The clock swung a pendulum of brass. It was a hand-me-down. An heirloom, if it had kept time steady, which it didn’t, the brass faded through the years along with the mechanism’s rhythm. There was not even consistency in its varying, at times chiming before the hour, often after, never exactly when it should. A remote possibility existed that in the empty room it chimed directly upon the proper hour struck. This was never voiced nor observed.
The pendulum swung left and right, a thin noise marking each swing. Despite its problems, the murmur appeared constant and unwavering. The bells within its housing marked the hours with deep chimes that shifted octaves, first low, then high, each noting the intended hour in honest melody.
From the feel of the concrete, it was night. Down the blue street marked Toulouse on signs, a pair of shoes moved between blocks eastward.
On the south side of the street sat a man with a guitar. He struck his strings and moved pegs at the head of the guitar’s neck, the tone rising or falling as seemed appropriate. Chords were struck in sequence. Above the guitar, the neck of the man’s checkered shirt hung loose and open. Sweat ran from his temples. The noise of the feet approached. The man’s eyes remained locked on his instrument. Moving his fingers across the fretboard, he shifted the major chords to minor ones, the pattern rising and falling in repetition.
“River’s that way,” he said.
The shoes stopped.
“Nothing there but water. If you been drinking, you best watch it.”
“Going for a swim?”
The guitar peddled a softer progression, slower and distinctly minor.
“Don’t have any plans.”
“That’s the most dangerous kind to have.”
“Hum a while, Mr. Bones.”
“Anything in particular?”
“Whatever comes to mind.”
“I can’t think of any.”
“No plans and no song to sing. That’s a hard row to hoe, there.”
“Nothing. Just the water moving slower than normal.”
“I thought the road was supposed to rise.”
“It does. Rises, whether it greets you with a smile or not, that’s on you. This road stops, here and there, starts again. You’ll get lost; you don’t watch it. Most of this place’s been leveled and put back up for show. You don’t know the real from the show—”
“You’re bound to get lost. You’ll figure it out. Maybe. If you’re lucky.”
Hands went in pockets.
“You playing for money out here?”
Laughter resonated through the sound board of the guitar.
“If I was playing for money, I’m on the wrong part of the street.”
“Which is the right part?”
“The one everyone with the money is on.”
“Who are you playing for, then?”
“No one. Myself. Same difference. Have to play sometimes to fill up the day.”
“You know anything I’d know?”
“Know everything. Don’t play anything anyone knows, though. It just comes out. Something new every time.”
“Seems so. Could be the age coming on, though. Could be the same song and I don’t know it.”
“So you don’t want a dollar or anything?”
“You got nothing I want.”
“You still walking to the river?”
“Looks like it.”
“Well, walk on, then. You not going to hum; you can go instead.”
“Have a good one.”
“I’ll do what I can.”
The guitar fell into stronger rhythm, breaking a legato on the heavy strings, and falling back to muted whispers as the steps grew quieter and quieter.
Miles away, an old clock struck the hour. It was clearly ten minutes short.