight leg and heavily reinforced boot resting on a side table reserved for the purpose. He remained sedentary as mechanical detritus bloomed around the wingback corduroy chair. An elaborate workshop stuffed with windup mechanical spring-driven clocks of all sorts, leading to alarms bursting into life at random. Then there were carriage clocks, cuckoo clocks, lantern clocks, mantel clocks, maritime barometers, decorative pedestal clocks, and longcase and pendulum clocks leaning along the walls, patiently waiting to be mended.
Clucking pendulums, beeps, bongs, buzzing and whirring; a heartening orchestra bounding about the house. No interference from beyond thick brick walls. Only venturing out there for Sunday mass. In later years a TV appeared, mostly it sat dormant, it wasn’t good company. It was reserved for the snooker: it fitted the soundtrack. The clocks brought over for mending became fewer as batteries became the reliable power source. People stopped returning for their analogue clocks, but you could barely tell that times were changing as the timepieces were heaped just as before.
No one was certain of when the illness began. A care worker raised the alarm one Sunday afternoon when he failed to attend morning mass. Paramedics found him unable to stir. As they lifted him onto the stretcher, his right arm broke. Later, in the hospital, they realised his left leg had broken when they pulled him from the chair.
Leukemia had left his bones brittle and flimsy.
Ravaged by pain, his eyes swam violently in his burning head. Morphine provided brief respite. After a dose, he would deflate; for a moment relaxed before hardening in another flash of shooting pain. Time marches on.
During one such injection of clarity he searches the room. His head swivels, scanning the walls though he does not see the nurses. He does not see the ward, the medical paraphernalia or the window, ajar to cool his skinny frame. With satisfaction, he rests.
The nurses say there is no longer any pain. I glance about the ward. There are no clocks here.
John O’Hare is an artist and writer based in Bristol, UK. His work takes decay, deterioration and neglect as points for departure. 2018/19 publications: Sculptorvox Vol 3: A God Complex; Rung Magazine; Dwell Time; Hypogeal; the New Utopians. Recent screenings: Pugnant Film Series, Athens; Spit it Out, HOME, Manchester; Exp 01 Genesis Cinema, London; Wellington Underground Film Festival.www.johnohare.org.uk