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Today, I have a watch that used to belong to my grandfather. I never met him. The watch is an unfussy stainless steel Timex wind-up affair from the mid-1970s, with glow-in-the-dark panels on the hour and minute hands, and a window to tell the date. The numbers printed on the watch’s face hint at the digital while being entirely analog.
It feels like an office man’s watch and my grandfather was an office man. I imagine him putting on a brown or blue suit and wide 1970s tie, climbing into a shiny gold 1970s Chrysler Newport and, as he steers out of the driveway of his tidy, stucco, 1970s home, I see the silver flash of steel on his wrist. I know him only through a few stories, a few photos and the watch.
One day, the watch stopped winding. I sent it to Timex to see if they could fix it, but they sent it back with a note telling me that unfortunately there was nothing they could do because they had stopped making the movements for this era of watch some years earlier.
I checked with some other watch-fixing folks – jewellers and watchmakers – who told me similarly that they didn’t have and couldn’t get the parts for it.
It seemed like the watch’s time had run out for good.
Then, on a weekend visit to a small town for a friend’s wedding, I spotted a watchmaker’s sign and decided to take the number down to ask yet again if the watch could be fixed. This time, I was in luck. The man on the phone said that he could fix it; he would find a movement for the watch, or would make one if he had to. I was elated. I mailed the watch to him, and waited.
Time went by.
I called the watchmaker and he said that the watch was working and he was going to put it back in the mail for me. We would settle up once I received the watch again.
Time went by.
I called the watchmaker and he said that the watch had stopped working and he was going to put a new movement in it for me. He’d let me know when he had put it in the mail.
Time went by.
I called the watchmaker and he said that the watch had been working, but now it had stopped. He’d make another movement for it.
Time went by.
Months passed, and then years. I quit a job and started a PhD. My partner started and finished a professional program. My sister got married. I spent time in England.
I thought about the watch every so often, but not that often. Every few months, I would call the watchmaker. He would tell me that the watch was working or not working, going in the mail this week or going in the mail soon. I seemed to think about the watch most on Fridays, which was a bad day to think about it since the mail doesn’t run on weekends. If the watchmaker was going to put the watch in the mail, it wouldn’t be on a Friday, so I tried not to call him on Fridays.
Every time the watchmaker said the watch was going in the mail this week, I believed him. Then, every time, I forgot about what he had said and when we had spoken. Weeks would pass before I thought about the watchmaker again and wondered where the watch was.
Sometimes I would let myself get worked up into a kind of outrage about how much time it was taking to fix the watch, because I missed it. I started to think that maybe I wanted it back even if it wasn’t working. Sometimes I thought about telling the watchmaker these things, but I never did. His friendly assurances made the stern words evaporate on my tongue.
I never worried that it was lost; I always thought the watch was still sitting on the workbench. I imagined the silver steel catching rays of light, glinting among the tools and wooden surfaces, sparkling in the dimness, surrounded by boxes of gears and springs.
Over time, the watch must have got to know the watchmaker well, much better than I did. They must have developed a relationship, the watchmaker peering at the watch, the watch watching back. The watchmaker replaced the insides of the watch countless times, tinkering with its movements and scrutinizing the spinning cogs and wheels. The watch was staid throughout repeated examinations; placid, waiting to catch up with the world outside the workshop.
Last week, I got a brown paper envelope in the mail. The watchmaker’s address was marked at the top. I tore it open and my watch slid out, the second hand happily ticking away the minutes. The watchmaker has returned my watch to me, working.
Now, nearly four years since I sent it away, my grandfather’s watch sits steely on my wrist, moving through the world and keeping time with me again.
Kathryn MacKay lives in Toronto.