Only once did Nanna Bo raise her voice to him. Ryan remembers it perfectly, as though it’s a matter of lost moments rather than years: he’s seven years old, dressed in stiff new clothes and feeling like all of the adults have been switched with sad, sharp doppelgangers with reddened eyes.
He was too young for the funeral. His parents argued about the fact in not-quiet-enough tones, but in the end he spent the day with his best friend Peter, who had a dog as big as a pony and more video games than anyone else he knew. Afterwards, his parents picked him up wearing those foreign faces, and even his sister Melinda looked quiet and grown up on the other side of the back seat.
When he next saw Nanna Bo, she seemed smaller somehow. Her features were sinking into her wrinkles and she forgot her usual game of hiding a two dollar coin in Ryan’s pocket when he hugged her hello. It was strange not seeing Grandad in his leather chair. Everyone was looking at it and yet trying not to see it, the cushions wrongly arranged and the left arm missing the usual copy of The Age. “I wish Grandad was here,” he said aloud and his mother made a noise that sounded like she had something caught in her throat.
There was a carriage clock on the bookshelves that bracketed the fireplace, a small, golden-coloured piece that Nanna Bo would let him wind if she deemed his behaviour worthy of it. Today, however, its usual tick was silent. His parents were too busy talking to pay much attention to him sliding off the couch and moving over to examine it. “The clock’s stopped, Nanna,” he said, frowning at its motionless hands before turning it over to reveal the winding mechanism. “Can I wind it?”
It was then that she shouted, her words loud in a pinched kind of way as she ordered him to put the clock back where he had found it, before standing abruptly and walking from the room.
Ryan was too old to cry, but he wanted to anyway. The clock felt like it was glued to his hand and eventually his father rose from the couch and gently took it from him. “Nanna Bo isn’t winding that clock any more,” he explained, in a voice that made Ryan want to cry even more. “She hasn’t wound it since Grandad died.”
Ryan nodded and pretended to understand and escaped into the backyard where he could throw clods of dirt at the fence and tease the terrier that lived next door. He couldn’t forget Nanna Bo’s face, though, and when he tripped on the concrete path and bloodied his knee, the denim of his torn jeans was streaked with red.
After Nanna Bo’s funeral, the immediate family heads back to the old house for the wake, aunts carrying platters of dried-up sandwiches from car boots and uncles speaking too loudly with beer cans in their hands. Ryan and Melinda sit together with their backs against a bookcase, sipping warm lemonade and saying very little. She’s only home from university for the weekend, but death has subdued their conversation and there’s a distance between them that isn’t measured in miles.
Slowly, Ryan becomes aware of a soft, regular sound above his head. Turning, he watches as the second hand winds a staccato path around the carriage clock’s face. “Who wound the clock?” he asks, the edge in his voice cutting through the hum of conversation. There is a short pause, followed by a collection of denials.
And then silence, thick silence, until the warm sound of ticking is all that remains.
Tara Calaby is a classicist and sometimes-writer. She lives in rural Victoria, Australia, where she spends too much time reading and procrastinating and not enough time writing.
This story is sponsored by
Jenny Schwartz — Australian contemporary romance author in love with steampunk.