Emily Kaitus

A Cottage Full of Clocks

I.

A crystal cup of mud water, paintbrushes,

a row of rainbow chalk gems.

Two two-braids sisters and a papery

scent of bristles.

Crackled, parched

drowning blue, reds, sunshine yellow.

We pulled our paintbrushes, saturated in bright summer-sky hues, over thin paper sopping with color and sticking to the picnic table. My sister covered entire pages in one startling color: tulip red, periwinkle purple; she stained the table and her hands and elbows in a magenta watery mess. I painted a bowl of fused fruit, while the sun seeped into my hurrying hands and reflected in slivers of puddles on the table. The tiny water collections were scintillating mightily and disappearing rapidly.

II.

We traipsed through Mr. Ray and Miss Arlene’s garden, filled with contained and colorful order–unlike our own dripping creations. While we had an untamed row of sunflowers by the driveway, the Laul’s garden was sequestered, full of quietness. It felt like a flower-cathedral, its ribbons of graceful blooms stretching straight and neat, but welcoming, too.

I tapped the storm door timidly, creating a faint metallic sound, and we waited. Miss Arlene had a walker with sliced tennis balls on the ends, and Mr. Ray walked on his own, but precariously. When he came to the door and perceived our paint streaked cheeks and expectant smiles, he said:

“Hello, dears. How’re you today?”

“Lovely!” I said, and Katie echoed me.

“Well it’s lovely to see you. Come in and say hello for a little while.”

Our bare feet were powdered with dust and slid smoothly across the kitchen floor. We observed the unspoken tradition of trading handmade pictures for handfuls of peppermints, and then we stepped into the living room to see Miss Arlene.

III.

Miss Arlene had very willowy fingers that ended in nails solid and polished like tiny droplets of crystallized moonlight. Her hands were, like her, aged and embraced by crevices, but they never trembled in their antiquity. Whenever you met her, she would take your hand in a tight, loving grasp. No other gesture could have manifested her emotions more lucidly, for Miss Arlene’s heart was in her hands.

When we entered the living room, it was 3:57. We chatted politely until 3:59, and then an understood silence settled on the house; a silence fraught with beautiful anticipation. I closed my eyes and waited.

IV.

At four o’clock, I pulled my eyes shut even tighter to let the sounds soar into my ears uninhibited.

I listened to the clocks, letting my mind distinguish between the antique, dignified chimes and the audacious cuckoos. Even with my eyes closed, I could see them, lining the walls like a border. Some of the clocks had somber faces, etched with thick roman numerals, while others served as houses for diminutive wooden birds. The birds were painted yellow, blue and cardinal red, and their painted wings were peeling with the time they had counted for so many years. It reminded me of our paintings attached to Mr. Ray and Miss Arlene’s fridge: frenzied, individualistic expressions that encompassed a single moment in a single voice. Small songs and creations that were lovely in themselves, but formed magnificent, multihued masterpieces when blended.

While the clocks’ web of sound continued in pealing melodies, I looked at Mr. Ray and Miss Arlene. Although I couldn’t hear them through the nearly deafening musical chaos, I could see that they were laughing. It seemed as if, in that moment, we were transported from a world that ran out of time long ago, into a dreamy place colored by music, laughter and watercolors–a kind of world that lives in a moment and resides in moments past.

*

There is a photo with curled edges my mom keeps tucked between the creased pages of her Bible that contains a special brilliance. It in the photograph, my sister is gazing upward into an ebony summer sky, alight with beads of fourth of July fireworks. The speckled sky itself isn’t visible in the photo; it is the electric gold and green lights reflecting in her eyes, and her enraptured, fearless expression that tells the picture’s story.

I used to regard the muddled music of Mr. Ray’s clocks as resembling fireworks, bursting and screaming and singing collectively with sharp, exuberant harmony. But it was more than that, really. It was not solely the music and the lights themselves, but the sounds and sights within us. Somehow, the gemmy lights in my sister’s eyes cradled so much more meaning than their initial brightness against the burnt sky. And it is the recollection of Mr. Ray’s buried laughter, and Miss Arlene’s smiles and soft hand in his that makes the music of their clock collection so magical. For it was not merely the beauty encircling us, but our reflections, recollections and relationships. Not only the view, or the noise. But the mirroring of such things shimmering in our eyes, burning softly in our memories.

Two two-braids sisters,

four friends, nineteen clocks

chirping, leaping between

serene warm wood walls.

Separate symphonies,

crystal cacophony,

like firework mirrors

reflecting blue, reds, sunshine yellow

in a cottage full of clocks.