The only constant in his life has been the ticking of the clocks: First the mighty grandfather clock that stood at the foot of his crib like a sentry; then the gilt-edged pocket watch he was given as a boy before being sent to the country as a refugee. He remembered even now the thrill of that transaction as his father dropped the watch into his right hand, closed his fingers over it one by one and smiled. “Look after it,” he had said, ruffling his son’s hair and closing the door of the train as the engine creaked into life. That was the last time Bobby had seen his father. He was seven years old.
Now seventy seven, Bobby lies in a starched hospital bed. His eyes are closed, his breathing ragged. They have sedated him, they tell his worried family – son, Thomas, daughter in law Serina and beloved grandson, Jack. He has had a stroke and suffered serious paralysis and possible brain damage. “Don’t climb up there, darling,” says Serina to her son. Her voice, normally calm, is shrill. “But I want to see Granpa,” says Jack, ignoring his mother and climbing up onto the bed. He takes the old man’s veiny hand in his and squeezes.
Jack is seven, an inquisitive child with an aptitude for art and a love of reading. His sensitivity will serve him well in life, and he will one day become a celebrated artist. But for now he is just seven, sitting on a bed with his dying grandfather, listening to the ticking of the clock on the wall – waiting for something to happen. And then something does happen. Jack must have closed his eyes for a moment because when he opens them again he is standing on a dark landing with his grandfather. Bobby says nothing but points towards a big clock twice the size of Jack that stands at the end of the corridor. He looks down at his grandson and smiles, and Jack has the feeling everything is going to be okay.
The landing begins to shift and Jack feels himself being pulled away from his grandfather, back to the bright lights of the hospital room where his mother and father are waiting. The grandfather clock strikes seven times and Jack opens his eyes. He knows Bobby has gone but he looks peaceful, as if he is asleep. Jack climbs down from the bed and notices a feeling of heaviness in his pocket that wasn’t there before. He reaches a hand inside and pulls out a gilt-edged pocket watch. He smiles.