Like Clockwork


A Short Fantasy/Sci- Fi Story



She wondered if she could last much longer without sitting down. The department was quiet, but Mrs Dugworth had that disconcerting way of appearing at your elbow just as you slid your shoes off and subsided gratefully onto the single, forbidden wobbly stool with the split plastic cushion. The spectacles with the thicker left lens would magnify those pale colorless eyes and her moustache would bristle above the thin, bloodless lips.


“ Miss Bennison? Surely you cannot be too exhausted to remain on your feet long enough to attend to the many things undone in this department? I see…for instance that the stock in that bin has its usual film of dust…perhaps you could find the energy to…?” And she would be  gone, sensible flat shoes soundless on the worn linoleum, the faintest trace of lavender left hanging in her sterile wake.


Barbara gritted her teeth and picked up a  rag-toy lying in the passage, its broad blank grin mocking at her own frowning intensity. Despite herself, she settled it back on its shelf, gently, as though arranging the comfort of a child. Surrounded again by its family, it smirked over her shoulder at nothing in particular.


Her dulled senses became aware of a silent scrutiny, Before it really registered there was an increase in her pulse rate and one hand swept up to her hair. He was back again. There behind the train sets, beside the aeroplane kits. Just standing there watching her, a soft toy of some sort in his hands.


And just as beautiful as she remembered him.


His presence was electrifying in that cramped space between the crowded shelves. Aware of her flush, she turned away with a show of tidying her cash desk, afraid to glance up at the small mirror above for fear of what she would see. Her pale skin would be crimson to the ears and her mousy hair doubtless hanging in stray wisps across one cheek. At least she’d put on one of her better dresses this morning, conservative as always, but with a pretty collar that took longer to iron than the rest of the garment.


Since that breathless day last week, she’d wondered without real hope if he’d come back. The lunch-time rush of working mothers and last minute gift seekers had ended, as it always did, at five minutes to two, They scurried away as if on cue and, incongruous at first, in that place of children’s dreams, he’d appeared silently and padded along the shelves, pausing here and there to handle a toy in a curiously intent way, holding each one up and turning it this way and that.


“Good afternoon. May I help you?” she’d asked, conscious of the way he looked at her, a fluffy rabbit in one brown hand, the other fingering the velour of its oversized ears. His eyes were the green of shattered glass and set in a face of such perfection that she could only stare for what seemed  minutes. His voice when he used it was husky and quiet and ran down her spine like a warm hand. At least, as she imagined a warm hand would feel.


“Thank you. Not really…I’m just looking. You have a wide range here. Is this all your stock?”


“Yes. No! Well  … I mean at the moment, yes, but we have more coming next week. The branches rotate their stock every month. Marketing.” She finished, nodding solemnly. “Is there some kind of toy you particularly want?”


“Yes… although I love all toys. There’s something rather sad about some of them, don’t you think?” The green stare was penetrating and yet somehow anxious and vulnerable.


“Sad? Err…well, I don’t know about that. They give a lot of happiness to children.” He was moving away down the shelves, the rabbit hanging head-down as he reached for a boxed baby doll. She followed. His straight, fair hair was long but immaculately styled and cut – like his clothes.


“Are you serious – about loving toys?” It seemed wrong to question the word of this being, but curiosity crowded  her awe. Then he turned those incredible eyes on her again and smiled. Showing teeth as predictably perfect as the rest of him.


“Oh yes…don’t you?” perfect brows knitted and graceful brown hands stilled for the moment. Again there was an anxious note in the question.


“Well, of course I do. I adore them – any toy. Otherwise I wouldn’t be working here, would I?”  The right answer seemed to be important. She hoped it didn’t sound scornful. Pleasing him with the right answer seemed an important thing.


He looked immensely pleased.  “No… I suppose not.” Then the flaxen head  turned away to a display of lead farm animals, slender fingers touching, feeling and exploring in a strangely yearning way .


She stood there in the empty department, her lone customer occupied in his intent way with the little figures on the shelf. Hands clasped behind her, she watched her feet slow-march down the aisle in his wake. Superfluous, but bound by customer care rules and her own fascination and need.

Lost in her own reverie, she was slow to absorb his softly worded question.


“Would you come out to dinner with me?” He was still at last, hands thrust deep into trouser pockets and green eyes hopeful. Fearful of a refusal. Even from this plain, mousey girl, whose flush was spreading, fast and hot, as realization dawned.


“Aaah well … aah ... I … ah,” she managed, as she scrambled for a semblance of dignity. Some hazy recollection whispered fiercely about the need not to appear over eager. The treachery of her own voice answered, a strange, light voice she hardly recognized.

“That would be very nice… I mean ... you – I don’t know you, really, I mean …” and there her voice deserted here, along with reason. Because he smiled again and the corners of his perfect eyes crinkled in pleasure.


“I’m so sorry !   I’m Ken.  Good - thank you for accepting. Where will I find you?”

“Aah well, I ... ah” came out before her address and a wish that it was somewhere more salubrious. But his emerald eyes creased again and that low voice whispered acknowledgement  and a goodbye before he turned silently on his heel and left.


At last, the store closed with the complacent inevitability of huge unfeeling things, and she found herself standing at her bus stop as she had for the past six years. Alone in the press of humanity, separated from the next faceless soul by proximity.


Tonight the warmth in her kindled a fire in her eyes so that people smiled and rustled their newspapers, glancing again at the slim, plain girl with that indefinable sparkle and eagerness in her.


As she swung aboard the bus and into a seat, she analyzed her feelings. This was irresponsible.  An unknown stranger, albeit devastatingly handsome, had asked her out and like a giddy schoolgirl she’d accepted. Reckless again, she put away all doubts and leaned forward in her seat watching the scenery, such as it was, wishing the journey away.


When her doorbell rang, she’d been ready for twenty minutes and yet she paused before the plain pine mirror in the hall to pat away imaginary stray hair and check her makeup for the tenth time.


As the door swung open, he was standing there, dispelling her worst fears. And the smile he unleashed was sufficient to make her forget any doubt, flashing across the flowers in his hand and flowing down her body like sunlight on naked skin.


“Are you ready?” as though it was conceivable that she might not be.


The dinner was good, although she hardly tasted it. They shared a bottle of wine and it made her light and found things for her to say. This was what it should be like, she thought. Sharing food and wine and topics of interest with someone. She was glad he didn’t smoke afterwards – it would have been something they couldn’t share.


It was surprising how swiftly the evening passed, and how soon it was that they were standing outside the little restaurant he’d chosen. He helped her with her coat, buttoning it against the slight chill. She straightened his tie and he caught her hands in his, drew her to him and kissed her urgently. Arms linked, they walked silently back to her flat, and she knew with surprising calm that he was going to spend the night. This magical evening could end no other way.


It seemed natural - an unspoken thing, that they would not turn on the lights. She took his hand and guided him to her bedroom, where the streetlights outside cast their shadows huge across one wall. Detached at first, she watched the silhouettes undressing each other, touching and caressing and kissing. It seemed less intimate than what they were doing and when they sank back onto the bed and the shadows disappeared, she closed her eyes and gave in to her body and the moment.


He was gentle. He was tireless and yet businesslike. Even in her growing enjoyment, it disturbed her, and then suddenly she was aware that he was slowing. It was as if he had tired himself in his efforts to please her. She kissed him and whispered in his ear

“It’s all right. Rest a while. There’s no need ….” He continued for a moment and then rolled off her, clearly exhausted, but hardly breathing. She propped herself up on an elbow and stroked his hair.


“I didn’t…why is it so hard ?” he murmured wearily.  “ I wanted it to be good – like other people. How do they manage…? The key…it’s,” ….


Anxiously, she folded her arms around him, stroking his shoulders, in her inexperience not knowing what to say, helpless to comfort him – to give him  strength without expectation. Compared to his confident male passion at the outset of this, he seemed so childlike now.


Faintly, he murmured, almost asleep in her arms  “In…my jacket…please fetch it….”


“Hush Ken ,.. it doesn’t matter…we don’t need  anything - just us….” She hugged him to her breasts and kneaded at the taut muscles of his back.


So it was that she found the square metal plate between his shoulder blades with its little round opening.


And screamed and screamed and screamed while he lay there motionless, staring at the ceiling with those perfect green glass eyes.


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