She led him up the stairs. "Help me," she said, presenting the coveralls. Soon she was naked, ample and unabashed. Can this be happening, Zeke thought. Then she was pulling back the covers and he was lost.
When he found himself again, minutes or hours later, basking in the warmth of her proximity, he began to talk about his clocks. "I buy them from jumble sales and junk shops and repair them. I have nine up and ticking, though two are still erratic."
"Do you know about the clock in Prague, in the Old Town Square?"
A famous clockmaker had made it for the king. When it was finished and everyone had agreed it was a masterpiece, the king ordered his soldiers to blind the clockmaker so that his clock could never be surpassed. For years the blind man lived on the king's charity in a cottage below the castle. At last, on his deathbed, he asked to be carried into the presence of his masterpiece. He passed his hands over the mechanism, and the clock was silent for two hundred years.
"You mean"Zeke stared up into the darkness"he did something to the springs?"
"But how could he bear to?"
She kissed his shoulder. "Revenge," she said. "How else can we rewrite the past?"
He kissed her back. "I can't answer that right now, but I will eventually."
As her breathing grew louder and slower, he felt his anxieties gathering. He tried to calm himself by counting the parts of their bodies that were touching, the parts he still had to touch. He counted her breaths, his own, the cars passing in the street outside until at last he realized the situation was hopeless. "I have to go home," he said.
No, he thought, not if you'll talk to me all night long in that drowsy voice. "I'm sorry. It's not you. I just can't handle strange houses, strange beds." He touched her cheek. "But I can learn."
The next morning Zeke knocked only once before setting aside the fried-egg sandwicheshe'd chosen brown bread in an effort to offset last night's beerand sliding the blade of his penknife under the catch of the side window. He left the bag of sandwiches on the kitchen table and climbed the stairs, hoping to find her still in bed, warm and sleepy, hoping to slip in beside her. And this time, he thought, however stupid, however embarrassing, he would ask her name.
The bed was unmade, empty and cold to the touch, the suitcases gone. At the foot of the bed the rug was rolled up, and spread-eagled on the bare wooden boards lay the coveralls, neatly buttoned, arms and legs stretched wide, like an empty person. Only when he knelt to pick them up did Zeke discover the three-inch nails that skewered the collar, pinned the cuffs and ankles to the floor.
From Banishing Verona by Margot Livesey. Copyright 2004 Margot Livesey. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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