The fire cackled and crackled as the scrapings of metal preached to a tired man. The iron utensil that he clutched so tightly had over the years become more a part of him than the house that now caged him, or the wife that laid cold in a bed upstairs. Worn hands chilled against unrelentingly cool metal as the man slid his palm up and down, caressing the watch that he desperately needed to fix. This watch that so spelled providence for a tired old man. This watch that so filled his dreams, and so haunted his nightmares. This watch who's beauty was beyond compare, who had many a wistful hour torn away from him as he so softly studied it's delicate gilding, it's subtle engravings.
There was a reason behind the madness, the countless summer afternoons lost in the haze. A reason of cool, unrelenting logic, sound as the watch that the man now held. A pristine line of thought, as sharp as the difference between happiness and acceptance. A young customer had come to him some years back, and promised him wealth beyond the imagination of a poor tinker, of a poor man getting poorer. All that the young man had asked in return was the reparation of the watch of his father, whom he had loved so dearly. His father had spent his weary last years as much in the possession of that watch as the watch in possession of him, with countless sunrises vanquished by it's existence as he died alone in his basement. That was, of course, some years back, and he lived comfortably enough now. However, since that distant day, he had not been able to rid him self of the thought of that gentle ticking, and all that it could bring him.
The tired man fumbled to set the watch down, content to stare into the chuckling flames that had been his companions these many years, before returning to his work. The blaze danced, and the tired man suddenly felt the weight of the years he did not know had passed. A determined shadow dragged itself over his eyes, and a deep breath filled his haggard lungs.
Awaking with a start, and wary of precious time wasted on self indulgence, the man poached the room for his prey. The watch lay on the ground, fallen from the table where it had lain. As the tired man stooped to retrieve it, he was taken aback with shock. A gentle ticking, the song of an angel, the most beautiful music that he had ever heard, was emanating from the watch. Unbidden, his hands hungrily lunged for their thankless patient.
The moment of anticipation, the summation of terrible satisfaction eluded him once again. For, as he placed his hand over the watch, they slid through as if it were water. Confusedly, he reached out again, and again, thrashing in fury at his inability to claim his prize. Finally, he understood as he looked into the dusty mirror above the fireplace, and saw his body lying with eyes closed in the leather chair that had been his throne these many years.
He wept. He wept long, and he wept with a passion that he had never known in life. He wept for he knew now that the ticking was not the song of an angel, but rather the heartbeat of a crimson devil. He wept as the fire roared in laughter, for he knew that he had spent his entire life fixing that damnable watch, which could measure all that he had wasted, and all that he would never have.
Song for a Stranger
The man blossomed from the shadows, faceless as the darkness that had shrouded him. A steady gait and a stoical expression were a time honored guarantee for a blind eye turned from every passerby and walker-on strolling through the lowly lit streets. Neon signs and burning scions of hopeful mercantilism glared off into the night, promising business for those who could pay and that those would pay who did business. The man breathed deeply and sighed, a rolling soft as leaning grass that betrayed the fatigue that he kept so hidden, so cloistered within himself. He stood erect as a man bearing a cross, and breached the night.
The sagging hinges and beaten frame of a door on the end of the street drew him near, and led him into a pit that was not the blackest he had ever known. Smoke filled the air and the lungs of the patrons. The bar stools were as sodden with despair as their occupants, and leaning just as heavily. Amid the din of clinking glasses and time being passed, though, there was a rolling beauty. A piano being played by the hands of one who needed the money served as the poorly tuned savior to the creaking floorboards and tearful drunkards. The man approached the pianist.
“You play so gently. It's truly beatiful, and your music touches me" said the dark man, with tears in his eyes.
"Well, do you have a request? I play for tips" the pianist inquired, eyeing his half full beer with the shrewd gaze of a man who knows his limit, and how to surpass it.
"Yes, please. Play me a song to remind me of moonlight. Play me the dust that gathers on things forgotten, and the joy of slipping from this world into a daydream. Please" he begged, wide eyed as he put a dollar or two into the pianists tip jar.
The musician took a gauge of the dark man then, staring at him intensely. A moment passed, and a new silence draped itself over the bar.
Decidedly, delicately, his hands floated over the piano, and fell. They drifted, ebbed and swayed up and down the black and white landscape. An august rain poured from a crumpled sky, and lovers grew old together as they watched. A boy learned to love his first dog, and fruit grew on the trees of an orchard. A kitten was born in a box, mewling to his brothers of his arrival. The world was not flawless, but rather, it was perfect.
The dark man held his face. Covering his tears and his shame with one hand, the other grasped the shoulder of the pianist, crying out "That was beautiful. So beatiful. I'm sorry. I'm so terribly, awfully sorry. You don't deserve this. I'm so tired, and you don't deserve for this to happen to you, but it must. I must take the best of you. I must take all of you. Pray, if you would like".
The pianist showed no fear as the darkness climbed up to cover them both and drag them down. For, the truth was, he was tired as well.
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