I first lived on the Key Peninsula in the fall of 1971. I came here to withdraw in self-imposed exile
and recover from a time of loss and devastation.
My mother had
been terminally ill for some time. I’d left collage that spring and returned home to Renton to help my father. I found
a night position at Boeing where he worked days. Medical bills had drained his funds and we shared 24-hour care for my mother.
When she passed late that summer, my father became despondent and he surrendered to his sorrow in a car accident shortly after
The family house was in foreclosure due to medical bills.
On top of everything else the economy forced Boeing to cut back and I was laid off within weeks. I suddenly found myself without
a family, a home or a job. Alone and destitute, I had nowhere to go.
When all seemed
hopeless, an older woman I’d worked with called and told me about a house she had recently inherited in the country.
Her grandfather had passed away and left her, his only relative, the home. It was rather distant from Seattle but since the
legal process would take several months before she could sell, she kindly offered to let me stay there as caretaker for the
winter. She’d arranged for the old man’s personal items to be moved to the basement but the house was still furnished
and ready to move in.
That weekend, she led me, and my suitcases the 60 plus miles
into the woods to see the old place.
It sat at the end of a long, rutted drive, secluded in the
middle of 40 acres. She showed me through the three stories. From the living room and kitchen we went up the narrow, steep
stairway to the bedroom, and finally down into the basement filled with boxes of her grandfather’s personal items piled
next to an ancient oil furnace.
Nothing in the house had changed since the fifties. Her grandfather
had preserved everything as it was the day his wife died all those years before. My friend showed me a door in the kitchen
that had been nailed shut. Beyond it was a six-foot drop. Apparently, her grandmother, after nagging her husband to repair
the decaying porch, stepped out one afternoon and the structure collapsed under her. She injured her back and became an invalid
for several months until complications took her. Her Grandfather never replaced the porch, just secured the door and spent
the remainder of his years living with guilt.
As my friend drove away I bounced
the house keys in my hand, a new home and time to create a new beginning.
first week I slept in the bed at the top of the stairwell. The room was open to abrupt steps without a guardrail.
I had to be mindful not to fall over the edge when I woke at night since both the bathroom and the only phone were on the
main floor. The house was precarious but my friend’s generosity coupled with the isolation helped sooth my injured soul.
The first night, as I slept in the musty old bed, the mattress began to shake. Vibrations started gently
but quickly grew in intensity. I woke believing there was an earthquake, jumped from the bed, and tripped down the stairs
nearly falling in an attempt to escape. When I reached the front porch all was quiet. I went back to the living
room and turned on the old TV to hear the news. After a half hour without any announcement, I returned upstairs to the bed
and lay there in the dark. I decided it was most likely the old furnace pounding and to check the ancient machine in the morning
as I fell back to an uncomfortable sleep.
The bed trembled me awake on several
more occasions but after a few, I stopped rushing down the stairs to escape. Try as I may, I could find no explanation
for the vibrations and I finally realized, the moment I rose from the mattress the shaking seemed to cease. I decided
to sleep on the couch downstairs.
During a particularly gusty storm
one evening, the power went out. I pulled an extra comforter from the closet and began a fitful night on the couch without
heat where I tossed and turned in the cold. The storm seemed endless. Night dragged on and much later, I lit a candle to check
the time on the battery-powered clock that sat atop the TV. Wrapped in the blanket, I moved close but couldn’t see the
hour so I picked up the clock and held it close. It struck me that the clock hands were missing. I glanced over my shoulder
into the darkness and chills crawled up my spine. Reluctantly, I returned to the couch, bundled up and sat with the candle
burning until an icy dawn filtered through the trees.
In the cold morning
light I found the clock hands and the small knob that secured them lying on the floor beneath the TV. I convinced
myself the knob must have loosened during my two moves and finally just fell off. I reattached the hands and tightened the
A week later with power restored and the old furnace warming
the house, I just couldn’t sleep. Every loss I’d experienced revisited me and I became crushed by a deep depression. I
imbibed a few glasses of wine and watched The Late Show to distract those thoughts and find some peace. After a long while
I finally faded into an uncomfortable slumber but was set upon by a hideous nightmare that forced me awake. I’d left
the TV on but when I opened my eyes there was only darkness and silence. I had no memory of turning the set off so I cautiously
clicked on the lamp. When I looked at the clock I froze in disbelief. The hands were missing again. They, along
with the knob, lay in a small pile on the floor under the TV. I hunched into a ball on the couch and sat in silence and dim
lamplight the remainder of the night.
When daylight finally came, exhausted, I threw the clock
into the garbage, dug out an old travel clock I’d had for years and wound it. The hands were firmly attached and illuminated
so I could see the time even during storms and a plastic cover protected the face.
months later, on a gray winter afternoon I took a walk in the forest to get some fresh air. I returned home as the sun began
to wane, hungry from my hike and vaguely hopeful. Jobs at Boeing were about to open again and I’d been asked to interview.
In the kitchen I heated a potpie and poured a glass of wine to celebrate. I took my dinner to the living room to watch the
news while I ate. As I turned on the TV, I glanced at the travel clock. On the bottom, inside the plastic crystal, both hands
lay detached from their stem.
Some months later after being called back to work, I joined
my friend for coffee in the Boeing cafeteria. I’d just found an apartment and my three-month commute from
the Peninsula had come to an end. With legalities concluded, she was finally able to put her grandfather’s house on
the market and had spent the previous weekend emptying it for sale.
leaned in and told me she’d found her grandfather’s journal from the time of his wife’s accident. Her grandmother
was confined to the bed at the top of the stairs. Although she was paralyzed, tremors caused her to shake violently. Her husband
spent his nights on the couch down below and listened to her bed shudder until the end.
The doctor had told him there was nothing to be done; it was just a matter of time. He said he refused
to let her go. Desperate to keep her, he believed she would survive if he could only stop time. My friend’s smile filled
with sorrow and her voice became a whisper. “We found a cardboard box in the basement. It was filled with
old clocks. All the hands had been removed.”