’Til the End of Time

My fa­ther's talk­ing watches kept him teth­ered to this world

Geist - - Contents - Jeff Shu­card

On the top shelf of the fridge in our house in Nanaimo, be­hind the jars of ca­pers and an­chovies, sit two atomic-pow­ered talk­ing men’s wrist­watches. If the fridge door is open on the quar­ter hour, you will hear the watches an­nounce in stereo the time and date, in deep, pen­e­trat­ing dig­i­tal male voices: “The time is now 10:45 p.m., Thurs­day, Fe­bru­ary 16th, 2017.” “The time is now 11 o’clock p.m., Thurs­day, Fe­bru­ary 16th, 2017.”

The watches be­longed to my fa­ther, Manny, who passed away sev­eral weeks ago at the age of ninety-four. In his later years, he suc­cumbed to de­men­tia-fu­elled shop­ping sprees in the mail-or­der cat­a­logues of what I called “elder giz­mos”—those unique prod­ucts de­signed to at­tract house­bound geri­atrics who are sus­cep­ti­ble to the al­lure of il­lu­mi­nated toi­let seats and head­bands that dis­solve brain tu­mours. My fa­ther pur­chased many such items from th­ese cat­a­logues, but they all paled be­side his talk­ing watches. He truly loved them and was wear­ing one when he died. If he had not left in­struc­tions to be cre­mated, I would have buried it with him in his cof­fin.

My fa­ther didn’t have many be­long­ings when he passed away: every­thing worth keep­ing fit in just one large suit­case. Be­sides the talk­ing watches, there were only some photo al­bums, clas­sic car tro­phies and his Con­gres­sional Medal of Honor. In his nurs­ing home room in New Jersey, he spent his days in pull-ups, sweat­pants and sweaters—easy on-and-off cloth­ing for a guy who could not dress him­self. He no longer read, took things apart, went to garage sales, or met his friends at the Gof­fle Grill be­cause they had all passed away by then. His only ex­cur­sions into the greater world were to the hos­pi­tal emer­gency ward as he be­gan to suf­fer through re­peated falls and in­creas­ing health trou­bles. The talk­ing watches, I imag­ine, kept him teth­ered to this world, reg­u­lar re­minders of a life he was drift­ing fur­ther and fur­ther away from.

To­ward the end, as he lost in­ter­est in con­ver­sa­tion, vis­its with my fa­ther be­came vis­its with his con­stant com­pan­ion, the dig­i­tal time-keep­ing voice. “The time is, the time is, the time is” was be­gin­ning to drive my wife and me nuts. But dur­ing meals in the din­ing room of the nurs­ing home, the other geri­atric res­i­dents would mar­vel at the thing. “Where can I get that?” they’d ask. My fa­ther was only too happy to share his elder gizmo cat­a­logues with ev­ery­one.

I didn’t know what to do with my fa­ther’s suit­case that first evening I brought it home. It seemed so sad that his pos­ses­sions had been re­duced to such a piti­ful end. For sixty years he and my mother, children of the Great De­pres­sion, had shared a large three­storey house they stuffed to the rafters with a vast, eclec­tic ac­cu­mu­la­tion of an­tiques, junk, Jaguar car parts, cam­eras, ra­dios, books, cloth­ing, kitchen gad­gets and more. My mother had saved ev­ery hand­bag and pair of shoes she had ever bought. She had kept ev­ery bill, ev­ery pay­cheque stub, ev­ery re­ceipt, ev­ery Christ­mas and birth­day card. Boxes and boxes of them. My fa­ther re­fused to throw out even old balls of string, used nails, wire, screws, nuts and bolts, hinges, door­knobs, decades-old phone books. It took me a solid month, work­ing day and night, to empty their house for sale.

Now I stared at my fa­ther’s for­lorn suit­case. I fi­nally put it away in the hall closet.

Later that night in bed, my wife nudged me awake.

“I hear it,” she said.

“Hear what?” I asked.

“Manny’s watch. Where is it?”

“In the hall closet, buried deep in the suit­case,” I told her.

We both started laugh­ing.

“There are two of them,” I said. “Two? No won­der it’s so loud. Why did he have two of them?”

“Why did a man who rarely sets foot out­side buy six pairs of black plas­tic shoes?” I said.

I got out of bed and car­ried the suit­case to my of­fice at the other end of the apart­ment. Thirteen or so min­utes later we could still hear the watches. “What are we go­ing to do?” my wife asked. “It’s like a hor­ror movie!” She laughed again. “Put your earplugs in,” I said. “I’ll fig­ure some­thing out to­mor­row.”

Jeff Shu­card was born in Pater­son, New Jersey. He at­tended the Min­ne­ap­o­lis School of Art (now MCAD) and Fran­co­nia Col­lege. Since then he has worked as a teacher and mu­si­cian. He lives in Nanaimo. Read more of his work at geist.com.

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