A sea bird descended through the heavens, diving toward Earth until the British Isles sprang to view. With the tip of one wing, the bird touched a button on the side of the goggles and the inside glass displayed a map of the local geography. While scanning the outline of Britain’s southern perimeter, the bird adhered to his supervisor’s final warning. Bend left around ‘Land’s End Peninsula’ and bear sharp right, hugging the coastline until you reach Bristol Channel.
The sea bird (in reality the guardian angel Parvez in his avian incarnation) observed the channel narrowing, and bore left after spotting Cardiff, Wales. From there it was a short distance to the River Avon on his right. Swerving and bending with that water channel until it bifurcated, he arrived in the town of Bristol.
Parvez employed a deep dive, swooping past the cathedral steeple, illuminated in celebration of Christmas Eve, 1699. With a lower descent, he glided past shops, a town square, the bridge where parishioners were crossing for midnight services, and past the town hall whose hands on the clock showed 11:27 P.M.
Descending to street level, Parvez made a half circle out over the channel and came in for a gentle landing on the rooftop where the sign above the side door read: GOODBODY CLOCKWORKS.
Inside the residence, red-haired Clarissa Goodbody was spinning a muffler around her neck, while twirling her body in the opposite direction to hasten the task. Older sister Melissa sat near the hearth, reading the Bible.
Lucilla, the mother, descended the stairs. When her foot touched the floor she peered into the mirror on the wall and made a last-second adjustment to her collar. She asked in a loud voice, “Girls! Are you all ready?”
Clarissa spun into view. “Ready, mother!”
Seeing the girl’s unruly strawberry-blonde hair, the mother frowned and demanded her daughter go back upstairs and brush again. As Clarissa charged up the steps, the mother called after her “You cannot attend church with hair like that! Should be more like your sister.”
Clarissa called down the stairs. “Oh, she just wants to impress James Feally in church!”
Turning toward the hearth, Lucilla mumbled to herself, “Now, where is your father?” From the couch, Melissa pointed toward the opposite wall, indicating the clockmaking shop in the adjacent room. Lucilla returned to the kitchen and opened the door. Light streamed through the doorway to the table where Clarence sat working. He ignored his wife and the enhanced illumination while concentrating on the device before him.
“You know, it’s almost 11:30.”
Wrestling with a gear shaft, Clarence cursed. “Hazel nuts!” It was the closest he ever came to uttering an expletive. One by one, three clocks sitting on a mantle sounded the single chong signifying it was thirty minutes past the hour. He turned to the doorway and nodded to his wife. “Yes, dear. I’m well aware of the time.”
“But, you’re not ready for church. And we are leaving within… seconds.”
Clarence met her eyes with an anguished expression.
“I promised the baron’s wife this longcase clock would be ready Christmas morning, 9:00 A.M. sharp!” His deep exhalation reflected his frustration. “Now, you girls run along ahead. I’ll meet you in church soon as I fix this!”
His eyes returned to the project and he sighed.
As Lucilla crossed the kitchen threshold she said, “You will find the solution, dear. I just hope it’s in time to join us.”
As the door swung open, Clarissa startled her mother.
“Your father is not to be disturbed,” Lucilla whispered. “He’s deep in thought.” The mother spun the girl around and gave her a soft push. Continuing the circular momentum Clarissa slipped around her and through the door just before it latched. Approaching the workbench on tiptoes she found her father supporting his forehead with his right hand, perplexed. His moan conceded vexation. Clarissa placed her arm around her father’s shoulders.
“You will figure it out, papa. You always do.”
Clarence turned to see his daughter’s empathetic smile. He patted her hand. “You sound just like your mother. That is a good feature to inherit, daughter. Now, off with ya to church.” He playfully swatted at her bottom, but she nimbly avoided his palm; a game they’d played for years. When the door latched behind her, Clarence returned to pondering the problem, occasionally shaking his head. So deep in thought was he, Clarence failed to detect the figure standing in the shadows by the doorframe, as if the latched door had created a new timeline.
It was Parvez, the guardian angel, appearing in his original incarnation: a tall, lean Kashmiri Indian male with reddish-brown complexion, wavy black hair, and dark eyes narrowing over a prominent proboscis. Parvez spread his hands apart, inhaled deeply and closed his eyes, as a priest during benediction. He dispatched a packet of golden, sparking energy toward the workbench that infused the clockmaker with a sudden jolt of inspiration. Clarence’s eyes grew wide. Within three minutes of tinkering, torqueing and notching he had repaired the interlocking gears of the clock mechanism.
“Eureka!” An ebullient grin emerged from his square jaw as Clarence rose and danced a simple jig beside the work table—to the delight of Parvez, who watched from the shadows.
Lucilla peeked around the opened kitchen door. “We were just leaving when I heard you exclaim. Is it fixed?”
“Indeed, it is.” He slapped his thigh, causing the forelock of gray hair to swerve across his forehead. “Now, I’ll join you at church and rise extra early in the morning to reassemble the clock before the children get up to open their presents.” Candlelight reflected in his smiling eyes. “I’m going up to change into my church clothes. And I’ll be right behind you, Mother.”
Minutes later, Clarence emerged from his home dressed in his finest church apparel, covered by his forest green, woolen winter cloak and topped off with the tan tricorne hat. Parvez, back in his sea bird incarnation, floated overhead, watching over Clarence as he strolled to church. The clockmaker occasionally skipped with joy when the mood struck. While crossing the bridge, Clarence glanced right toward the levee, attracted by the beautiful illumination and warm glow given off by the light stands. He paused at the bridge’s apex, pondering whether he should like to continue atop the levee.
Stay on the path! The bird transmitted thought forms to the human. You’re already late!
Clarence shook his head. I must hasten my pace for church. Besides, with my luck, I might slip down the levee and drown. As he proceeded on the path the thought of drowning in dark water produced an involuntary shudder.
Inside Bristol Cathedral, Clarence attempted to muffle the echo of his footsteps as he crept up the side aisle. He slipped into the pew, crawling over the shifted knees of Simmons, the butcher, and his wife. Clarence sat beside Lucilla and his daughters just as the basket was passed back to his row. He reached into his side coat pocket and pulled out two coins. When dropped in the basket, the silver coins clinked on the green felt. Clarence whispered to Lucilla, “Next year, with continued good fortune, I shall give ten.”
Outside the church, the three Goodbody women waited near the gate as Clarence chatted with a young man. Clarissa elbowed her older sister in the ribs. “Wonder what father could be speaking to young James Feally about?” The mother shushed the girls. When he rejoined the women, Clarence reinserted his wife’s arm in his, and announced he’d hired James as his new apprentice. Lucilla patted her husband’s arm in a sign of approval. The mother glanced behind and winked at Melissa.
The next morning, Clarence rose before dawn to reassemble the baron’s new pendulum clock. When Lucilla entered the workshop, he had finished winding the hands to the 12 o’clock position and snapped closed the glass cover. As the clock struck twelve chongs, Clarence turned around, greeting his wife with a beaming smile. “Merry Christmas, my dear.”
Around 8:30, Clarence oversaw James Feally and the baron’s driver loading the clock into the rear of a wagon. Laid across the buckboard’s wooden slats were two thick blankets to cushion the cherry-wood clock case along the bumpy ride to the baron’s estate. Following the farewell salute, the driver whipped his horses and the cart rumbled down the path. Clarence turned to James. “If there was one thing I would change about this business it’s the ability to transport our precious boxes on a cart that floated on air. Now that would be fine sailing!”
Clarence invited James to join his family for the Christmas dinner and the youth jumped at the offer. The clockmaker returned inside the home, poured himself some tea and rested near the hearth; satisfied an important and lucrative job was now behind him. The heat from the fire induced drowsiness. Clarence ambled into the kitchen where Lucilla was busy preparing the holiday feast. He wrapped one arm around her waist, and whispered he was going upstairs for a well-deserved nap. “Oh, and I invited the Feally lad to join us for dinner.” She smiled.
Hours later after a deep sleep, Clarence descended the stairs, handsome in his woolen finery sans winter coat. He found Melissa by the hearth entertaining James Feally, who had arrived minutes earlier, with Clarissa flitting about. He entered the kitchen and greeted his wife with hands on hips, saying “I fully expected everything to be on the table, with me the only thing missing!” Clarence’s warm smile did little to diminish Lucilla’s faux glare. Lucilla called for everyone to come to dinner. With the meal spread out on their table Clarence grabbed the carving knife and large fork. “Next year at this time, I have a hunch we’ll be enjoying a 20-pound goose from the market.” The Goodbody girls clapped and cheered. The family appeared happier than ever, basking in the glow of the festive candlelight, while a fire crackled and roared in the fireplace.
While cutting the meat, Clarence continued ruminating. “I have been fortunate in my life. Growing up in London, I was spared the Black Death, unlike so many in my family and neighborhood, God rest their souls. Then after the Great Fire, I departed with my master and we came to be settled here in Bristol. Now, in the tenth year of the Glorious Revolution we honor our king and queen, William and Mary. And good fortune has finally smiled down on the Goodbody business and family.” He put down the carving tools, hoisted his cup and encouraged the others to join him as well with shouts of Cheers! He nodded to Melissa and James. “Come on, you two, you’re now of age to imbibe in spirits. Grab a cup.” He frowned when he saw his younger daughter grab for the cup. “No, Clarissa. You’re still a child.”
“Father! I am not a child. I turn four-and-ten on my next birthday.”
Clarence acquiesced and allowed her to drink the ale. “Everyone… cheers! And a prosperous New Year in the next century.”