Sunday, September 11, 2016

Twisting Through Time, Part 3

Continued from Parts 1 and 2 ... 

Before I had a chance to answer, Sir Percy turned to the right and began to walk as if leading the way in this world that didn't seem to suit him. I followed, walking along beside him. I noticed he kept to my left, always walking between me and the street.

“What do I like to do?” I said, remembering his question. “What do I like to do?” It wasn't that it was a particularly hard question. I just felt at a loss describing anything in my every day life to this man who was seemingly a visitor from the past.

“Do you go to the opera?”

“Well, I've only gone to the opera once that I can remember.”

“Ah. Which one did you see?”

Phantom of the … Well, technically, I don't think it's an opera at all, although it comes very close.” There was more music than dialogue in the play. Didn't that make it a kind of opera?

“Phantom … I don't think I'm familiar with that one,”said Sir Percy.

I then began wondering if the book, Phantom of the Opera, which was a lot older than the musical, might be more familiar to him and wondering what year the book was published. What was this? Was I really accepting the idea that Sir Percy was a visitor from a past time? Maybe Grandpa and I were both perfectly sane, and it was Sir Percy who had delusions. Possibly, he had done so much reading of history that he now believed himself to belong to the Victorian era. I thought about the delusional “Teddy Roosevelt” Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace.

“Sir Percy, are you Sir Percy every day or are there days when you are, say, … Teddy Roosevelt?”

He looked at me, his brow furrowed. “You ask very strange questions, and I don't know who this Teddy gentleman is.”

It was a very strange question. It would only seem un-strange – perhaps – if you had the sort of madness I was trying to uncover.

“I'm sorry,” I said. “I'm just trying to make sense of this strange situation and you popping in from wherever you pop in from.”

As we walked along, I sometimes saw Sir Percy taking in the atmosphere. We were wandering through a charming downtown area. We passed stone sidewalk planters overflowing with vinca, a woman walking her Yorkshire terrier and a well-dressed businessman walking along with his newspaper and coffee.

Passersby were taking note of Sir Percy too, with wide curious eyes and smiles. I was glad of this, because it made me feel more sure of my sanity. No one outright gawked, but they certainly looked at him a bit longer than they might at someone in more commonplace dress. They'd smile and turn to their companions, making small talk, likely chatting curiously about what new play must be underway at the local theater.

A male cyclist in fitted cycling shorts glided towards us when Sir Percy took me by the crook of the arm and quickly spun me around to face a potted hibiscus. “Good heavens!” said Sir Percy. “What sort of gentleman … Why he's practically naked! I'm terribly sorry you had to see that, Miss Rose.” I noted that he didn't call me Laurie and that he knew my last name, likely learned from my grandfather on his previous poppings-in.

I bit my lip to try and keep from laughing. Dare I tell him that this scandalous sight was not so uncommon and that I was accustomed to it by now? Ah well. I was practically nose to nose with a bright fuschia opened hibiscus bloom, and it very well might be a prettier sight than the cyclist in Spandex. After a time, we wandered once more down the sidewalk.

I was actually very curious what he thought of the modern bicycle and how different it was from the penny farthing with its giant front wheel, but I was afraid to broach the subject relating to its scandalous rider and didn't want to be accused of bringing up an unladylike subject.

“Ah, where were we?” asked Sir Percy. “I know, yes, what you like to do for leisure?”

“Well, sometimes, my friends and I like to go to the movies.”


“Well, you're familiar with photography?”


“Well, it's a little like photography, what we'd call still photography, only the camera captures action, not just still images, and the action is then projected onto a screen.” This was only true in part. How could I even begin to explain animation, particularly computer generated imagery and the computers used to create such effects or any special effects really?


We would approach a movie theater before long, and I began to worry that Sir Percy would suggest we go there. I wasn't sure Sir Percy was ready for the movies. There might be F-bombs or actual bombs exploding or actors or actresses in states of dress and undress more scandalous than women in trousers and men in cycling shorts. Of course, I could take him to a G-rated animated film in 3D. He might not be morally shocked, but it could certainly wow the waistcoat off of him.

“Of course, on some days,” I said, “we just go to the mall.”

“The mall?”

“Right. It's stores. It's not like these little side by side shops here. It's a giant building filled with stores, giant stores, and you can buy anything there.”


“Right, clothes and shoes and food, well, prepared, cooked food ...” How could I even explain some of the other items in stores at the mall like cell phones, DVDs, Xbox games … “Games …”

“Like parlor games?”

“Yes?” My affirmatory statement came out more like a question. The Xbox was played in the living room or den and that was sort of a parlor, wasn't it?

“And other amusements, and, you just have to see it to believe it.”

“Well, Miss Rose, let's go to the mall.” I suppose a lot of ladies long to hear a gentleman say this, but I kept on thinking that this was one social experiment that was going to be quite an adventure.

To be continued …

© 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Twisting Through Time, Part 2

Continued from Part 1 ...

I slowly turned around to face the gentleman behind me. He was still there, and he smiled. This was both terrifying and calming at the same time, terrifying because the act made him seem less like Ebenezer Scrooge's “undigested bit of beef” and calming because he at least seemed friendly. “You startled me,” I said and gave him what I hoped was a smile. “Are you … an actor?”

“An actor? No, indeed! My father would never approve of me being an actor.” He had removed his hat, a bowler, and was looking down at it, almost as if embarrassed.

“I'm sorry. I just thought, by your unusual clothes, that you might be an actor.” There was a historical home nearby that was a sort of small local museum. It sometimes held events with actors in period clothing.

 “Unusual clothes? But my dress is not as unusual as yours. I could ask you if you were an actress … with your boyish dress.”

 “Boyish? Am I boyish?” I was wearing khaki pants and a knit top in dusty rose.

 “You're wearing trousers. It hardly seems decent. I can see your legs.”

 “Well, it shouldn't be surprising that I have legs, is it?” I was still looking over myself.

 “I suppose you're a progressive type. Come to think of it, I have a cousin who wears trousers when she goes riding. She says it's much easier than riding side saddle.”

 “I imagine she's right,” I said. Well, if he wasn't an actor, my mysterious gentleman was certainly good at acting like he had stepped out from a past time. Uncle Stephen could be a prankster. “I know. My Uncle Stephen hired you … didn't he?”

“I'm a gentleman. I'm not hired by anybody to do anything,” he said.

 “Oh, you're good. You're really good.”

 “I try to be, although I don't know how you, a stranger, can be a judge of my moral uprightness.”

 “Perhaps we should go downstairs.” I don't know why I suggested it, except that it seemed awkward to be on this floor all alone with this Dickensian Ghost of Christmases Past. Downstairs had its own problems though, and I was about to bring my grandfather face to face with one of his own fantasies, or was he my own fantasy? This was headache-inducing. Could he even go downstairs? Would he just float down?

 Suddenly, I reached out for his forearm and gave it a pinch.


 “I'm sorry,” I said. “I was just trying to see if you were solid.”

 “I'm quite reliable.”

 “No, I mean … I was trying to see if you were tangible, but it's really yourself you are supposed to pinch to see if you're dreaming.”

“Well, let's go downstairs. I always keep a flask of smelling salts about my person. You shall be better presently.” I turned, this time to head to the stairs. Weren't smelling salts to help prevent Victorian women from fainting? Maybe he didn't know what else to offer for my particular ailment.

 We went downstairs, and I was almost surprised that my nameless gentleman's footsteps made noise behind me and creaked the steps. Grandpa stood up as we came down, his blue eyes bright and wide. “How delightful! Sir Percy!” said Grandpa.

 “Wait,” I said to Grandpa. “You've met him? You know him?” I leaned in closer and half-whispered. “You can see him?”

 “Of course, dear.”

 I turned to Sir Percy. “You've been here before?”

 “I pop in now and then.”

 “How … exactly do you pop in?”

 “That ...” A downward glance. “Is difficult to explain.”

 “I have some customers,” said Grandpa. “Perhaps you should take Sir Percy out for a walk.”

 “Oh no,” I said. “We are not ready for 'out.' We are only ready for 'in,' and the in-er the better.” Like maybe in a mental hospital. Was it possible for two people to have the exact same hallucination simultaneously? And supposing that Sir Percy wasn't a product of either my or Grandpa's imagination, “in” was full of antique things and an antique man; whereas “out” encompassed cars and motorcycles and people using cell phones and iPods and, well, just a different culture than any Dickens had ever known.

“I'm sorry,” said Percy, feeling around in his coat pocket. “I did promise to administer the smelling salts. You'll feel better.” Then, turning to Grandpa, “It's good for hysterics.” I allowed Sir Percy to hold his flask of smelling salts to my nose, since it never seemed to do Victorian ladies in novels any harm. Catching a bit of the ammonia scent, I decided this was an experience I'd rather avoid in the future.

“Better?” asked Sir Percy.

 “Yes.” I decided I shouldn't act ambiguous or I might get another whiff of smelling salts.

 “Shall we go out?”

 I nodded, though I don't know why. Stepping out the front door, I almost expected Sir Percy to evaporate in this atmosphere that didn't seem to suit him. He didn't. The street was lined with old Victorian homes, but the street itself was busy with modern cars. Sir Percy paused on the sidewalk and stared. “What are these bullet-like contraptions on wheels? They're very fast. That can't be safe.”

“Well, even horses aren't perfectly safe when they're spooked by a snake.” At least, this is what old westerns and Little House on the Prairie had taught me. “But they're fairly safe when the driver knows what he is doing. It's the same with cars.”

 “Horseless carriages?”

 “That's exactly what their inventor, Henry Ford, called them.”

 “What do they run on? Steam?”

 “Gasoline … refined petroleum. Well, you see, there's an engine, and there's uh, these pistons, and, uh, a carburetor ...” I was listing random parts, but I didn't trust myself to accurately describe what they actually did. “I'm … I'm not very mechanical.”

“Astonishing,” he said, and, by that, I understood that he meant the horseless carriages, not the fact that I didn't have much of a mechanical inclination. After a pause he said, “Where shall we go? What do you like to do when you go out, other than ride about in those unsafe contraptions?”

 To be continued ...

 © 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Twisting Through Time, Part 1

I love my grandfather, the dear man as old as Methuselah. I'm not entirely sure just how old he is, but he's quite ancient. The family teases that he must be preserved in formaldehyde. Perhaps, in all his scientific tinkering, he had discovered the secret of longevity, longevity if not a completely sound body. He still works in his old antique clock shop. His son, my uncle, who is past retirement age himself, works there too, as does my cousin. Like his old clocks, Grandpa might need some winding up, but he keeps going. Grandpa's always been a bit eccentric, full of wild theories and ideas and wild inventions that never quite get off the ground, but the latest reports were wilder than usual.

It was a shame, but it certainly seemed that Alzheimer's had finally struck. Lately, the stories Grandpa told me over the phone were peculiar to say the least, like stories of having tea with Queen Elizabeth. It would have been strange enough if he had claimed he had visited Buckingham Palace, met with the queen for a spot of tea and petted all the Corgis, but he didn't even mean Queen Elizabeth II. He meant the first. He also claimed to have gone swimming with Winston Churchill and that Churchill liked to skinnydip and looked just like a manatee in the waves. As far as everyone knew, the old man hadn't left the country – the U.S., that is – never mind left the decade … or the century. The only thing that seemed to have taken off anywhere was his senses.

I decided I needed to go see him, to persuade him to wind down and take a rest. The clock shop was always a wonderful and confusing overload of my senses. There were mantel clocks of ornately carved wood, grandiose clocks with miniature brass sculptures of mounted warriors, bronze Rococo clocks with ostentatious confusion of sculpted swirls, Bavarian cuckoo clocks with delightful figures that popped out of miniature doors, and in between all the tick tocking, there were cacophonous bursts of chimes and bells and cuckoos.

“Laurie!” Grandpa stood up from his chair, looking like an old bent tree. As I approached, he took my hands in his two gnarled and knobby ones. “Dear Laurie, you've come to see me. I've made a wonderful discovery!”

“You're always making wonderful discoveries, Grandpa,” I said. “Perhaps you should do something different for a change.”

“What's that, dear?”

“Take a nap.” This wasn't exactly the subtle approach to suggesting rest that I had intended to make.

“Take a nap when I've made a wonderful discovery?”

“Well, even great minds need to rest sometimes. That's how they go on being great minds.” Perhaps I had redeemed myself just a little.

“Come, sit.”

Grandpa had a sort of personal nook in a corner of his shop, with a couple of stuffed chairs facing the door, books on antiques and an electric hot water pot. I sat down in a chair with sculpted wooden arms.

“Oh, just wait 'til I tell you,” said Grandpa. “It's quite wonderful. So, there I was …” Grandpa remained standing and spun slowly in a kind of confused dither. “Ah. Look at this.” He pulled an old herringbone tweed golf cap from a nearby hat rack and sat down.

“It's a hat,” I said.

“Yes, it's a hat.”

On closer inspection, I said, “It's a hat with a hole in it.” There was a small hole through the center of the hat.

“Yes,” he said. “Do you know how that hole got there?”

“I have no idea.”

“Annie Oakley used my hat for target practice.” Grandpa laughed in a kind of whistling laugh. “Isn't it wonderful? She's a marvelous woman. A marvel, that's what she is.”

I nodded my head and resisted the urge to correct him. I tried a different strategy instead. “So, I suppose, after Annie Oakley used your hat for target practice, you rode off on a unicorn and had fairy cakes with the leprechauns at the end of the rainbow?”

Grandpa laughed again. “Laurie, don't be ridiculous. You've always been so imaginative. Unicorns and leprechauns …”

Apparently, there were some parameters to my grandfather's madness.

The phone rang just then. In keeping with the rest of the atmosphere, the phone that rang was an antique reproduction rotary phone with a bell-shaped mouthpiece. Grandpa picked it up. “Ah, Hello Stephen. What? Speak up.” Covering the mouthpiece, he said to me, “It's your Uncle Stephen.”

I didn't want to sit and twiddle my thumbs while these two talked, so I decided to get up and wander up to the upper level, ascending the creaky wooden stairs to my left. The upper level had no clocks, but, instead, interesting examples of antique clockwork, automata, elaborate mechanical toys. I was fascinated with a rather large piece in one corner with twirling, waltzing couples. The figures were nearly two feet tall. It was dizzying after a while standing still and watching them twirl in circles. I turned my back to them and was face to face with a full-length mirror. Watching the twirling reflections in the mirror was no less dizzying.

I thought I heard a noise and turned. As I did, my heart nearly leaped into my throat. There, standing between me and the twirling figures, was a man, at least what seemed like a man. He could have been a mannequin in antique Victorian dress, only mannequins don't just move themselves and plant themselves in new spots. Partly because I was startled, and partly because I was doubting my senses, I felt no obligation to be polite and turned my back to him once more. Strange, but there was no reflection in the mirror of a man behind me. I turned again to face behind me, and there stood my Victorian gentleman. Like one of the twirling waltzing figures, I turned to the mirror again. There was no reflection of any Victorian gentleman in the mirror.

“They say madness runs in families ...” I muttered aloud.

To be continued …

© Susan Joy Clark 2016