Are You Jealous (third)
Inside, Gabriel had a moment to look around. The shop seemed empty. He felt that a tone had sounded as he’d opened the door, an oddly discreet and undefinable note which was not a bell nor an electronic bleat, but resembled the high register of a Buddhist temple chime. The room itself reminded Gabriel of a meditation chamber. Everything approached white. He’d nearly described the color as vanilla, but vanilla was a coffee-shop designation. The Reiff milieu wanted something industrial: gypsum, perhaps. The shop was the next plane in post-Reductionist design. It asked of the observer, why have more than one color, if color has nothing to say?
The walls had shelves, the shelves had drawers, the drawers had tone-on-tone lettering—Reiff’s signature lettering. Scanning inventory, Gabriel strained to read, from among hundreds of uncapitalized possibilities: “balance wheels”; “counters”; “impulse levers”.
Pins . . . rollers . . .
Reiff, white hair in minimalist proportion to brow; this, deeply furrowed with the demands of craftsmanship, blue eyes riveting . . . also, was capable of emerging from a trap, it appeared. Gabriel, in surprise, said, “You know me?”
“I expect you,” Reiff answered.
With Gabriel’s credit card, he vanished again, into an alcove, one optically concealed by the sheer whiteness of the space. Seemingly, he had no other customers today. Gabriel had come in person to do what he might, saving time, have done over the phone. He had reason. A friend of Presby might know information to Presby’s discredit.
But Reiff’s forbidding manner had come somewhat athwart Gabriel’s scenario. He could no longer imagine engaging the clocksmith in chit-chat.
Reiff returned. Without a word, he held out the card and receipt.
“You work with Presby,” Gabriel said, tucking the card into its slot, the receipt into his right pocket, the wallet into his left.
“For Presby, I sometimes work.”
“You admire Presby?”
“Why should I admire Presby?”
“You . . . like Presby?”
“Why should I like Presby?”
“You dislike Presby?”
“Why should I dislike Presby?”
Checkmated, Gabriel fell silent.
“You dislike Presby, of course,” Reiff said. “A troubling thing, a clock.”
“A clock, a complication, a conjecture, a theorem, a pattern, a wheel, a pivot, a pendulum. The earth’s rotation.”
“Here is a story,” Reiff said, and telling nothing, disappeared into his alcove. He had in his hands, as he issued from the half-light, a clock. It was black, but abraded with antiquity to a matte umber. The numbers on its face had both a sturdy peasant lumpishness, and a fine, thin grasp at elegance. The face was yellowed to amber. The hands were stopped at 3:14. The clock had a little arched door with a keyhole, and a delicately painted floral design.
“In Großherzogtum Weimar,” Reiff said. He had spoken the name with a great enunciation. Gabriel attended. Reiff went on. “This clock was sold. Eighteen forty-five, that was. That is all we can say of it. Certainly, it was made three hundred years ago, maybe older.”
Gabriel hoped Reiff had never shown it to Eva. He’d been on the verge of calling it striking; once more, he checked himself, and said, “I’m impressed. The painted bit. Done by hand, I assume?”
Reiff gave him a hard look. “The clock is broken. So long as this clock has been known, no one has found the part to fix it. But a part is nothing.”
“Ah.” He found himself answering Reiff in this manner. “Is a part nothing?”
“I, through great luck, have come to own the clock. For my life, I have worked to solve it.”
(copyright 2014 Stephanie Foster)