Just Like Clockwork

truckGeorge tensed in deep concentration as he tried to turn the key of his clockwork truck. His fingers were barely strong enough to make one full turn. He gritted his teeth and pressed until his little fingers were turning white but still could not wind it up fully. He took hold of a pair of nutcrackers, which he used to get the extra leverage. Smiling confidently, he turned the key until the truck was fully wound. “Just one more turn,” he said to himself when suddenly there was a loud click, which he instinctively knew had broken something inside.  He let go of the nutcrackers and placed the truck down on the carpet, but there was no movement. It was dead, stuck. A tear ran down his cheek. Dad would be furious.

He had been given the truck only now that he had reached his sixth birthday. His father had owned it since his own childhood shortly after the Great War. His father, George’s grandfather had returned home from “The Kaiserschlacht” , after being shot through the shoulder. He had lain many months on the Somme and other makeshift hospitals, before finally being returned to England after the war ended.

He had returned a broken man, never able to work again or live meaningfully during the rest of his short life. George’s father, Edward, had only one memory of the war veteran. That was the sparkling new clockwork truck which he had managed to bring back with him on his final homecoming. Shortly afterwards Edward’s father had taken his own life with a German Luger, in a disused barn outside of their village of Tootle.

“I knew I should have waited until you were older,” shouted Edward at his son, cuffing him lightly around the ear as he spoke. “You need to treat such things more carefully in future.”

Edward promised to have a look at the clockwork truck at the weekend, however events took over and he never did get around to fixing his favourite childhood toy. It was left in the back of the toy cupboard with a number of other old broken bits and bobs, never to see the light of day again during his lifetime.

*****

George was an only child. During childhood he was known to be sulky, bad-tempered and quite timid. He would often overhear other adults, such as his Aunt Dolly, say that he was a difficult or problematic child, which probably didn’t help to improve either his sulkiness or his timidity.

As he grew up, things didn’t change for the better. He lost his mother to cancer during his teens, and spent a large part of his working life on North Sea oil rigs. He was a loner and the life suited him. He would spend his working hours engrossed in the maintenance of drills, pumps and other heavy machinery, and his free time gambling on various share investments. He had no time for social life or people in general.  His sulkiness evolved into surliness in adulthood, and his colleagues generally stayed clear of him.

One day he received a telegram to say that his father was taken ill and had been brought into hospital. It was 1979 and together with the bad weather conditions and transport strikes during the Winter of Discontent, it took him nearly two days to finally arrive at his father’s bedside. Edward had a severe heart attack while working in his garden. A neighbour had called the emergency number and met George on his arrival. The diagnosis was not good. Edward would need a triple heart bypass operation, a new procedure with significant risks to survival.

Edward died the next day on the operating table.

George had no real interest to sort out his father’s home and personal effects and couldn’t be bothered with organising estate agents to sell the house.  So, as quickly as he could after the funeral was over, he gave a local solicitor Power Of Attorney which empowered her to clear the house and sell off the estate. George wanted to have no more to do with it except pass the proceeds to his bank account, which was already quite considerable after years working on the oil rig and no vices to drain his funds. He also arranged for the solicitor to put any personal effects into storage.

And so, he went back to his mundane life on the oil rigs. He continued until 1999 when he reached normal retirement age, without wife, children or anyone he could call his friend. He remained a miserable, lonely old soul throughout his life. Behind the grim outward appearance though, was a very insecure and rather gentle person. He often pondered over the reason for living. He was well aware that he had never asked anyone for help but equally he realised more and more, that he had never done anything for anyone either. “What a poor specimen of the human race,” he would sometimes mutter to himself.

Upon retirement, when he had more time to think, he remembered the personal effects of his father’s which were in storage. He arranged for them to be delivered to his home in the next village. Three large cartons arrived. One was full of pictures and paperwork. Most of the photographs meant nothing to him. From the first carton, only a small handful of photographs remained after sorting. The rest went into the incinerator.

The second carton was full of books, some handed down from his grandfather. Many of these found a home in his bookcase. The last carton was full of toys. He remembered hardly any of them and quickly repacked the carton and hoisted it up into his loft. Some of the toys were from the Victorian era and he couldn’t bring himself to simply throw them out, but equally had no motivation to sell them.

“What a poor specimen of the human race”, he often heard himself saying and vowed to do something useful with his life before it was over. Time, however, was running out.

*****

On 28th January 2006 George Partridge died of a heart attack. He was 72 years old. He left no known family or friends; therefore a public welfare funeral was arranged by the local council. It was a lonely miserable funeral, reflecting George’s lonely miserable life.

The house was sold at auction. His estate became the property of the state as there was no last will and testament to be found. Despite his high earning career and inheritance of his own father’s estate some years before, there was hardly anything left after his death, apart from the house.

*****

Jim Rigby was a young twenty-something failed architecture student. He was almost the exact opposite personality to George. He was outgoing, always good natured and lived life with a permanent optimistic smile on his countenance. He was well liked and never short of friends, of both sexes.

His only real fault was his gullible generosity. He had been taken in more than once by a sob story. Once, while at university, he lent half of his university grant to a friend in trouble, only to find that he had disappeared the following day. He spent the rest of that semester working nights in a bar to make ends meet.

Now, finally at the age of twenty-eight, after dropping out of university and spending a couple of years odd-jobbing, he had landed a semi-skilled machinists job for a company making small components for aerospace. The pay was modest, but he could begin to think about a family and settling down.

He saw an advertisement for a small house which was to be sold by auction in the village of Tootle. He almost passed it by as he believed that such sales only went to organised developers, but something made him re-read that notice. He sat dreaming what it would be like to own his own house and raise a family. He thought about a simple and quiet life with two lovely children and beautiful loving wife.

After a long thoughtful sigh he decided to go to the auction, just to see if such a dream could be possible to come true. The house was in a terrible state. The plaster was hanging off many of the walls, a large crack showed some potential structural damage. The wiring needed replacing, as did much of the plumbing. The only good thing that could be said about the house was the price. It was inside Jim’s range. He made notes, estimating the work necessary to make the house liveable, and the cost and time involved. He decided that he could and should have a go. Such an opportunity may never repeat itself. He bid and got the house for a snip at forty-two thousand pounds.

 

*****

The next three years of Jim’s life consisted of work, work and more work. He lived with a motivation that he had not known before. This was his home, and a chance to fulfil his life’s dream.

He also met Jody, a beautiful ballet dancer. They were an instant match and were married at the same time that Jim finished the main work on his small house. There followed the traditional family events. After two years Jody became pregnant. She gave birth to two beautiful identical twin girls. They could not have had a happier time of their lives. By the time the girls were on their feet, Jody was again giving birth to a blue-eyed son.

Jim sat out in his small garden, sipping a glass of Rioja, marvelling at his luck and the fact that his life’s dream was finally coming true. “If only time could stand still for a while so that he could soak it up more,” he muttered to himself.

Jody began teaching ballet at their local dance school as soon as the children started school. Financially, life was hard, but that never detracted from their contentment and happiness.

That was until the crisis hit the country. As money became scarce, air travel declined and some of the major airlines began to cancel orders for new aircraft, the airframe suppliers found it hard to keep going. Jim’s company were soon laying off staff on a three-day week. Soon, redundancies were made. Jim survived the first round, but was less lucky in the second. He soon found himself out of work with three small children and very little to live on.

Jody didn’t fare any better. As hard times hit, families began to cut back on non-essentials, of which children’s dancing lessons were first in line. Jody was let go soon after Jim’s redundancy.

In between looking for a new job and queuing at the local job centre, Jim decided to work on his home to occupy his time, and also because he found it quite therapeutic as an abstraction to his money worries. He planned to replace the rain guttering at the rear of the house, as it was rusted through.

Working at a height of over six metres and using two ladders to step between, the inevitable happened. Jim landed on the concrete terrace with a thump. His back gave out a large CRACK and his legs buckled under him.

*****

Six months after the accident Jim could walk albeit only with the help of crutches. Mortgage payments had run into arrears and Jody knew that the inevitable must happen. They would need to sell the house.

Jim’s depression only made things worse. His dreams were being shattered, but in the hardest way possible. What had he done to deserve such a run of bad luck, he would often ask himself. Jody tried hard to console him and give him her strength but she was fighting a losing battle.

She had heard Jim mention an old carton of rubbish that was still in the attic, leftover from the previous owner. A quick perusal when they had bought the house showed just a load of old toys. Jody thought that there may be something for the children to occupy themselves during the long hot summer holidays, especially as they could not afford any other treats.

With great difficulty she managed to manoeuvre the carton down into the hallway and then through into the back garden. “Here children”, she said. “Have a look if you can find anything interesting in here to play with, but be very careful as some of them look a little rusty.”

Luke was first to the box, wrenched open the lid and drew out an old steam engine. Emma found a golliwog and asked her mother what it was. “Oh it is just a ..er….doll darling.”

Louise’s eyes lit up when she saw a dusty old truck that looked as though it was even older than Granma.

“Look Mummy. Look what I have found. It is a lorry.”

Luke wasn’t to be outdone and made a quick grab for it. “I opened the box therefore I get first choice Louise. Give it to me.”

Louise and Luke tugged and pulled, each straining with all of their might to get the better of the other, until Jody saw them. “STOP THAT AT ONCE,” she yelled.

They were each so shocked by their mother’s sudden and unusual outburst that they both let go at the same time.

The little clockwork truck fell to the floor with a thud. The jolt must have released something inside its clockwork engine, because it immediately began to roll along the floor towards the far wall.

All three children were so excited to see the hundred year old clockwork truck trundling along proudly. Eventually it stopped when it came head on with the wall. Jody had no idea about vintage toys but was shrewd enough to think that it may be worth a bob or two, something of which they were sorely in need at that moment.

She walked over and picked up the truck. It was still in excellent condition and she could vouch that it still worked perfectly. She inspected toy and found that the driver’s door opened on little pinned hinges. She pulled open the door and saw a tiny folded piece of paper inside.

Jody sat on the floor in front of her three completely engrossed children and slowly unfolded the paper. There was a message written in a very shaky handwriting as if written by a very old person.

Dear finder of this letter,

My name is George Partridge. I was born in 1934 and given this little truck by my father when I was six years old. I have lived a miserable life of meanness and selfishness, but wish to die knowing that I did something good, something that I can be proud of when going to my grave. I pray that you, the finder of this letter, are worthy of what you are about to receive. Please use it to help your family and others around you, to make their lives better and rich in generosity to their fellow man. I entrust you with my legacy to make this happen, where I failed.

In the front room at the north corner you will find a small black ‘X’ burned into the floor. There you will find everything.

George Partridge

*****

Jim and Jody sat in the corner on the front room. The children were all eyes and ears.

Jim slowly levered the carpet away from the corner of the floor. The ‘X’, less that the size of a penny, revealed itself immediately. There was no sign of a loose board or screws to indicate an opening. Jim sat for a second or two, thinking hard.

Jody suddenly noticed something. “Jim, look,” she blurted out. “Right in the centre of the ‘X’ is a tiny little hole.” It is barely visible.”

Jim took a small pointed screwdriver and pushed it into the hole. A coiled spring began whirring and cracking. They all jumped up in alarm. The floorboard began to shake and then move downwards before sliding across and in under its neighbour, leaving a gaping hole in the floor.

Jody raced for a torch, which she handed to Jim. They all peered down into the hole to see piles upon piles of bank notes. George Pritchard had placed his whole life’s savings and that of his father under the floor.

Jim gasped, took one glance at his radiant wife and said, “Jody, you know what this means?”

Jody smiled and thought for a few seconds before replying,” Yes Jim. It means that we are going to fulfil the dying wishes of a stranger called George Partridge.