The Clockwork Trinity
Michael had a box of parts that he had bought and salvaged with the idea of building a remote control car. That box was as far as the project got. Some of the pieces had cost him a lot of money but most of them had been bought at garage sales, from projects like his that had never gone ahead. His friend Sam suggested that he take them to a hobby store on north Main Street by Cathedral Avenue, they might buy them.
He phoned the store and after explaining it all he was transferred to the owner and he explained it all over again. The owner said, “Bring them down, but I have to warn you, some will be worthless, some a little, and the very best is only going to go at fifty cents on the dollar.”
He took the bus downtown and transferred to the North Main route. It was cold, cold enough to make the snow squeak higher than you could whistle, he had to curl his hands into fists inside the palms of his gloves to keep his fingers from freezing, and there was a wind blowing. Once he got on the bus it took five minutes for his hands and thighs and ears to go from numb to aching and to something like normal.
When he got to the store the owner looked in the box, “Like I said, most of this is junk.” He pulled a model airplane engine out, “This is old, and maybe worth something just for that.” He pulled a control transmitter, then a receiver and he sorted through the servos, “This is the only stuff I can sell, sixty-five bucks.”
“Can you chuck the rest of it, I don’t want to carry it back.”
“All right, seventy bucks.”
He stood at the bus stop for half an hour, the sun was setting and it was starting to get dark before he got on. When they passed under the CPR tracks, the Christmas lights, a procession of curlicues strung between the street light standards, came on. As they passed Logan Avenue the driver slammed on the brakes and the bus skidded to a slightly crooked stop.
A shirtless and shoe-less man had staggered oblivious to block the curb lane under the festive lights. There was blood running from his nose and he made threatening gestures to the bus driver and threw out flip-offs to the passing cars that dared to honk. A man in the seat across offered up an obscenity and a racial slur. The bus driver spoke without turning, “If you want to stay on the bus you better settle down.” A woman came and coaxed the shirtless man to the sidewalk and the bus moved on. Michael got off four stops later.
He walked to Arthur Street and found the little hole in the wall toy shop. He wandered in the narrow aisles among the science kits and magic tricks and the toys that would have been craved by children of a hundred years ago. He found a painted stamped metal clockwork mouse and a clockwork dog and cat that matched it. They were carefully constructed, with intricate motions and were not cheap. Three gifts and that covered the three gifts he wanted to offer to his obligations at Christmas; sister, mother and father, and all for $62.57, including taxes. It was his idea to buy these gifts, his thinking was that he old enough and he wanted to prove that he was.
He walked to Graham Avenue and caught his bus just before it pulled away and got home in time for dinner.
There was a small let down on Christmas day. His parents had only a few presents to open and opened his gifts right away. The idea behind the mechanical dog and cat was not understood. His two and a half year old sister had many gifts and when the mouse was unwrapped and wound up and let go, Caitlin ran screaming, convinced that it was attacking her. She was soon brought around and claimed all three wind up animals. She assigned a preciousness to them that was foreign to Michael. When he was that age he thought a good toy should be played with to the breaking point and beyond. They were placed on a high shelf and she liked to be lifted up to look. A glass fronted box was made for them so she could look on her own. The collection presented like a shrine, a sort of trinity for a family that never went to church.
Brian Hughes was born in South Africa and came to Canada with his family as a young child. He has lived in Manitoba ever since.
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