Like Clockwork

Like Clockwork

A Story by Natasha Reams

I wrote this for a school assignment, but since it was a short story, I though I might post it on here. I hope you like it!


    Life can pass in an instant. Tick. Or it can slow, until the time between each second on a clock feels like an eternity. Tock. I grew up to the sound of clocks ticking away, to the sound of my life growing shorter with each motion of the hands. Tick. When I was a child the sound used to sooth me. Tock. It calmed me when I had nightmares of typical child things like monsters under my bed. Tick. Now, I’m eighteen, and the war has been going on for two years. Tock. It’s March 7th. Tick. Exactly seven months after the bombing began, and I live in London with my family. Tock. We own a clock store. Tick....

    “Lisa!” The shout came. “Lisa, hurry!”

    I grabbed my blanket off my bed and wrapped it around my shoulders, “Coming, Mum!”

    The siren was deafening; a high, continuous note that peeled across the city. The clock by my bed said three thirty am. Not the most convenient time for an air raid.

    “Lisa!” Mum shouted again.

    I hurried out of my room and down the stairs. Suddenly the house shook and I paused to keep my balance. They’ve started already, I thought in despair. Usually the bombs don’t come for at least three minutes. Another impact set the house shaking, but I continued down anyways. If the Germans were bombing already, it may be too late to reach the bomb shelter in our backyard.

    Mum was at the back door, looking out its window anxiously. My brother Timothy was standing next to her, shaking in his pajamas. I wrapped my own blanket around him and turned to Mum, “Where’s Dad?”

    She looked at me and I saw the worry etched on her face. “He’s checking on the store.”

    “He’ll be okay, Mum,” I touched her shoulder gently and tried to smile. Another bomb went off in the distance.

    She took a deep breath and looked out the window. “The bombs haven’t gotten to this neighborhood yet. It should be okay to run to the shelter.”

    I nodded and took Timothy’s hand in mine. He was ten and about a head shorter than me, his messy blonde hair making him seem taller. Mum opened the door carefully and peeked up at the sky. She waved us through the door and I clutched Timothy’s hand as we ran for the door to the shelter. Mum followed behind wearing her nightgown and a long brown coat over it. More bombs went off, each time they seemed closer. I looked up and saw hundreds of German planes flying overhead, and a large zeppelin in the middle of them.

    “Lisa! Get inside, quickly!”

    I looked down and saw that Timothy had let go of my hand and run inside the shelter. Mum was holding the door open and motioning for me to hurry. Inside the shelter it was dark and cold. The roof was low and held up by beams running across it. Along an entire wall was a shelf full of food, blankets, and medicine. It had been Dad’s idea to keep the shelter stocked up on things, in case we had to stay in there for a while.

    I crossed to the shelf and looked under the blankets until I found the painting canvas and pencil that I had put down here when Dad had stocked the shelves. Sitting in a corner with a small candle for light, I started to sketch the planes and zeppelin I had seen in the sky. They filled the canvas like flies on a carcass, the zeppelin the only thing to stand out among them. No stars were visible. When the air raid was done and I had gotten some sleep, I would paint it and show put it with the other canvases in my room.

    “What are you drawing?” Timothy asked quietly from a different corner.

    “The sky,” I answered, trying to focus on my work.

    “Lisa, I told you to stop drawing things like that,” Mum scolded softly. “They’ll upset people.”

    “I’m only drawing what I see, Mum,” I argued. She sighed, too tired to argue with me.

    By the time I finished the sketch the siren sounded once more. It was over, and we had made it through this time. We returned to the house and Mum immediately sent us up to bed. In my room I placed my new sketch on my dresser and lay back down on my bed. As I stared at the ceiling above my bed, I pictured the planes and the zeppelin floating across it. After a few minutes the planes came alive and started dropping bombs down. The room shook around me and I started screaming as I thrashed on my bed. A sudden light startled me. I opened my eyes and sat up to see Mum standing at my doorway.

    “What’s wrong, Lisa?” She asked worriedly. My heart was pounding as I stared at her, and then up at my ceiling, and then back at her. I must have fallen asleep while staring at my ceiling last night.

    “I’m fine,” I said. “Just a bad dream.”

    Mum nodded and crossed the room to pull back the curtains on my window. Light streamed in, and a smile formed itself on my face. Morning, I thought happily. Morning and we’re all still alive. The thought satisfied me until Mum had left and I started to get dressed. My family was alive yet, but I didn’t know about Alexander. Suddenly I was rushing out of my room and down the stairs. Mum called to me as I passed the kitchen, but I went straight outside the house.

People were in the streets, picking up rubble and hugging each other. I passed them all as I ran towards the corner of the street, where a little bakery sat next to my family’s clock store. Part of the bakery’s front wall had caved in, and several people were helping to remove it. One of them was a young man with curly black hair and olive skin. He was covered in dust from digging in the rubble, and he looked worried as he worked. Next to him was an elderly woman who looked identical to the young man. She was the wife of the bakery’s owner, Mrs. Bertocchi, and she was crying as she watched the rubble get moved. As I approached, I understood why. The people moving the rubble had just uncovered a dusty apron that I recognized as belonging to Mr. Bertocchi.

Mrs. Bertocchi burst into loud sobs. “Anthony!” She cried, over and over again. Even when sobbing her Italian accent was thick. The young man stood and hugged her, tears streaming down his own dirty face. Then he saw me, standing at a distance while I watched mutely. He said something to Mrs. Bertocchi and ran towards me. I tried not to cry as he approached.

“Lisa,” His own accent was not as thick as his mother’s. “You’re okay.”

I nodded and hesitated before asking, “Alexander, i-is it... Mr. Bertocchi?”

His beautiful brown eyes turned sad, and he spoke in Italian, “Si, Amore mio.

I nodded again, unsure what else to do. Alexander pulled me against his chest and rested his chin on my head. His body was warm, and even though he was covered in dust and sweat I clung to him.

“Mama will need time to heal,” He muttered. “I will be very busy now.”

“I know,” I sighed, trying not to sound so disappointed. “I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

Gracia,” Alexander looked down at me and smiled. He touched my cheek gently before taking my hand and leading me over to Mrs. Bertocchi. One of my neighbors was there, trying to comfort her while she kneeled in front of the rubble, crying. I knelt beside her silently, and bowed my head. She looked at me, still crying, and I started to say a prayer for Mr. Bertocchi. Around me I heard movement as the people who had been moving the rubble bowed their heads as well. Mrs. Bertocchi waited until I was finished before throwing her arms around me to weep some more. I held her gently and kissed the top of her head. Behind her Alexander was watching us sadly.

The next day they found Mr. Bertocchi’s body at the bottom of the rubble. Mum invited Mrs. Bertocchi and Alexander to stay with us, since they had lived in an apartment above the bakery. While Mum comforted Mrs. Bertocchi, Alexander was busy planning his father’s burial. I helped when I could, but Alexander often wanted to be alone when he worked on the burial. A week and two air raids later, I stood next to him at the graveyard, dressed head to toe in black. Mrs. Bertocchi was on the other side of him holding a handkerchief to her face. The minister finished his prayer and stepped aside to let two men lower Mr. Bertocchi’s coffin into the ground. When it was done, the gathered crowd slowly dispersed until it was just Mrs. Bertocchi, Alexander, and me.

“Thank you, Lisa,” Mrs. Bertocchi whispered as the three of us stared at the grave. “Thank you for being so kind to this family. I hope you know I already think of you as a daughter.”

I glanced at her, wondering at those last words, when Alexander suggested we return to my house. As we walked, I continued to think about those words.

“Alexander,” I whispered. “What did she mean ‘already?’”

He looked nervous suddenly, “I’ll tell you when we get back.”

I frowned at him but didn’t mention it again. Mum had supper waiting when we got back, and all of us ate somberly. Timothy finished first and immediately asked to be excused. When he was gone the silence felt oppressive. Mrs. Bertocchi left next, and shortly afterwards Dad excused himself to go to his workshop in the garage. That was where he went to work on clocks, when he was upset. Mum had finished eating before Dad left, but she stayed around and watched Alexander and me. When both of us had finished eating, we were about to leave when Mum spoke up.

“Wait a minute, Lisa. You too, Alexander,” She said calmly.

We sat back down and waited for her to speak.

“This is a difficult time for all of us,” She started. “There have been too many funerals lately, and people need something to look forward to, but now is not the time to move on with something like what you two have.”

I blushed, “Mum!”

“Quiet,” She snapped. “This war won’t last forever, and when it’s over everything will go back to normal. Then you can do whatever you want, but if you two try to make lives for yourselves now it won’t go well.”

“Excuse me, Mrs. Moore,” Alexander interrupted quickly. “But both of us are adults now, and with everything going on this would be the best time to plan out a future, for hope. Hope is just as important as the military in a war.”

I smiled at him, “Excuse us, Mum, we’re going to take a little walk.”

I grabbed Alexander’s hand and led him from the dining room. We went out into the backyard, where I sat on the old swing that I used to play on as a child. Alexander stood in front of me, looking just as nervous as he had after the funeral.

“Is something wrong?” I asked him, rocking back and forth with my heels.

“No,” He sighed. “Just trying to think for a minute.... Do you agree with your mother?”

I shook my head, “What you said made more sense than what she said.”

“So you wouldn’t mind moving forward? Making plans for the future?”

“No, I wouldn’t mind.”

He nodded to himself and was silent for a while. One hand was in his trouser pocket, turning something over continuously. Finally, he knelt down in front of me, on one knee, and pulled something out of his pocket. It was a little black box, and when he opened it there was a little gold ring resting inside. My mouth dropped and I stared at him.

He grinned, “Amore mio, I’ve loved you since I saw you walk into my father’s bakery a year ago. That love has only grown stronger since then, and now I think it is time we come together, and stay that way forever. Please, amore mio, will you marry me?”

A tear slipped down my cheek as I nodded, speechless. Alexander laughed in relief and pulled me towards him. Our lips met and the world disappeared around us. The sensation was so strong that we didn’t even hear the sirens, or see everyone in the house run for the bomb shelter. The swing I was sitting on was partially hidden by a large rosebush, so they hadn’t seen us either.

But we felt the bombs. They whistled downwards and landed all along the neighborhood. The ground shook violently beneath us and the sky lit up with hundreds of planes and the zeppelin. One of the bombs landed two streets over, the shockwave so forceful it knocked me off the swing and onto Alexander. We fell onto the grass and looked up. Another bomb was coming, and I could see it traveling downwards towards my house.

“No!” I screamed while Alexander pulled me away. The world seemed to slow as he pulled me towards the fence and lifted me over it. I landed with a dull thud and waited for Alexander to follow. The seconds went by slowly, until the bomb hit, and the explosion sent me reeling backwards. Debris rained down around me, bits of my home that would never come together again. I cried into the grass, my ears ringing from the explosion and my heart aching. Alexander hadn’t made it over the fence... what if he was dead too?

Eventually, the bombing stomped and the sirens sounded. My limbs were stiff from lying on the ground, but I forced myself up and looked back at the fence. The shockwave of the bomb had made parts of it collapse, but the section by me was only tilted a little. I stood up shakily and walked around to an open section of the fence. My family and Mrs Bertocchi were emerging from the bomb shelter when they saw me. Mum ran towards me, but didn’t see or hear her. I was looking towards the tree. It had collapsed on a part of the fence, and somehow I hadn’t noticed it.

“Lisa!” Mum cried and embraced me. “Don’t you ever wander off again! You could have been killed!”

I didn’t respond and she let me go. I was still staring at the fallen tree. With my stomach in knots, I walked around to the other side of the tree. The swing lay broken by the rosebush, which had been mutilated by the debris. On the ground beside it was the little black box with the ring inside. I picked it up and clutched it to my chest as I looked around. Finally, I saw him by the tree. I ran to the tree and knelt down before I realized what I was seeing. His head and shoulders were under the tree, and there was no sign of life in him. A sob stuck in my throat as my hand fluttered around the tree and his body, trying to find a way to help him.

Mum came around next to me and gasped. “Lisa! Oh, Lisa, I’m sorry.”

I started to sob in earnest, muttering, “No, no, no.”

Dad, Timothy, and Mrs. Bertocchi followed shortly. Mrs. Bertocchi looked down at her son’s body with deadened eyes. I couldn’t bring myself to face her, not when she had already buried her husband today. Hands shaking, I opened the small black box. The ring glittered faintly, a simple golden band, but so beautiful. I fingered it tenderly when I noticed something engraved on the inside. To many happy years, amore mio, it said. Sobs racked through my body until I thought they would consume me.

Eventually, Mum managed to coax me over to our neighbor’s house. I don’t remember anything I did that night or the next day, but when I woke the day after, there was a new canvas lying by the bed I had slept in with a sketch of Alexander beneath the tree. When I asked Mum about it she said I had sketched it the day before, looking dead and mechanical. That day I sat in my new room, staring at the picture. It was almost a perfect match to the horrible scene. All it needed was some color. So I started painting and filling the picture with life while tears ran slowly down my cheeks. When I was done, Mrs. Bertocchi came in and saw the painting.

“It’s lovely,” She muttered distantly. “You are very talented.”

“The war has been my inspiration,” I replied, equally distant. “When it’s over, there will be nothing left.”


    I looked around the gallery calmly. Dozens of paintings were displayed, and the crowd of people buzzed with praise. Waiters in black suits walked amongst the crowd serving champagne and finger foods, and Colleen Marsh was fluttering about like a bird.

    She came up to me excitedly, “Oh, this is wonderful, Lisa! Your paintings are a hit!”

    I smiled, “Thank you, Colleen. And thank you for setting all of this up. I couldn’t think of a better arrangement myself.”

    Colleen beamed proudly and moved off to greet other guests. I wandered amongst my paintings, all of them from my time London. They were all as familiar as if I had painted them yesterday: the planes and the zeppelin in the night sky, the pile of rubble by the bakery with a dirty apron on it, and my house after the bomb had hit. The memories swam before my eyes, but I didn’t cry. I had done enough crying in my lifetime.

    I was listening to two art critics argue over the meaning of the bakery painting when Colleen’s voice drowned out the conversation. “Excuse me, everyone, and thank you for coming to this very special exhibit tonight. Your support of the arts in New York is always appreciated. Tonight, though, I would like to introduce to you the very woman who painted all of these pictures just five years ago: Ms. Lisa Moore!”

    Applause filled the gallery as I smiled and approached Colleen, who was holding a mic in front of the exhibit’s centerpiece. I had personally asked her to place it as the center, and she had agreed full heartedly.

    The applause died down as I took the mic and faced the crowd. “Thank you, everyone, for being here tonight. When I was young, I dreamed of having my artwork displayed like this, so this is a dream come true for me.”

    The crowd was smiling at me, listening to my every word raptly. I continued smoothly, “I hope everyone got the chance to see the centerpiece of tonight’s exhibit. It is the most important piece I have ever made, and I’d like for you all to know why. When I was eighteen, the Germans had started bombing London, in what many called the ‘London Blitz.’”

    Everyone listened intently as I told them the story of that night. It was completely silent, well after the story had ended, and nearly all of the audience had tears in their eyes. I only smiled.

    “I understand your tears. I cried a lot afterwards as well,” I looked up and saw the clock hanging next to the doorway, the seconds ticking by slowly. Seeing it reminded me of my father’s shop, which had been destroyed in the very last bombing raid, and then of all the bombings I had sat through and survived. Nostalgia took over, and for a while the crowd waited silently again.

    Eventually, I ended by saying: “Life can pass in an instant. We won’t notice, or won’t care, and just float along on the surface of a calm lake. And then everything will slow until all you hear is the ticking of a clock. It will feel like an eternity, like the past five years have, and when the moment’s over you may feel worse off. I won’t promise you that it will get better, or you’ll get over it, because that’s very unlikely. Instead, you’ll just have to continue on, and search for the moments that make the bad less painful. Thank you again for coming. Goodnight.”

© 2013 Natasha Reams

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Added on May 11, 2013
Last Updated on December 18, 2013
Tags: Romance, Clockwork, London, Blitz, 1941, Fiction, Short Story


Natasha Reams
Natasha Reams

Anderson, AK

Hi, thanks for reading my stuff in advance. I LOVE wolves, and supernatural romances are my favorite books. I have two dogs (one of which is named Samwise Gamgee so I'm pretty nerdy) and I used to own.. more..

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