Yun Wei received her MFA in Poetry from Brooklyn College and a Bachelor’s in International Relations from Georgetown University. Her writing awards include the Geneva Literary Prizes for Fiction and Poetry and the Himan Brown Poetry Fellowship. Her work has appeared in Roanoke
Review, Apt Magazine, Word Riot, The Brooklyn Review, and other journals. For the last few years, she had been working on global health in Switzerland, where she consistently failed at mountain sports. Visit her Web site at thepomegranateway.blogspot.com.
Paul watches the girl with the orchid cross the street. Her skirt bounces as the orchid bounces: white blossoms with purple freckles and necks so delicate they hardly look up for the job, and even though she steadies it with one hand around the top stem and one under the pot, with her every step, the flowerheads gasp, and he can’t help feeling that a violence is being done.
He straightens his little blue pills next to the coffee cup. One and two.
This was the first sidewalk café he could find. The table outside on the border of the café and dry cleaning store next door looked well-balanced and superbly lit by the sun, a perfect spot to start work on his mother’s clock.
He calls it the lady clock though there are lilies growing on it too. It’s a bronze and cherry wood turn-of-the-century mantel clock. “Terribly art nouveau,” his mother used to say. On the left side, the mouths of the gilt bronze lilies gape and stick out their tongues. Leafy vines circle around. On the right side is the bronze lady, tendrils rising from the drapery of her dress, one leg folded in, spine and arms curved around the face of the clock.
When his mother left, she said, “If I don’t come back, I want you to dismantle this clock.”
Of course that’s what she said! She had picked up the clock from the fireplace mantel and put it in his hands. After all, Paul was eleven when he disassembled his first radio, thirteen when he learned how to put it back together, then the microwave, fifteen was the year of the television set.
When she left, his mother told him, “Twenty three years of taking care of you. I’m going to go climb a mountain.”
Low season for avalanche. And still.
The clock lies face down on the table. He opens his miniature toolbox and selects a screwdriver. He lines the freed screws next to his little pills. Three and four. The back panel wobbles on the table. Clock guts are out.
He could have dismantled the clock in the apartment, but he was worried the parts would scuttle away like roaches. The tinkle of their little nail-legs. When he sneaked out the door, his uncle didn’t budge from his belly or the couch. Too much wine at lunch.
“Uncle Maximus the Penniless,” that’s what his mother used to call him. “Uncle Maximus the Languorous,” Paul would answer back.
Once a year, his uncle would visit them in Geneva in a rusty station wagon and try to convince his mother to move to Spain. “And what will I do there? I have this one,” she would say, waving a gnawed chicken leg at Paul.
This time he stayed longer than his usual four days. It was a week after his mother left that they got the call from the Alpine Ranger. And now, more wine at lunch!
Uncle Maximus has been smoking a lot more in the bathroom too. A perpetual cough lives in his throat. His cigarettes are feminine and thin, and Paul breathes in the powdery perfumed smoke when he goes to pee.
Paul manages to dislodge the hour wheel. The minute wheel comes next, then the hammer pins. He jumps in his chair when a screw scampers across the table and leaps into his cappuccino. It leaves a hole in the foam. “I won’t be needing this anymore,” he hands the cup to the waiter.
The waiter and the woman at the next table look at him and his facedown clock and bend their eyebrows.
Next he uses the pincers and puts the key wrench on the side just in case. He extracts the hammer lever, ratchet wheel, click pin, rack hook and stop lever. He hummingbird hovers over the click spring.
To extract the click spring, he has to pin down the front of the clock by the lady’s bronze dress pleats, and pull. A tendril. A vine. A vein.
Looking up, he sees that the girl with the orchid has walked two blocks down, flowers and skirt still carefully bouncing, though from this distance looks more like a shiver. The dismembered clock parts he lines up by size: the striking barrel is last.
The woman at the next table is dialing her phone slowly, one digit at a time, and looks at him between presses.
His mother had pressed her hands on his cheeks the day she left. She called him Monkey Feet because of his big toes that stick out like thumbs, and the thinness of his leftover toes make his feet look long, capable of curling around a tree branch.
“Monkey feet,” she had said. “Don’t forget to take your pills.”
That was right before she put the clock in his hands. “If I don’t come back, I want you to deposit the clock. Get it away from your stupid uncle. He’ll sell it for a pack of cigarettes.”
Did she say deposit or dismantle? There was the bank key zipped up in a leather pouch in her nightstand drawer. Zip and close.
Two policemen are here. They ask Paul what he is doing. They want him to go with them. Clock, parts and tools in the plastic bag.
“No dismantling after lunch, must be a law against it,” says Paul.
The policemen look at each other and wiggle their heads. The back seat of their car is stiff and smells just cleaned. As they drive past, the girl with the orchid looks at Paul and the side of her mouth drops just a little. She has auburn freckles, and he is in love.
The policemen tell Paul to stay still, don’t press your face on the window so hard. One of the policemen shakes the plastic bag, makes the clock parts slap each other.
“Steady,” says Paul. “I still need to put her back together.”