It is raining (though barely). The temperature is a cool and steady sixty-one degrees. It is early morning in a Chicago suburb. Birds chirp without enthusiasm. Cars pass without acknowledging one another. Life is off to an indifferent start on this musty, Monday morning.
Among the parade of zombie-like machines and life-forms alike, one particular vehicle attempts to remain unnoticed. Unfortunately for this particular vehicle on this particular day, there exists another vehicle that wishes to de-rail its valiant attempts at camouflage.
The de-railing vehicle makes its move. The vehicle that has failed at conformity is made aware of its defeat. The flashing blue and red lights are a fail-proof signal of imminent problems. Delay. Nervous fumbling. Idiotic attempts at small-talk. Silent prayers regardless of guilt or innocence.
“Sir, do you know why I stopped you?” the officer asks with authority. The driver is visibly deflated.
“I think so, Officer,” he responds with wavering confidence.
Suddenly, a voice emerges from the open rear end of the vehicle. “I’ll explain it for ya,” the voice says.
The conductor walks over, his silvery star badge gleaming with each arrogant step. “Yes sir, I would love to understand why you are not using a seat-belt. And furthermore, why you are standing in the back of this pick-up truck and driving on a main road with an unsecured....Grandfather clock?”
“Well, Officer, I don’t have another vehicle big enough. My son and I are trying to move this clock from my mother’s house (who recently passed) to my son’s house. We didn’t have any other way to move it,” says the man in the back of the pick-up truck, clutching the giant clock at such an awkward angle the officer can hardly stomach watching the spectacle.
“Sir, this is illegal. There are a lot of hazards here. Not just to yourself, but to others on the road. What would happen if your driver suddenly had to brake? I’m going to have to issue your son here a ticket for reckless driving,” he states flatly.
The man supporting the clock neither argues with nor accepts the officer’s punishment. Instead, he removes the grey, de-threading, Wrangler stocking cap that he has worn for thirty-five years. He allows the officer to see something private—something he wishes he could have kept hidden. (But the clock man knows some wishes are made in vain, just like the wish he made just moments earlier that he and his son might make their trip unscathed...). At the sight of the man’s head, the officer lightly gasps and swallows, pity working at the taut strings of his hardened heart.
The man with the clock is the first to speak. “I know I don’t look too good. But I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. I’ll beat it if I can! All I’m asking is you let us take my ma’s clock to my kid’s house. We’ve got no other way of getting it there. It’s been a shitty last couple of months. I’m asking you to just let us go today. We’re less than a mile down the road. Can you do that? I’m an old man. Not trying to hurt anybody, just trying to get a clock down the road. Haven’t caught many breaks lately, maybe you can cut me one.”
The officer shifts his weight as if a thought is bouncing around inside of him. His face visibly softens. He is no longer the soulless officer of a de-railing vehicle. He is a living being, after all, and has the power to delineate from the Monday morning zombie parade if he so wishes.
“Sir, yes, I can do that for you this morning. But I will have to follow you to make sure you get there safely.” He pauses amidst his own quivering thoughts and emotions. “And I think you’ll beat it, Sir. Good luck to you.”
The officer doesn’t say anything else. But it is clear to him now that he would have never noticed the grey pallor and sunken face of the man holding the clock if it weren’t for the conversation that took place. Or maybe it was the removal of the stocking cap that did it.
“Thank you,” says the clock man. “I think I’ll beat it, too. Hell, the Lord has been with me this long, I don’t think he’s giving up on me yet!” He cracks a weary smile. It is clear he has no fear or reverence for this officer or his authority. This does not mean he has no respect. On the contrary, he finds himself simply living in another realm of human existence—a realm that does not concern itself with day-to-day mundane tasks and rules of the road. It would be safe to say that the clock man’s realm is largely consumed by keeping himself and those he loves happy with no cost in mind. The man figures, if his son wants his dead mother’s Grandfather clock, he should have it. If there is something that gets in the man’s way, it is not the man, rather the obstacle that should feel intimidated.
The man waves to his son to continue driving as if nothing has happened. It is a small thing, really. The clock will make it to his son’s house, after all. There will be no extravagant, unnecessary fine to pay. The clock man stands with the Grandfather clock in his tattered, mismatched clothing in the back of a pick-up truck. Oh, how his mother would have hollered if she saw him today!
What the clock man doesn’t know is that the officer will face a similar battle in the next few years with his own mother. The officer will, in fact, think of the clock man every single day of those three emotionally excruciating years. He will see the clock man’s face in his mother’s own sickly pallor and remember where his heart should be and what should matter on this day and the next. He will take several months of leave from his job to tend to her, although in his lifetime he never before made it a point to spend much time with the woman who raised him, her only child. Indeed, a big change has come for a man in his mid-thirties with a big-shot job and an equally established ego. Yes, a man has joined the realm of human existence that matters because of one brief (but in no way, small) encounter on an otherwise unremarkable Monday morning— with a Grandfather clock, a pick-up truck, and a bald man.
Though it may seem (even to myself) that I am trying to immortalize the man through all my stories about him, I assure you, I am only partly doing this. This short story is, indeed, based on the true story of my own father’s encounter with a police officer during the first few months of his lymphoma diagnosis and chemotherapy. He was a frail, weak man during those months whose feisty spirit of battle was never diminished. Something about him could still, even in the worst stages of his sickness, command respect from even the most brute of men. I share this story because it got me thinking—who would I be in this story? Am I one of those mindless morning paraders? Would I have noticed the clock man, or even worse, ridiculed him upon passing by without knowing his story? Or would I have acted differently, as the officer chose to in this situation? I wonder how I would have handled it had it have been me driving instead of my brother that day. The emotional toll a sickness in the family can takes upon a person can drive them to say and do irrational things—would I have been tolerant of the officer’s initial smug attitude towards my dad? There are a lot of unknowns here, but there is one very clear main theme—there is a human realm that matters and we are not all living in it. What do we need to happen to us to get there?
Sarah Hamilton is a High School Spanish teacher from the south suburbs of Chicago with a Master’s in School Administration. She has three young children who fill her mind with creative ideas and a husband who supports her love for writing and her pursuit of total career happiness. She is just beginning her writing career and has a special interest in children’s books and memoirs. Her mantra is “Read because it makes you smarter; write because it makes other people smarter.” She has not yet established a social media platform—but be on the lookout for an upcoming blog!