There are in this aging house, as I suspect there are in almost all the houses in this little Burgundy town, old things that our eyes have grown so accustomed to we hardly see them. And yet, if you were to take them away, the loss of their presence, texture, and “story” would be profound. Who knows who acquired them first or how? Who knows how many generations they have seen? Or what human ridiculousness has played out before their passive object-ness? Who could place a value on them?
They sit in the middle of layers and layers of living. Picture frames from the sixties and seventies. Walls from the 1800’s. Lavendar, dry and faded, that was picked just last summer. The decades blend together, and with them the memories of the various generations—inherited, edited and re-remembered by successive ones.
This clock was never in my family, though there’s a similar one back in New York that is. But somehow it has become part of my story and I part of its. Who knows when it stopped telling time, when it decided that from “now on out” it would be eternally slightly after 6. I imagine that it was a perfect day. Pink was beginning to tinge the early autumn sky. People were out in the courtyard, drinking wine and laughing. The clock decided—right then—that things needed to stand still. And so it stopped. And the funny thing is, we don’t value it any less for the fact that it no longer tells the time. It tells something much more interesting.
I write this at a desk that sits beneath a window in an upstairs window. From it, I see the stacked triangular shapes of ancient rooftops one behind the other. It’s a composition of diagonal lines, stone-colors, chimney pots and a single ornate light post.
The desk is slightly wobbly; this is the thirteenth year that I’ve written on its back. And yet that is nothing compared to the years of labor it put in before my arrival. There’s an old ink well that testifies to that fact. And the open drawer reveals rich cream writing paper from the house’s previous inhabitant, a relative of my husband. I wouldn’t dare touch it or use it. It’s still his, even though he’s gone. And next to the paper, a fossilized rock. I wonder if he held it in his hands when words failed him. Or did he just look out the window, as I am now, and think that perhaps what he was writing was meaningless in the best possible way.