The Clock Doctor
By Nathan Oser
I hit the snooze button for the 43rd time. I wasn’t avoiding getting up or hoping to sleep in–I was already awake, and there was no way I could have slept in. It was Saturday morning, and I’d already gobbled up breakfast, taken a shower, brushed my teeth, and even folded my socks. Now I was tornadoing through my room, looking for ear muffs.
I gave up when I found comic books instead. I threw myself on the bed and began flipping through the pictures when another ten minutes passed and I slapped the clock for the 44th time. I thought about tossing it out the window, but I couldn’t. It was kind of a cool clock. It was round with two big silver bells on top and looked antique except for the digital hands and numbers and pictures on the face. And it was a present from my dad. Still, the thing was broken since the middle of the night, and if it was driving me up the wall this much, my mom must have already been on the ceiling.
She cracked the door and poked her head in. “You have to do something about that clock. Did you try unplugging it?”
“It takes batteries.”
“Can’t you take the batteries out?”
“They’re screwed in.”
“We don’t have a screwdriver?”
“It takes a Phillips-head, and besides, Dad took all the tools with him when he and Joey moved out.”
She sighed. “Well, I’ve got eight million things to do today. You’re free. Why don’t you take it to the repair shop for me then?” She left the door open and walked down the hall. A few seconds later she came back with a scrub brush in one hand, a 20 in the other, and a wink in her eye. “Unless you want to help me clean the bathroom?”
I must have cleaned the bathroom eight million times in the last month alone, not to mention the kitchen, dining room, and living room–four million times each. Whenever I got a bad grade my mom made me clean. She said I needed to manage my time better: less sports, less TV, less comics; more homework, more studying, and more helping out around the house. I said with all that stuff to do there was no time left to manage.
So I snatched up the 20 and ran to my closet. I threw on a jacket and used an old sweater to wrap up the clock, then tossed the bundle in my backpack and was out the door so fast I thought I deserved a superhero cape.
I pedaled my bike down Cherrybark Lane, past the water tower, the park, the firehouse, the fountain, and finally stopped at a long string of storefronts. The watch and clock repair shop was a tall, skinny brick building between the deli and the pet store; it looked like the only thing keeping all the animals from the feast of a lifetime. I tried the door but it was locked. There was a CLOSED sign hanging on the other side of the glass.
I was just putting up my kickstand to leave when my backpack let out a muffled ring. I headed back up to the door and gave it a couple loud knocks. “Hello? Anybody in there? It’s an emergency!” Well, it was sort of an emergency.
When there was no answer I turned and sat on the steps. “Man!” I reached into my backpack to turn off the snooze alarm. “What do I do now?”
I looked around, up and down and across the street, and my eyes hovered over the ice cream parlor down the way. I wondered how much ice cream I could buy with 20 bucks. No! I shook the ice cream out of my head. I had to save the money to fix the clock.
Just then I thought of Joey. He was my older brother, and he was pretty Einsteiny. I patted my empty pockets and kicked at the gravel on the curb, wishing I had a cell phone so I could call and ask what he did when his wristwatch broke that one time. He and Dad lived in the next town over. It took more than an hour to get there on my bike, and he might as well have been in Japan.
I rode on along the sidewalk until I came to the library and noticed a pay phone by the parking lot. I leaned my bike against the booth and ran to the ice cream parlor a couple doors down. I would need change, wouldn’t I? I decided on a small scoop of vanilla and a waffle cone because it was a buck, fifty. Then, change in hand, I made my way back to use the phone. It was only after I put the quarters in that I realized they’d raised pay phones to seventy-five cents. I stomped back to the ice cream parlor and ordered a scoop of chocolate–for the extra quarters, of course. I called Joey with the phone in my shoulder and a waffle cone in each hand.
“Yeah?” Joey answered in his usual laid-back voice.
“Joey? It’s me!”
“Hey, man! You coming over this weekend?”
“I wish. But I got eight million things to do right now,” I said, looking down at my ice cream cones and knowing the snooze alarm would go off again any minute.
Joey laughed. “You sound just like Mom. So, what’s up?”
“Wanted to ask what you did when your watch broke that one time.”
“Oh, that! I knew you’d come askin’ about that sooner or later.” Joey spoke through a chuckle, as if he’d been keeping some huge secret all this time.
“What do you mean? I was just wondering ‘cause my alarm’s busted and Mom sent me out to get it fixed.”
“Repair shop’s closed on the weekends, right? I tried the same thing. Hang on a sec. I know just the man for the job.” Before Joey came back I woofed down the vanilla and started crunching away at the cone. “We call him the Clock Doctor,” Joey said. “This dude’ll rock your world! You can find his house at the corner of Hallowell and…let’s see here…Turner. It’s the one with the wooden siding and the big turret in the front. Can’t miss it.”
“Yeah. Don’t know his real name. He’s a miracle worker though. Thanks to him, everything I do is, as you and Mom would say, eight million times easier. I’m getting straight A’s, I just made the All-Star team, and I don’t have a care in the world. Life’s a breeze.”
“One guy can do all that?”
“Sure can. Go see him.”
I remembered that Joey had had some trouble in his old school. That’s why he’d moved out with Dad and switched do a different district. It wasn’t because he wasn’t smart or anything–it was because of his watch. Classes always started and finished at the weirdest times: 13 till, 4 till, 2 after, 7 after. And since his watch was broken it beeped extra loud, every hour, on the hour, and there was nothing he could do about it. The teachers started to pull their hair out. They said it was disrupting their lessons and when he refused to take the watch off they all got on his case. Sometimes Joey liked to joke that he’d been kicked out cause of a beeping watch. That wasn’t true, of course, but it was kind of funny, and I guess it was better than flunking out or something like that.
“Thanks, Joey!” I said.
As I was hanging up the receiver my eyes rolled over the library parking lot and landed on an old model Cadillac, lipstick red and covered with blasts of sun-white chrome. I knew it was my cousin Melissa’s when I spotted the tiny disco ball hanging from the rear-view. She was the coolest cousin ever, although she’d never let you say so. Not unless you used words like groovy or far out. She was trying to bring them back, and I thought that was pretty groovy and far out.
I stepped into the library after playing magician and making all my ice cream disappear. I spied her out in no time. She had at least four hundred books open on the desk and was clacking away at her laptop.
I speed-walked past the librarians’ counter and was immediately slapped with a stare and a quiet shush. One of the librarians pointed to a sign that read “6-INCH VOICES PLEASE.” I guessed they figured they had to tell every boy my age that came in. I nodded my head and gave a thumbs up. Then I went up to the chair next to Melissa, leaned within six inches of her so she could hear me, and whispered, “What’s up, cous’?”
She turned her head with a smile, all the while still flying her fingers over the keyboard. “What’s shakin’ cous’? Didn’t expect to see you today. What brings you to the Building of Books?”
“Saw your car out front.”
“Saw the spaceship, huh? Kinda hard to miss, I guess.” She laughed and folded her computer shut.
“Oh, hang on real quick,” I said, remembering the alarm clock. I pried apart the zippers on my backpack and watched the seconds tick their way to 11 o’clock. 57, 58, 59, 00, Click! I tapped the snooze before the ringing alarm could get past the 6-inch sound barrier.
“Whatcha got there?”
“Just a busted old alarm clock.”
“Busted, you say? Bummer. You know, I know a guy.”
“The Clock Doctor!” I said, trying to keep my voice down. “You know him too?”
“Know him? He practically saved my life!” She titled her head down and gave me a playful squint. “How do you know him?”
“I know stuff.”
“Stuff is the best kind of stuff to know, you know. But if you really knew him, you wouldn’t have that problem with your clock. Actually, you wouldn’t have any problems, really.”
“Joey told me. Said the same thing. Just what does this Doctor guy do, anyway?”
“The Clock Doc? Well,” she said, drawing out the word like a long string of pink bubble gum, “he fixes clocks, and it just so happens he fixes lives at the same time.”
She went on to tell me about her sophomore year at the university. She was a senior now and had a GPA high enough to knock panels out of the ceiling, not to mention a good job already locked down. She said when she first moved into her apartment, though, she’d lived in a time warp. She would wake up at 6:00, head straight to the bathroom for a shower and it would already be 13 past. Then when she went into the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee it would be 5:55, and after that when she sat down in the living room to watch the news it would be 12:00 over and over and over again. Every clock in her apartment was off by either a little bit or a big bit. There were fast clocks and slow clocks, and no matter how many times she reset them, they’d be back to their old tricks, warping time again in a matter of weeks. But now she didn’t have to worry about it and could focus on other things.
“You ride your bike here?” she asked.
“Yep. Figured I’d ride on over to Turner and Hallowell, see if that old Doc might take a look at my alarm.”
“If you don’t mind leaving your bike, we could ride down together in the spaceship. What do ya think?”
“Really? Aren’t you busy?”
“Just a little research. There’s always time to do it some other time.” She folded up the books and took them to the return cart. “Let’s jet, kiddo,” she said putting a hand on my shoulder and taking me out to her Cadillac.
We pulled out of the library, and I watched the mirror ball dangle over the road ahead.
“That’s the power crystal,” she said, noticing me watching it. “Grab hold of it and it’ll charge the car up to full speed.”
I put my hand around the sparkling ornament. As I did, she revved the engine at the stop light and peeled out around the bend.
“Far out!” I said, and she gave me a wink.
We slowed down at the next street and went by a couple of houses before coming to Hallowell. Then we followed that all the way to the end where it met with Turner. There on the corner sat a cozy half-cottage, half-mansion with wooden siding and a tall turret that shot up to the clouds just like the pointy roof of an old castle tower.
“Here you go, cous’.”
I stared at the house and the big front door all that way up the drive. “You’re not coming with me? What if this Clock Doctor is really some mad scientist looking for fresh brains to put in a mason jar?”
“He’s not. Trust me. He’s a nice guy. Probably invite you in for tea or something, and fix up your clock before the water even comes to a boil.”
“That’s fast.” I left the car, situated my backpack, and slowly worked my way to the front door.
There was a dingy, gold-colored knocker, and I gave it a few taps. I spotted a shadow moving behind the fuzzy plates of glass. Then the knob turned and the door eased open.
It was the Clock Doctor, and I couldn’t find a single word to say! I gulped practically eight gallons of spit and glanced back down the hill at Melissa who was still lounging in the car with her elbow over the seat and smiling. I turned back and finally managed to say, “Hello.”
“Hi there. What can I do for you?” said the man.
I was shocked for a moment. He was really, really normal. He had on a faded pair of jeans and an old golf shirt, and talked just like anybody else.
“Are you the Clock Doctor?”
He gave a hearty chuckle and pulled off his glasses. “Where did that wacky name come from anyway? I guess that’s what people call me.” Just then he noticed Melissa down by the curb. He gave a big wave, and I watched as she waved back. “Your sister?”
“She’s my cousin.”
“Bright girl, that one.”
“Do you know my brother Joey?”
“About yay high? Of course, of course. He had that really loud wristwatch. I never forget a face, you know. Especially not a clock face.”
I couldn’t help laughing.
“So, you having time troubles too? Lemme see what you’ve got there.”
I unwrapped the alarm clock and handed it to him. He put his glasses back on and gave the thing an examining spin. “What seems to be this particular time piece’s particular prob–” Ring! Ring! Ring! The alarm cut him off and he pressed the button.
“It’s stuck in snooze mode,” I said.
“I see. The clock gets to snooze all day and you don’t! Why, that’s not fair at all!” He winked and let out a contagious chuckle. “I’ll fix it up, no charge. And if you’re not a million percent satisfied, I’ll fix it back to how it was.”
I went inside and had some tea. The day was warming up so he served me iced tea while I waited. But he was back so fast I bet that water wouldn’t have boiled anyway.
“Here you go,” he said.
I picked up my alarm clock and swallowed my own breath.
“Lemme know if that thing doesn’t keep the best time in the world! The best time for you, that is.”
I smiled because I thought I could finally understand just what Joey and Melissa were talking about. The clock was blank, fixed so it couldn’t tell time–or scream it or shout it or yell it, or anything at all.