Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Clockmaker's Daughter

Dear Ellie,

I've written this story as a kind of analogy to your stay here in the NICU, but also the struggles your mother and I went through to have you.  It will be hard, when you are very young, to describe the great pain we endured and treasure we sacrificed to bring you into the world, and perhaps doubly hard to describe all that we've felt during the time you've spent here in the NICU.  So instead I've written a narrative to capture those feelings.  I've always enjoyed stories that have an air of mysticism about them, too.  Stories that are ethereal, timeless, and just a tiny, tiny bit frightful.  By the time you read this letter, I hope you have heard this story many times, already.  I want your childhood to be filled with the stories I've written you.  This one is called: The Clockmaker's Daughter.


Illustration commissioned from Tze-Chiang Lim

There once was a Clockmaker, who lived in a town, on a hill, near the clouds.  He was best at his craft, of all in the world, for nothing excited him more than a chore.  He labored and labored with barely a rest, the joy of creation, his workbench and bed.  When his admirers asked of his secret, the source of his talent, he said simply: “There is a ticking inside me that steadies my hands.  That gives me my strength.  And that is why clocks of my craft are all through the land.”

But as the years ticked by, over time, something went wrong.  Somewhere deep in the Clockmaker's heart, a small fleshy gear had ground to a halt.  The ticking inside him had stopped.

Perhaps he had grown lazy, he thought, so he toiled ever harder.  He surrounded himself with his craft, packing his workshop with a thousand ticking clocks, but it didn’t work.  Instead, he slowly understood, with each swing of his thousand pendulums, the ticking had stopped because he labored alone, and was glum.

And so the clockmaker who lived in the town, on a hill, near the clouds grew sad.  His days grew dark.  His nights grew long.  Until he met the Man.  The Man with the Clockwork Ether.  The Man had heard of the Clockmaker’s sorrow and brought with him a magical gear.  A thing, one of a kind, that could give a clock joy, and life, and tears.  And so The Man offered the Clockmaker a deal.  “I can erase your sadness with the Ether's spell,” he said.  “If you give me the clocks of your workshop to sell.”         

Could the Clockmaker make such a choice?  Years of his work, gone?  The Clockmaker gave it barely a thought.  His decision was made.  He gave the Man his clocks and set out to work.

He gathered every last part that remained in his shop.  He labored day and night, never stopping, never halting.  His workshop was empty, but it bothered him not, because deep in his heart, that fleshy gear stirred, and he felt the faint tickle… of a tick and a tock.  Hours turned to days, days into months, until at last, his heart ticked proudly.  On his workbench, it was finished.  SHE was finished.

His Clockwork Daughter.

He clicked in the Ether in a slot on her wrist.  Her gears began to creak.  Her eyes opened wide.  Her hand reached out, so did his, and they met.  She didn’t let go.

He took her from the town, on a hill, near the clouds.  He took her to places afar and abound.  Her mind opened wide and he filled it with her.  His own mind, cleared of sadness, made room for far more.  Every step they took ticked with purpose, and when at last they exhausted all places to roam, they turned inward for new worlds to explore.  All the while she held his hand and didn’t let go. 

When at last she was grown, the Clockmaker vowed, they’d return from their journey to the town, on the hill, near the clouds.  And once there he’d teach her his craft, fill their workshop again, and fill their lives with ticking and ticking and ticking...  But once again, all was not well.

One day His Clockwork Daughter awoke in a panic.  Her gears screeched.  Her pendulum arms quivered.  She grabbed the Clockmaker’s hand and didn’t let go.  The Clockmaker checked her from head and to toe, but when his fingers came to her wrist, and he gasped at the truth.  The Clockwork Ether was damaged and loose. 

He knew right away, with her wrist in his hand, that should he ever remove his fingers, the Ether would sputter and whimper… and then turn to sand. 

He was faced with a terrible choice.  He could make no more clocks with merely one arm.  Should he continue to hold her, the work of his life would be gone.  He looked in her eyes and gave it barely a thought.  The decision was made.  What else could it be?  

She held his hand and never let go.  And neither did he.


  1. Haven't read anything this beautiful for a long time...

    1. Thank you! I've been planning on turning it into an illustrated children's story one day. We'll see...