David Jester: A Sundial’s Digits

Frank waded through the clutter inside the neglected curiosity shop which had fallen into disrepair. The brick building, wedged between two monolithic condos, was a stark contrast dwarfed by the shimmering glass and steel behemoths of modernity. Frank was now responsible for this unwanted inheritance, his father refusing to sell long ago.

As a child, Frank always noticed a sour odor emanating from the back room, and a sticky film across the creaking wooden floors. In that closed space and oppressive heat of summer, these recollected features didn’t disappoint.

Lydia groped in the opaque light, slogging through accumulated years of scavenging and dumpster diving. Shelves had snapped under oppressive weight, having spilled their contents haphazard, while others bowed on the verge of structural failure. The occasional mouse scurried away, and stopping, turned to watch, twitching its nose and whiskers before disappearing amongst the detritus.

“It’s been a year Frank. We have to do this.” Lydia knew he’d been avoiding this task. After his father’s death, the shop remained shuttered, deteriorating into perpetual disrepair. “I can’t imagine your father thought anyone would buy this…junk.”

She was right, Frank thought, it was junk. He cringed at that word, so acidic, yet accurate. “It wasn’t always junk. Dad had a real eye for antiques; at least when he first started. We’d scour the city at night, sifting through the rubble of demolished homes, searching for architectural oddities. The city changed, though. Revealed less treasures, and offered more trash over time,” he said in a wistful tone.

Childhood scenes materialized like a kodak slideshow lamplit in the darkness of remembrance. Images flickered in 300 watt glow; scenes of a city evolving, his father preserving a discarded era, an ephemeral historian of the unwanted past.

“Frank, what is that smell?” Catching up, the fetid odor of rotten, curdled milk overwhelmed him, something he could never explain nor ever would. He moved past Lydia, high stepping over the clutter, and surveyed the workspace. In one corner, steamer trunks were stacked in a precarious tower, touching the exposed beams of the ceiling. Workbenches piled with rusted tools. Clothes mounded high like rolling hills.

Through a grimy window light eked into the room and cast a pair of gnarled and twisted shadows across the dereliction. The hands of time, his father called them, a pair of dissimilar mannequin hands perched in that small window, placed there by his father’s own hands long ago.

“You found them,” Lydia said.

Holding them, Frank was bleary eyed, caressing the once smooth and now pitted, ceramic hands.  “My father told me these hands could tell time like a sundial. That time is abstract, and we are responsible for creating our own time. By putting them in the window, and letting the sun cast their shadows across the floor, he believed we were as inventive as the ancients and cunning as the swiss.”

“What now?” Lydia asked.

“We invent our own time,” he said wading toward the door. “Let the rest stay.”

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