The mirror clock doesn't so much tell the time as catalogue your losses and measure your regrets.
That sounds a little opaque so I'll try and explain from the beginning, if you'll let me.
It started around about a month after I started seeing Derek. This would be a year and a half ago or so. I've done well, really - I'd known Derek for years and years before I started seeing him, so I know that his relationships tend to be sharp, short and intense, a bit like a sherbet fizz or a UFO melting on your tongue. I'm pretty much the only person I know who's lasted past six months. He just seems to get bored, and you know the writing is on the wall for his current girlfriend if he starts appearing in the venues he DJs at with the new model by his side. So really, like I said, a year and a half - I've done well.
Anyway, one Saturday morning, about a month or so into our liaison, I woke up suddenly from a dream of paralysing anxiety with the sheets on his rather narrow bed twined uncomfortably round my ankles. Derek was snoring softly with his back to me. Spring sunlight filtered gently through the black curtains of his bedroom. It felt like morning still; the street below was quiet. We'd been out at a "secret" 80's Matchbox gig the night before and ended up in a drunken after party which had quickly got ultra messy, but I knew I had to get up to go to work at midday.
Derek had a habit of turning his bedside alarm clock away from him when he went to bed - he said the luminous hands kept him awake - which I found intensely annoying as it was almost impossible for me to see the time without contorting myself in bed, or even worse, having to sit up and therefore wake up totally. You know, if you want to check the time quickly to see how much more nap time you can get away with, the last thing you want to do is have to make yourself conscious to do so. Anyway, I did my usual thing of twisting my neck awkwardly at a 45 degree angle to peer at the clock.
Luckily the clock's face was turned a little towards us, so I was able to see the time.
Ten minutes to four pm!
In a panic, I burst out of bed, feeling sick, my heart pounding, and started scrabbling in my bag, discarded next to my side of the bed, for my mobile. I woke it and started to dial work. That was when I saw, from my iPhone's display, it wasn't 3.50pm at all, but only 8.10 in the morning. What the fuck?
Derek grunted and rolled over in bed. I felt a warm, tight tingle in my groin as I looked at his skinny, muscular, bare back and smiled. I slipped silently back into bed and wrapped myself around his warm body. Soon, I was asleep again.
Derek was having his morning poo and I was dressing when I remembered the weird incident with the bedside clock. I went over to his side of the bed and picked up what I now realised, with a more wakeful clarity, was an unfamiliar new timepiece.
It was black and shiny, made of the same sort of plastic as the back of my iPhone. On the face was printed a luminous analogue dial with the numbers all reversed strangely. I now noticed that the hands all swept in an anticlockwise direction so the whole operation of the clock was mirrored.
I held the clock up next to my face and looked into the mirror on the wall opposite the foot of the bed.
Now I was mirrored, my lank black bob parted the other side of my pale face, but the clock now made perfect sense, all the numbers instantly legible, the second hand sweeping a smooth clockwise circle.
I shrugged. Stupid thing. I dropped it on the bed and finished lacing up my Converse. I knocked on the loo door, beyond which I could hear the rustling of some magazine or other. "Bye!" I shouted.
"See ya later darlin'," came the muffled reply. Lighting a cigarette, I left the flat and went to work.
I met up that evening with Derek and a couple of mates at The Enterprise for some beers. It was a lovely late spring evening. Still a bit chilly but things were definitely improving after the awful long winter we'd had.
We were knocking them back at quite a rapid rate and I soon had to go to the loo.
As I was sat wiping, the picture of that backwards clock from the morning came back to me with an unexpected rush of feeling that made me take a breath. It's hard to describe, but it was peculiarly like that feeling when you finish a particularly moving book and a warm torrent of emotion rushes you from out of nowhere and makes you shiver and gasp.
It was like that feeling, except that I felt no warmth in the associated emotion. Just a hollow, sparse coldness. You hear that phrase "someone walking on your grave" - no, I've no idea what that feels like either, except that it was exactly how I was feeling now.
I sat there just trying to breathe steadily for a while, then got up, pulling up my knickers and straightening my skirt before stepping out of the cubicle. Outside, two girls I didn't know were standing looking at me, with strange looks on their faces.
"Are you OK?" said the shorter, blonde one, with the KISS t-shirt and the silver gladiator sandals, after a pause.
"What?" I frowned, trying to push past these weirdoes to the washbasins.
"You screamed," insisted her taller friend. "Are you OK? You were in there for ages." She leaned towards me, concern folding her brow.
"What??" I said again, trying not to make eye contact with them as I washed my hands. I was uncomfortably aware that a blush was spreading across my cheeks. "No I didn't," I said as I bundled past out of the toilet, not bothering to dry my hands, trying not to look at them.
As I left, I heard the taller one say to her blonde friend, "drugs..."
I must have sat for so long looking straight ahead without saying anything, that eventually Derek broke away from going through Facebook photos on Tom's phone, leant over and touched my arm, with a quiet "alright darlin?" He'd been drinking whisky. I could smell the sweet, oaky musk, solicitous, on his breath.
"I don't feel too good," I said. "I think I'll go home."
"Aw, don't be like that. We're going to go up Proud later. Dave's band's playing." He grasped my wrist so as to draw me towards him but I pulled up and away, rubbing my forearm.
"No really," I said, standing and grabbing my bag. I smiled at Tom and Greg, who were looking up at me and at Derek with quizzical expressions on their faces. I leaned down to peck Derek on the cheek. "I need to go. Sorry. Have a good time!" I gabbled, turning tail and walking out into the cooling Camden dusk, trotting briskly down towards the Lock. I felt oddly like I was going to cry.
I shouldn't cry.
Opposite the Stables, my phone pinged. It was a text from Derek.
Terse as ever.
I lit a cig and paused outside the Lock Tavern.
I'm fine. Just felt a bit weird. Be OK tomorrow. Going back to my flat. Call you tomorrow. Have a nice evening xx
I pressed send, finishing my cigarette and stubbing it out. It was getting quite chilly now. I got my stripy scarf out of my bag and wound it round my neck before setting off again in search of the 274 bus.
Back home, I made myself some pasta with pesto and started to run a bath. There was some documentary about Pharoahs on Five nurdling away in the background. Peggy and Vi were away with friends in Cambridge so I had the place to myself.
I sat for a while in front of the telly, mechanically shovelling food into my mouth, thinking back to the pub. Why would those two girls claim that I'd screamed? I found that I couldn't actually remember exactly what had happened. Booze? I frowned, trying to piece the sequence together. I fumbled around for my glasses, putting them on as if that would help my thought processes. I could only remember impressions and a vague sensation of unease, followed by a sense that I was being intruded upon by something at the exact point that I recalled the mirror clock.
The more I thought about it the more I did get the impression that I'd cried out at that point. Or that something or someone had made a noise at that point in time that had sounded like me screaming.
I put down my empty plate and went through to the bathroom, phone in hand. I stood for a while, looking blankly at myself in the mirror. I saw a tallish, pale young woman looking back at me, big eyes, ringed heavily in black, lips a bit thin perhaps, but I was definitely pretty. Long black hair that needed a visit to the hairdreser to cut some volume back in. Quite broad shoulders, a black vest hiding breasts that I felt had always been too small - I wondered about having a boob job a little too often for my own liking.
"You need to find a rich man," I told my reflection, smiling.
I glanced down at my phone and raised it level with my face, pressing the standby button. The reflected display read 21:36, the writing mirrored as expected. Nothing unusual there.
I glanced at the tub reflected behind me. It was full. I put down the phone and turned off the taps, removing my vest and knickers.
On the toilet seat beside me my phone vibrated. The display said Derek, accompanied by his grinning face. The photo had been taken at a gig in Soho. We'd been off our faces on pills. I picked up the handset and answered, perching on the rim of the bath.
The background was noisy. I expect he was outside the back stables at Proud, having a cigarette. "Awright darlin, just wanted to make sure you were OK. You went a bit weird back there." He had to raise his voice to hear himself over the babble.
"I'm fine," I said. "Just tired, I think. Sorry."
"You should come out," he shouted back at me. Then there was a muffled "alright mate" - someone he knew had obviously just greeted him. He turned his attention back to me. "It's gonna be a laugh. Terry and Viv and that are all here."
"I'm having a bath," I replied. "Too tired."
Something occurred to me. "Derek, was I in the toilet a long time at the Enterprise?"
I could hear him thinking for a while. "Dunno. Maybe? Can't really remember," he finally replied. "Why?"
I paused. "Nothing... But when did you get that weird clock? The backwards alarm clock? The mirrored one?"
"What?" He sounded genuninely confused. "What clock? What mirror?"
I sighed. "Your new bedside clock. It gave me a real scare this morning..."
"What new clock? I've got the same clock I've always had. The digital radio one. What you talking about? Look, I better go. Jenny's band's about to go on. I told her I'd go in and have a listen."
"You're seriously saying you don't have a clock that has all, like, mirror writing on and that goes round anti-clockwise?"
There was a noise-filled silence at the other end for a few seconds. I couldn't decipher if he was thinking about my question or doing something else, like lighting another cigarette. Then he came back with, "I honsetly don't, darlin'. What's up with you? You're being really weird tonight. You alright?"
I took a deep breath.
"I'm fine. Have a nice night and I'll call you tomorrow. Bye."
I disconnected the call, turned off the phone, put it down on the toilet seat, tied up my hair and stepped into the hot water.
I felt exhausted.
I slid down so that my lips were under the surface, leaned back and closed my eyes, blowing little bubbles though my mouth.
To be continued
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