A Stroke of the Clock

They lived in a dome. It was built as an experimental project of the University of Texas architecture department in a time when Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes were all the rage and students could get involved in projects that taught things other than how to deal with bureaucrats and beg for grant money. It is not surprising that a structure with an experimental pedigree has suffered from numerous unintended consequences, but after 40 years it is still a comfortable place to call home.

The inside of the dome is divided almost perfectly in half by a great room that has sloping walls leading to the top of the dome about 20 feet above the floor. The other half has an open loft that sits on top of the few divided rooms in the home. They used the loft as a bedroom and study while there was a guest bedroom under the loft that backed up to the great room.

Straight, flat walls only occur in buildings that have straight, flat exterior walls. Furniture designers, for reasons of their own, ignore the requirements of people of live in homes with gently curving walls. Shelves fit the tangents of walls instead of hugging tightly to the surface. The one place in dome where a wall of sufficiently linearity existed, there was a set of shelves that held the usual assortment of personal treasure. Books, fossils, wine, glassware, framed photographs and, in a place of prominence, a clock all resided on this wall that was shared by the great room and the bedroom behind it.

Like most domes, sound carries in unusual ways. Standing by an outside wall allows hearing almost everything that takes place anywhere inside, while standing in the center sounds seems to just disappear into an audio black hole. So, while private conversations could be problematic when guests arrived, listening to music was a marvelous experience. They enjoyed the music and tended to forget the social difficulties presented to visitors.

She had family members that lived about 3 hours away by car. She and her sisters enjoyed each other's company enough that there were several visits every year. One of her sisters arranged a weekend visit to stay with them in the dome. These sisters bore the stamp of a family resemblance but no one ever suggested that they might be twins, until the spoke. If you were not looking to see whose lips were moving, you could not tell which of them was speaking.

His father had taught him to be a tinkerer, to love tools and the pleasure of working with with your hands. He received the clock as a gift from his father who had made it from a kit. The spare wooden frame with glass on 4 sides completely exposed the inner workings of the mechanism, the swing of pendulum and the key required for the fortnightly winding that kept the clock marking off the hours and days. Each hour, on the hour, the clock rang once, an understated chiming of the beginning of a new opportunity. This simple and elegant clock gained even more importance when his father's life ended after 89 years.

Finding those elements of our most basic nature that define our idiosyncrasies must be viewed as a delightful pastime as it requires little in terms of investigation or effort. He slept well, as in once asleep, he was difficult to arouse. No alarm clock or position of inconvenience had ever defeated his ability to find it and silence its irritation without disturbing his slumber, in fact, he had little difficulty sleeping through the entire alarm cycle of most clocks. When he did arise every morning, it was more of a process than a line between sleep and awake. Morning required quiet time with the morning news and coffee and slow careful movements while his brain slowly approached tackling rational thought processes. He had become accustomed to leaving his glasses in the same spot every night so that he could find them in the morning as a part of the long waking ritual as without his glasses, the only clock that he could see adequately was the clock his father had made with its traditional sweeping hands. Team work requires that opposites join together for success. She slept lightly, waking when a cockroach stumbled on a crumb and attacked each morning with a ferocity that would have intimidated him if he had been awake enough to notice.

On the evening that the sisters began their visit at the dome, part of the dinner conversation concerned the neighborhood buzz about the finishing touches on a two year long water line project that had caused the road to the dome to be under a constant state of construction. Some in the neighborhood were concerned that the construction crews had been taking a too active interest in the collected possessions of residents and were certain the robbery was in the offing. Most of the chattering, though, was about activities of family members and plans for the weekend. With a long day behind them, they all made preparations for a night's sleep.

Her sister, apparently suffers the same kind of sleep disorder that makes her such a light sleeper. As soon as her sister's head hit the pillow all of her focus was directed to the tic tock of the clock's swinging pendulum. Naturally, she was also getting to bed as the clock prepared its quiet, single ping of the new hour. That ping broke several camel vertebra and sent her on a mission to find the source of the deafening roar that was preventing her slumber. She followed her ears to the clock and removed it from the shelf and wall that backed up to her bed room. Not willing to take a chance with the unusual acoustics of the dome, she secreted the clock beneath a table in the great room and away from any of the walls. Quiet restored, she quickly found sleep.

Some time later, the muscles in one of his calves called a meeting. Now this all took place in Texas where the congressional delegation prides itself on behaving, well as Texans so this meeting of muscles, inspired by the United States congress, apparently about accepting blood flow from a central source, produced nothing except completely tying themselves in knots. Maybe it was less of a meeting and more of tea party. Those that wake slowly and sneak up on our full faculties lest they get away before they can be grasped, can feel some compassion for his response to this muscle cramp in the middle of the night. First, he thrashed about on the bed in the hopes that this nightmare could be overcome. When creeping into sleeping awareness did not relieve the pain, the second attempt was to apply frantic massage to the offending leg even though he was not sure that the cramp was real or some delusion of dream. With a little more wakefulness, his next attempt at quelling the spasm was to walk around the loft in the hope of stretching the muscles, but that immediately proved too painful and he quickly collapsed back on to the bed to resume the frantic massage.

She woke up with the first thrashing and knew something was amiss even before his semi awake mind had registered the problem as something other than a dream. She did her best to talk to him to find out what was wrong. Between the pain of the muscle spasm and the brain fogged by sleep, he was unable to respond to tell her anything. So, she watched him roll around, grab at one leg, jump out of bed to stumble about for a few seconds, throw himself back at the bed and return to thrashing and grabbing before finally going still and returning to sleep. Some might have been concerned for their safety, but she became convinced that he was suffering a stroke and knew that she could only watch until it was time for the 911 call. Meanwhile, the stumbling about in the loft, had her sister once again awake and listening to the pendulum swing.

When morning arrived, he was the first to begin moving as the two sisters had more difficulty getting any sleep between worrying about pendulums, pings and pain. His first step confirmed that the muscle spasm had been real and left some residual soreness. His quest for coffee would not be deterred by residual pain and he set off to find the coffee maker while dragging the uncooperative leg along behind. In his mind, he was being as quiet as a mouse and allowing the ladies to sleep in a little and he just needed to find the coffee and bypassed his glasses. Unfortunately, his progress across the tile floor was announced by the scraping of the foot of the still aching leg. Both sisters were immediately awake.

He had just made it to the coffee pot when one of the sisters asked what time it was. He could not tell whether the dome had carried the sound from the bedroom below or the loft above and was unable to discern which of the two had asked by the sound of the voice, but with evidence that one of the two sisters was awake, he set off in the other direction for the one clock that he could read without his glasses. More scraping across the floor while both sister held their breath. One wondering what time it was and the other wondering what the residual damage from the stroke had been. When he got to the shelf where he was sure the clock was last seen, he stopped and stared. At first, he did not recognize the problem. He was sure he was looking in the place where the information he need was supposed to be and he knew only that he could not find the information. He stared at the shelf for long seconds of confusion before it became obvious that the clock was missing.

He tried to process the whole string of events and plan a new course of action, but this was a coffee deprived system in action. The only thing that made sense to him was that the neighborhood busy bodies were right and the pilfering had begun. Someone had sneaked in during the night to steal this family heirloom, this clock of great personal value. He still did know which of the sisters wanted to know what time it was but decided to leave his guest slumbering and seek help back in the safety of the loft. His path back to the loft was marked by the same series of thumps and scrapes that accompanied his trip to coffee pot and the former home of the clock.

She lay in bed wondering if he could talk, was he able to use all of his limbs, could he tell time and became more certain by the moment that he had had a stroke over night. No words had been spoken since “What time is it?' and the tension was mounting as he limped up the stairs and dragging his still spasmodic leg along with him. She watched as he made his way to the bed and sat down heavily before taking her hand in his. He looked at her and asked, “Where is my father's clock?” She had no idea that the clock had been moved during the night. She panicked and wrapped him in a hug, sure that the stroke had taken away his rational processes leaving him severely brain damaged. He, still fogged by the emergence from sleep, looked at her as strangely as she looked at him.

“Under the table” was the answer from the bedroom below while her sister slowly panicked at the thought that she had offended her host to this degree. In the loft, the answer to the question did not resolve the obviously serious medical condition or provide the answer to what time it was or a cup of coffee and would have to be repeated several times before all three minds found some common ground.

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