I return to the shop and the house in the center of night, when the crowds have at last dissipated. At night the scene our little room affords is familiar, undisturbed from the moment we left. The bedcovers are smoothed, tucked tight. The air is stale from no one occupying it.
The desk is a mess of open books, calculations, and my own scribbled notes. I feel creeping over me the desire, once more, to gut his plans, to trace them back to their source, to repair that source, to rewrite the masterpiece’s history—to replace it or destroy it, I don’t know. In my state desires are difficult to rightly discern and even more difficult to refuse.
So, I grant them, every one, as they come.
Even the desires that most impoverish me; even those that leave me feeling ill, traitorous, unfaithful, ashamed. An uncounted expanse of unfeeling indulgence, willful forgetting. I was prepared to be alone; I was not prepared to be abandoned.
And yet, simple day and night are hard to cast off. Summer and fall. Time moves on independent of me; it is not within my power to fight, not when every inch of inside carries reminders of him that will not fade, not when the outdoors is the only place I take up the right amount of room.
The shop stays closed. It is just as well; the people have not forgotten the spectacle on the hill, but they have largely forgotten, or never understood, who built it for them. The only watch I make is for myself, a new model, built to the simplest of his specifications, an adaptation of his biofeedback mechanism. I put a band on it, secure it to my wrist, so it may feed on the pulse there but not the blood, so I may feel its ever-presence like a manacle.
It fails for the first time as the last of the leaves fall from our chestnut. The sky has swelled with sun sooner than it should, dove-colored and gold, and the birds have begun their leaving, and oh, it would be very round, very beautiful if I chose to go no further than this mark.
But it is the role of the apprentice to carry art forward. Not to die for it.
I take on his name—the false. I take his business, take his home, his wealth, and his fame. I open the shop doors. I do business. I advertise.
Simply by adopting the name, I find myself a man of reputation, a responsibility that takes me some practice to adopt. I affect the dispositions I’ve seen the clockmaker use. It is, it seems, a matter of staying unflappable amid insistences, of thwarting with levity others’ attempts at command. To those who will acknowledge my master and not me, I wait till they need a watch; it does not take long to discover that, master or apprentice, commissions from Devomara are the most coveted in the city. To those who fancy themselves friends of the man, I say the master has left his legacy in this town to me, has retired and gone back to live in his family’s home in the city. To those who still remember the hill, who want to know if what they’ve heard is true—I am not a man who lends credence to legends; nothing chafes me worse than a desire to believe in magic. And yet—yes, he built them the miracle they remember. And wasn’t it a fine thing for him to have dreamed up.
There are places I am still the self-serious orphan. On a walk I stick to the backroads, to the places in the village that refuse change. In bed I sleep facing the doorway. I count few friends, and with them I follow my same ways. I am resentful over their smallest dissatisfaction. I pretend patience where no one will be happier for it.
When I am at the workbench I am his. Every move one taught to me by time and blessed proximity, by the love in long observation.
You are a stranger to the man. In my gesture, can you see him? Do you know him by my work?
There are many who walk this earth being students in a better man’s death. Perhaps you live the same as I do.
Perhaps I needn’t have shared his story at all.
It takes some years before I visit. Though I am only thirty-one, I have begun to feel aged, to feel the years as indistinguishable and their passage as urgent and swift. The tree stands gently swaying where I left it, wind rustling through its branches, dark and dried up, stuck forever on an impossible threshold between summer and winter. Lightning, vagrants, lovers have carved scars into its trunk. Still it stands. A weathered signpost that lingers on the land to tell travelers they’ve come the right way.
Inside me knots an idea: that the mechanism is only dormant. That its winter is not ours, is attuned to Silas’s cycles, is something different and longer than we know. That after a time of famine, Silas will reawaken. That the tree will again bear proof of him. That there will be legacy of him on this earth other than me.
Despite all that I reject, there is mysticism deep rooted in me, from education, from ecstasy, from loss. When I lift my hand to the trunk, I believe I can break him free of some prison. That I will find him here and take him with me.
A prickle at my wrist. I look and see my watch has stopped.