J. B. Polk
Once upon a
time there lived an old artisan. When he worked, he was happy. But when he
rested, a sad feeling came over him.
“Ah!” he would
“All my life
and no child to call my own!”
So, being a
great craftsman, he carved a puppet from a block of cherry wood. An exact replica
of a little boy: with strong
slim limbs, a mischievous smile, a
lively twinkle in the eyes.
artisan looked at the puppet and sighed: “How I wish this wooden boy were real
and could live here with me. I would not feel so lonely then …”.
From where he was standing, at the top of the Via de
la Tartana, George
could see the sea splintered by the sun into hundreds of holograms. All around the
bay tipsy hills, swaying like
drunks leaving a tavern, dipped their feet in the quiet waters of the Tyrrhenian. Below,
the serpentine narrow roads and steep
fortified walls of Positano, perched on the hills almost as if by magic.
On both sides
of the Via de la Tartana restaurants, hotels, and little boutiques opened their
doors straight onto the cobbled street. La
Tabaccheria Nostradomo. Il Hotel Miramare – where he was staying. Two doors
down, his favorite: La Grotta del Lupo.
the smattering of Italian he had learnt on his infrequent business trips to
Florence he knew it meant the Wolf´s Den. It was obviously a misnomer given
that the shop sold and repaired clocks and watches but Luigi, the hotel
receptionist, explained that the owner was Francesco Lupo - thus the name.
window was exquisitely designed with row upon row of little boxes draped in
black velvet, displaying clocks and watches of every conceivable kind and
precedence. Amongst them a classic 18 karat gold fuse pocket watch,
manufactured by the Irish firm of Topham & White, the exact replica of the
fob watch he, George, had inherited from his grandfather and which was now
sitting in his pocket.
Ever since he
was a small boy and spent his summer holidays with his grandparents in the
village of Kelton Head, Cumbria watches had held a special fascination for him.
He had spent hours going through the drawers of the cabinet where his granddad,
Felix, kept his collection of antique timepieces. On rainy days,
Grandfather Felix would take them out, all wrapped individually in soft
tissue paper, and clean the glass faces with a camel hair brush. He would let
George hold them for a minute all the
while patiently explaining their origin, and how the mechanism worked.
“This metal spiral,
Georgie, is called
the mainspring. That’s where energy is
stored when you wind it up. The mainspring turns the clockwork gears, the watch
comes alive and that’s why you hear the tick toc sound - like the beating of
the heart in your chest. Until all the energy is used up and the mechanism
stops,” he held up the exposed intestines of the timepiece for George to see.
those memories, slightly dimmed around the edges,
flooding back. He now stood in front of the shop
hesitating for the briefest of moments whether to enter or simply go back to
the hotel, sit on the terrace with a glass of cold Chianti.
pushed the door. An old man, wire-rimmed spectacles stuck on top of
his head, stood behind the counter. He was dressed in a dark crumpled suit, a
pink shirt and a bow tie at his throat that in size and shape resembled a
submarine propeller. His facial expression was one of utter sadness.
Lupo, I suppose? “George asked and the old man nodded.
is he, himself. Franceso Lupo. How can I help you?” his voice was
dry, resembling the crackling of burning paper.
new in town, arrived last night. While walking around I found your
shop. I´ve been intrigued by watches ever since I was a kid and yours
is a remarkable collection.”
watches behave as if they were alive. And we even invest them with
human features as they, like us, have faces and hands!”
“So you are a visitor to Positano, then,” he
continued after a pause.
has so much
to offer. On a clear day, which is most of the summer, you can see the
island of Capri from the top of the Via de la Tartana. But forgive me, I must
sound like a Baedeker guide and you might be in a hurry.”
“Not at all. It´s really interesting but the truth is, I´m
here only for two days. Taking a break from my busines trip to Florence. The
meeting I was supposed to have was cancelled and someone suggested visiting
George´s voice trailed off.
what kind of business are you in, if you
don’t mind me asking,” Lupo enquired.
very lonely business,” George said. “I´m a
software developer. I usually talk only
to computers. Apart from the very
sporadic meetings I have with my human clients. That is, if they don’t cancel
at the very last moment.”
you travelling alone? I mean, isn’t there a
Mrs. Software Developer waiting for you at the hotel? Someone missing you back
Mrs. Software Developer divorced me two years
ago. I´m alone but not lonely. You know
what they say: if you are lonely when you are alone, you are in bad company,”
dear young man, loneliness in excess is sad. I hope you
will not remain alone for too long.”
gather then that there is no Mrs. Watch Repair either?”
never has been. And by the look of it, there won’t
be. I am now too old to find someone to
share my love of mechanisms”.
both fell silent.
forgive me once again,” Lupo said finally. “With all
this silly chitchat I´m not letting you explain what has brought you to my
see, my grandfather had given me a fob watch before he
died but there is nothing wrong with it. If it wasn’t such a terrible cliché,
I´d say that it runs like clockwork. My granddad would probably warn me:
“George, if it ain´t broke, don’t fix it” and he´d probably be right,” George
thought that maybe
I should get it cleaned. Since I
got it, three years ago, I haven’t done any maintenance.”
slid the glassed from his head onto the eyes.
let me have a look.”
opened his jacket
and unhooked the chain.
took the watch, opened the lid, pushed a tiny button,
and stared at the mechanism.
“Yes,” he said finally. “An
enamel dial with Roman numerals. No doubt about it, original Topham &White.
Not as old as the one in the shop window
but remarkably similar to the one I keep in the back, in the safe. I
guess they might even be twins, manufactured the same year, circa 1875.”
eyes lit up. For a moment he was back in Kelton Head listening to
Grandfather Felix patiently explain the origin of the watch.
really think my watch might have a twin? Would you be prepared to sell it?” his
voice trembled with excitement.
put the timepiece on the counter and
started at George as if trying to evaluate how to get the best bargain.
I´d be prepared to negotiate,” he said after a long pause.
is something you have that I would be willing to settle for and could put to
good use. So, let’s not make any further ado and get down to business. Please
follow me and I will show you something that will literally make your heart
stop,” he said almost with sorrow and his face, the face of a kind old artisan
suddenly turned fierce like the face of a ruthless wolf.
kindle a spark of life in the wooden boy, the old man tirelessly toiled on
wind-up mechanisms, similar to the ones that made his watches tick and which he
then installed in the puppet´s chest. He kept adjusting the wheels, tried to
make the metal spiral longer, modified the escapement mechanism so that it
would release the gear train more slowly but to no avail. The boy just remained
a cherry wood puppet.
And then the
artisan understood. The child would not come alive until he got a real heart
that would pump energy through his wooden limbs and keep him moving forever.
would he get a heart? Who would give him a real, beating heart? He nearly
despaired for he knew it was not likely, nay, impossible that someone, of his
own free will, would give up the vital organ.
a young English gentleman came calling to his shop and the old man´s hunter
instinct suddenly kicked in…