All at once my fever was gone, replaced by a new one, a bristling need to be where he was, to unearth his history and his intimate thoughts, to admix them with my own. He gave up many stories at my request—of his life back home, of the different world that was the city, of his family, of his training and his early projects. Regularly (instead, unasked) he told the story of his dejection in the months before I made my overture, of how he had feared that by pursuing fantasies, he would develop expectations, even resentment. Of how deep a loneliness this decision bred in him, and how utterly my beacon had shattered through to him, resuscitated him. He did not need to explain, I told him, and besides I disliked the salvation metaphor. Still every so often he recounted our coming together, as if afraid that, by not recording the memory aloud, the fact of it would be taken away.
Incessantly we talked. Yet his inspiration did not return. Only dead Greeks linked progress with congress, but still I prodded about his work at all opportunities, made myself a fixture of his study, still expecting, somewhere in me, that invention would not trail far behind satisfaction.
Troubling to me was that he did not seem concerned by the absence of ideas. Instead he committed anew to the mundane work he’d given up, teaching me advanced techniques, spending undue effort helping with the backlog of orders I’d created. Taking me, when I could spare the evening, on lingering walks to secluded places, ranging further and further from our town, showing me fallow fields, shady groves where the earth tarried or burgeoned at its own pace, undisturbed but for us.
A sweet and steady year. Though I am stunted from my early want of family. Perhaps most people would not so quickly take a space in a man’s bed for a home.
By a swollen creek in the woods one night, late, Silas lay us both down, pointing uselessly at constellations I couldn’t see from my vantage.
“Shooting star,” he said. “You missed it. If you’ll just move your head six inches.”
No one actually sees shooting stars, I said. They are invented by prioresses to make orphan boys pray.
“They are real,” he laughed, “and you are ruined for everything nice.”
I like clocks, I said. I like books, and string music, and—at this point I had to think—I like autumn, I finished.
“You like what is serious,” he said.
I like brilliance, I said.
“I once fancied myself some quick-lived blazing thing,” he said.
A comet, I said.
“A firefly. One season, flash, and a quick expiration.”
I didn’t like to close my eyes in the outdoors. But it was late, and I was tired, and I did.
“These days,” he said, “instead I am a planet.”
Stalwart, I said.
“Sleepy,” he teased. “Slumberous, stagnant and stiff.”
He roused a mosquito from my arm before it could feast.
I’m awake, I said.
“There are some things to admire,” he said. “The planets are their own timekeepers.”
Their revolution, I said, to encourage. Regeneration. The seasons.
“Ah,” he said, “but planets use up more than they generate. They burn until they have exhausted themselves. I do not much respect that method.”
I exhaled. This was how the ideas always died.
“It is not altogether different from clockmaking,” he said. “The mechanism, if properly balanced, slows only imperceptibly. But it cannot self-sustain. That’s why our job exists.”
His eyes were on me. I opened mine to meet them, adjusted back to the dark.
Repairing, truing. It’s my job.
“It was mine first.” Silas laughed.
And in it was a warning not to laugh with him.
I remember the cloud that settled across the sky, the strange flat matte, the vanished stars. The whispering of the leaves in the canopy. How their shapes bled undifferentiated, the same color as the night.
And I remember when he sat up, scaring fireflies off the brack. How they lifted like a starry stage curtain, lighting in mathematical succession, in a cadence our art and science could have described.
I wasn’t troubled then. I had seen ideas strike him before. The brooding distraction, the focusless stare, the long, loose line of his lips.
But I remember his fear, how he startled as I said:
You’ve found it.
How he looked down at me lying on the grass, and made himself silent.
In the shop, the days crawl. I pace the floor, I rearrange, I tinker; I cannot stand still. My labor stiffens and stalls. With all my skin I chafe against the duty to which I signed my name; I want a new one, want no administrative errand, no gentleman’s requisition unless it’s of immediate use to the man in the back room. I invent reasons to visit, aimlessly checking his books, fruitlessly swapping his tools for mine. There are times I come in and he is turned in his chair already, frowning deep into the spot where I will be, and I apologize for bothering him before he shakes free of some ghost and apologizes for staring.
For many weeks he is thus locked away from me; he is in proximity but out of reach. His idea is a third party in our home, a guest we both must feed. But self-sacrifice is what a parish education has prepared me for, and patience well becomes me, makes my mouth soft, makes my eyes appear kind. And when his appetite overcomes his absorption, he pushes pen and plans aside, he bids me overtake him; I am promptly fit in.
I go often, alone, outside. I tour the yard in search of chores, make new friends with the shovel and axe, make myself sweat.
Autumn in this country stays for a month but goes in a day. This year it hits me as I split wood under the shade willow, the light flickering through, sun-yellow, wheat-gold. Its leaves whisk free and pelt me in the face, stick in my sweat, and that is when I look around and realize the earth is warm colored but my arms are gooseflesh, the hour early but the sun low. The season has finished its course when I wasn’t looking.
That hour is when the clockmaker slips outside, shuffling the leaves with his steps, head listing to the side as if trying to catch a faraway strand of music, a whispered conversation.
Blueprint in hand.
I do not know how it transfers hands. When I take it, he has let go.
I unroll, study at arms’ length. It is massively complicated. It is complete. A pang in my stomach; I wish I had seen it before this stage. I wish my pen had reviewed his early sketches, that my talk had brought the final stroke into being.
He is, probably, watching the birds prepare for their winter vacation. He has often talked about it, how they swoop and circle, dip and rise, like rehearsal for the dance. How at last all of their number join the formation, and off they launch, not to return till cold season has passed. “Pretty,” he says.
I am poring over his design. The majesty of it is dawning on me. Slower to come are the consequences.
Not so lovely as this, I say.
“I am glad you think so.” His smile is gentle and wan. His eyes tired but intent. “You have a,” he says, misplacing his words, unused to them. “In your hair.”
And he plucks it out.
And at his touch time quickens.
And I understand the mechanism by which his masterpiece will operate.
His blueprint falls to the ground. Like an old mother too badly agitated, I weep the first name I imparted, forgetting all subsequent. Devomara.