From early morning to deep into the evening, Amory’s father was in his workshop. He was always hidden away in the recesses of that forbidden room, and the only trace of his father’s existence was the framed photographs littered around the creaking house and the golden light seeping through the crack from underneath the heavy door.
Things hadn’t always been like this, of course. They rarely ever were. But perhaps, that was why it hurt as much as it did. For in reality, his father had once very much been a kind, caring, and attentive father. Before, his father would spend a few hours in his study while he himself went to school. And when he came home after, he would then spend the rest of his day with his father and his beautiful mother. But time had passed since his mother had been with them, and during that time, a considerable amount of changes had taken place. One of those changes being that school had let out for the holiday, and the other being that he hadn’t seen his father’s face in a number of days.
The last he had seen of his father had been when his father had been sitting in his chair, bent forward, by his frail mother’s bedside. The man hadn’t even attended his mother’s funeral, having preferred to grieve away from public scrutiny and with the solace and comfort of his studio whereas Amory, at the age of 8, had had to suffer through the pitying looks all of the adults had given him as he stood there in that charcoal black suit under the clear blue sky before the somber stone engraved with his mother’s name: Charlotte A. Sayre.
The only comfort from that horrible experience had been the weather; his mother would have hated it if it had been dreary. It wasn’t just that she disliked grey skies – though they had moved from the city to the countryside when he had been but an infant; it was more that she hated clichés. There had been very few things that annoyed his mother more than clichés had, so he had been grateful for the weather’s charity. At least something had been genuine in their intentions at the funeral.
But once the adults had paid their dues as demanded by proper society, the weather returned to the way it always was, and Amory was once again left alone as he had been when his mother had been bedridden. Only this time, he was worse-off as then, he hadn’t had a recluse for a father. Then, he had had at least a father to comfort him. But now, his one source of solace that he had to his name was his mother’s pocket-watch. His father had crafted it for her in place of a ring when he had proposed as his parents had eloped before his father became well-known for his artisanship.
It was a thing of beauty. Almost as beautiful as his mother had been, with its engraving of the sun and the moon on its lid and a cheerful, beaming silver, he kept it on his person at all times to remember the promise his mother had made him when she had pressed it into his hand a week before the last time he saw either of his parents. The love his parents had for him, she had told him, would cease to be the moment time itself stood still. And though he didn’t much appreciate tawdriness of the promise, he did appreciate the intention. If his mother had gone as far as to say something akin to a cliché, then she must truly mean it, and though he had cringed and wrinkled his nose, he had been secretly relieved. It would do anybody good to hear that they were loved, and as trying a year as the one that Amory had gone through, it was a much needed salve.
After the burial, he spent much of his time abandoning his former life and filling his new one with a single hobby – the hobby of sitting by the window in his playroom and watching the clouds pass by as he pressed the cool glass face to his ear and listened to the soothing tick, tick, ticking of the watch. Of course, it was nothing compared to his mother’s embrace and his father’s smile, but he had very options open to him at the moment, so he would simply have to content himself with what he had. After all, the study was locked from the inside. He knew. He had tried on numerous occasions.
So one morning, when the handle to the study finally turned at exactly 3 o’clock in the morning – and he knew the time because of the great-grandfather clock standing at landing of the sweeping stairway – the boy froze. An unsettling mixture of glee and apprehension overcoming him, he stared at the tiny slit of golden light nearly blinding him in the darkness of the early morning until he was finally able to muster up enough courage to cautiously peer inside. His breath snatched away and replaced with giddiness, he gently nudged the door open, expecting to find his father at his desk and instead finding…
An empty room.
But the absence of the room’s sole occupant wasn’t what immediately caught his attention. No, what caught Amory’s attention was how messy and unorganized the room was. His father was characterized by two things – how tall and spindly he was, and his precision and tidiness. He’d never have let his workshop all into chaos like this, with cogs and springs littering the floor and his sketches and blueprints scattered about like colorful leaves on an autumn afternoon. And though he looked around him in puzzlement, the disarray was nothing compared to the gold and sliver puddles decorating the room’s boring wooden floor. There were drops here, drops there that dimly glowed in the light of the lamp. He didn’t know what the source of it was – his mother had been the painter in the family, not his father – but whatever it was, he was careful not to ouch it. He didn’t feel much for explaining to Emily how he had gotten himself a silver thumb or a golden pinky. He did, however, try his best to bring some order to the room before he lost interest and rediscovered it in a small wooden chest lying on its side, asleep under a blanket covered in his father’s familiar sharp, angular cursive.
He’d never seen the box before, which was strange as his father had ceased all work when his mother’s illness had taken a turn for the worse. It wasn’t very big; he could easily carry it, though the task required both of his hands. Its shape was reminiscent of his mother’s jewelry box, though it was unadorned unlike that beautifully carved chest, and that this one had a rather crude lock muzzling its mouth shut. The boy held it up to his ear and gently rattled it, listening for any telltale noises that would hint to him its secret.
He heard nothing but a snobbish silence.
He scratched his crown of chestnut hair before tucking the box under his arm. Scrambling up, he slunk to his room, where he reached under his bed for the secret pouch of lost keys. He only had five, but five was five more than he would have had without his uncle, who shared a relationship with keys as his own father had a relationship with clocks. Burning with curiosity, he went through the five keys quickly enough, only to be left not with some secret treasure but with disappointment and a silk pouch of useless keys.
Perhaps his father would tell him what was in the box. If his father still loved him, that was, though his mother’s pocket-watch had yet to freeze, so perhaps he still did and he would tell him. Either way, he hung the pouch around his neck and left his room to wander through the old house. It was Sunday today, which mean Emily wasn’t here to scold him for calling out for his father, so the house seemed especially large and especially creaky.
When a ten-minute hunt yielded as many results as had his keys, Amory stood in the corridor, lost as to what to do next. And maybe a little afraid, as his father had apparently… Well, had apparently fled.
He bit his lip. What was going to become of him now? He had no parents to speak of, now that his father had fled. Emily could take him in perhaps, but he thought of living with the old maid, as kind as she was, only made him miserable. He didn’t want to live with Emily; he wanted to live with his father. Because even if his father had ignored him, he hadn’t ignored his father and very much wished to be happy with at least him. He wanted to go back to the time when his mother and father had smiled at him, and his father had put him on his shoulders when they went into town and saw the enormous clock in the town aware that his father had designed. He wanted to be tucked in by his parents again, and he wanted to sit in his mother’s lap as his father told him a story. And Amory knew that his mother couldn’t come back. He knew that she had been lost forever. But if he couldn’t have his mother back, he at least wanted his father.
He tried to swallow, but strangely, there was something too big in his throat. He desperately blinked at the austere portraits of his father, and his father before him, and his father before him, and so on and so forth, as he tried to hold back his tears. He was the ninth generation in the House of Sayre; though his father had abandoned his position as the landed gentry and a gentleman, the blood that ran through his veins was still blood that was defined by dignity, prestige, and honor – the blood of men who did not collapse into sniveling little babies.
Alas, being only 8 and having recently lost his father in addition to losing his mother, the tears began to well in his eyes until they were streaming down his cheeks. And it wasn’t until that moment as he stood in the hallway, bathing in the early morning light with a mysterious box under one arm, his key pouch hanging around his neck, as ruddy, tear-stained cheeks and swollen eyes adorned his face when the great-grandfather clock finally spoke to him.