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April 2019 Vol. 15 No. 1

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Penny Harter

Tick-Tock

When the psychic told me a man was asking about a clock, I knew it was my father, shoving his obsession in my face again, this time from the other side of now. He'd harassed my mother into daily winding his table-top grandfather clock, taught her how to move its hands when it lost time. She suffered its quarter-hour whirr and clang for decades.

stain after stain
on mother’s blouses –
wore them anyway

Dad told the story of how his red-necked father had bought it off a tinker to commemorate the day my father was born, and that it had damned well better stay in the family! After both my parents died, I had it shipped back from Texas and gave it to my daughter since there was no room for it in my inn.

I don't know what to do with it, my daughter says as she dusts its walnut shoulders. My kids won't want it after I'm gone, but if I sell it now, Grandpa will haunt me. It sits on the sideboard in her dining room, witnessing our holiday feasts laid out on white tablecloths graced with my grandmother's heirloom silver.

The psychic said the man was pointing to a map of South Carolina, jabbing his finger into its swampy woods. When I was a child, Dad dragged us there to meet his relatives, coon-skin-capped elders emerging from the trees like wary deer, gathering around to spit watermelon seeds over the railing of the log cabin porch where Uncle Framp lived, vying who could spit the farthest. Reluctantly, I joined in – and won.

swatting mosquitoes –
blood on the wall
beside the bed

When I visit my daughter, I stare into the face of that old clock, see my own features staring back from its hinged circle of glass. I don't know whether I gave the tarnished key to my daughter. Insistent as ever, my father's words are ticking from the limb of a dead walnut tree.

still sticky with sap
that tree stump we cut
last spring


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