THE GEARS OF TIME
I could hear a tap dripping, but I knew there was no sink in my room. Nonetheless, I made a fingertip search round the skirting board and the doorjambs. I was worried that the cistern was leaking, and that the runaway water was seeping down the walls, melting the paper and the mortar, ruining the fabric of the house.
I cocked my head on one side like a dog, to hear the sound better. It wasn’t a regular drip, but a sort of dot-and-carry-one drip: plash plash, BANG, plash plash BANG. And then every five cycles, there was a rippling sound, a trickle which lasted for three seconds exactly. This was very strange.
I had to examine the room more carefully. On the far wall, the striped wallpaper had a slightly different texture: lumpier almost. I knocked on it: there was a hollow sound. But the hollowness had an oblong shape. Someone had wallpapered over a door. With a little knife, I traced the door’s shape, and cut round it. I ripped the paper off. It was indeed a door, but like no door I had ever seen: bland, glinting, mysterious. I fetched a crowbar, and levered it open. It was a cupboard, and inside was the strangest machine I had ever seen. Little cups emptied into larger ones at regular intervals. A tiny bell tinkled every five minutes, set in motion by the cascades, and it was clear that there was a complex gearing system to take account of the times when the water ran too fast or too slow. It was a water clock.
I drew closer to it and saw inscribed on its plinth: “My name is Clepsydra. Fear me. I know all: I bury all.” Suddenly I realised that this timepiece was so inexorable that, out of the simplest materials, someone had constructed a death clock. The minutes were marked off, the hours, days, weeks , months and years. The water marked the seasons, and also periods in human life: the time when one could have a child, the time when one became old, the time when one should die. Each period was marked by a tiny sound. One sounded like a laugh, one sounded like a cry. One sounded like the thump of something falling.
It was impossible to live with the water clock. I fetched some hardboard, and, in my cack-handed fashion,covered up the door again. I put in extra baffles and some felt. Finally I papered it over again, but this time using paper with little bunches of flowers, rosy and vibrant. The dripping was still audible, but only just, and if you moved about a lot, and sang sometimes, you really couldn’t hear it at all.