Timepieces by David W. Berner
Somewhere in the house was his father’s watch. It was an old Timex, a workingman’s timepiece of stainless steel with one of those old-school expandable bands. Not worth much, monetarily at least. Martin knew he had it. But where? Some drawer. Maybe in a storage box in the basement. It had been a decade since his father’s death and years since he’d tried to find the watch. Probably with his father’s old leather wallet, he thought, the one that held the decades-old, tattered black-and-white photograph of a high school girlfriend. Of course, that’s another story. Holding onto an old photo for more than fifty years after being married to a different high school sweetheart for forty generates a lot of questions.
Curiosity about the old watch came after Martin had decided to shed some new technology. Not long ago, he had purchased a smartwatch, only to come to the conclusion that he had no need to know how many steps he’d taken in the last fifteen minutes, or what his current heart rate was, or get yet another ping alert from ESPN about the NFL Draft, or a third text from his annoying cousin about the family reunion this summer, the one he had no intention of attending. Instead, Martin had wanted something old fashioned, simple. He wanted an antique. But not his father’s. Not a Timex. The watch should be more refined, dependable—maybe a Hamilton or Omega.
The search led to a dealer on Etsy. It was a good timepiece, handsome, a Bulova from the 1950s. White gold. Small face. Elegant. “It runs well,” the dealer had told Martin in an email, and he’d included a video of the watch’s second hand moving its way around the Arabic numerals. Martin spent $100. It seemed a good deal. But a day after receiving the watch in the mail, it stopped working. The only way to get it going again was to gently shake it, but that worked only for a short while. In time, it would stop again. Martin emailed the dealer, who insisted it ran fine when it left his shop. “Be sure to let it acclimate to your home, the humidity and all that’s inside your house,” the dealer said. That seemed reasonable. Antiques can be touchy. And so, Martin gave it a shot and waited it out, mostly because he had wanted so badly for the watch to run. Looking back later at the dealer’s suggestion, Martin realized it was a rather ridiculous explanation. He gave the watch a few days anyway, but it would work only for an hour or two at a time and stop again, and again.
It was a seventy-year-old timepiece, and Martin had resigned himself that it wasn’t going to be perfect. So, he wore it despite its flaws and when it was necessary, he shook it back to life. But that process lasted only a couple of weeks before the ritual got old and, so, Martin took the watch to a local repair shop. It would take a few days to do the work — replace the crown, clean it, and buff the crystal. “It will run beautifully. It’s a good watch. Just needs some love,” the jeweler said.
That evening, while searching the top drawer of his nightstand for something else, something he no longer remembered, in a back corner under a collection of past Father’s Day cards Martin had received from his sons over the years and next to his father’s old leather wallet, was the Timex. The watch needed winding, and so Martin did that. And it worked. He set the time — 8:11 — and for two days the Timex with the white face and the black numbers and the sweeping second hand ran without a hitch, smoothly and flawlessly. On the third day, Martin put the watch on his wrist. He liked the way it looked. And there it stayed.
In the days afterward, the jeweler at the repair shop telephoned Martin several times. “Your Bulova is ready for pick-up,” he said in the first recorded voicemail message. “If you‘re not going to come for your watch, we can ship it to you, but we need the address, and you have a bill to pay. Please contact us,” was his second message. The third was a sternly worded demand for a return phone call as soon as possible. And the fourth and final was simply a hang up. No message. That was more than two months ago, and since then Martin has been meaning to phone the jeweler and tell him to keep the old reconditioned Bulova. He has no need for it anymore.
David W. Berner is a best-selling and award-winning writer. He has been honored as the Writer-in-Residence at the Jack Kerouac Project and at the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home. His books have been recognized by the Society of Midland Authors, the Chicago Writers Association, and the Eric Hoffer Book Awards. David writes from his writing shed on his property outside Chicago. He plays guitar, writes songs, and wishes he could finger pick like Stephen Stills did back in the day. (Photo circa: 1978)