It was sure to be a bad day. I could tell by the clock. A niece I was quite fond of had said, “Manfred, you need a clock, or at least a watch.”
“Don’t call me Manfred. Call me Clootie,” I said.
“You don’t like your name?”
“It’s not my name. It’s the name they gave me. It’s not a name I’d have picked.”
We’d been through this in the past. I would not use that name.
“I can’t call you Clootie,” she said. That’s my name too. It sounds dumb to use my name when I talk to you.”
“Think of me as your right hand man,” I said. “Call me Claw.”
“I know what you do with that hand, and I don’t want to know about it.”
“If you know, you can’t want not to know,” I said.
We spoke, or failed to speak, of my craft. I was a dip. My right hand spent more time in the folds of clothes that were not mine than it did in my own gear.
“What you need is to come to terms with time,” she said. If you wore a watch or owned a clock, you could get up in time each day to go to work. You could hold a job. Live like the rest of us”
“I have been held by a job,” I said. “Or, to tell it my way, I have writhed in the jaws of a job, much like an eel that’s been grabbed by a . . . what is it that grabs eels?”
“A fish that has more teeth than an eel,” she said. “But let’s get back to the clock.”
“No, let’s not speak of jobs, clocks, time, tasks, chores or chimps.”
“Chimps. What do chimps have to do with it.”
“Nothing. But I had to have a word that went with chores.”
“Don’t you see?” she said. “That’s what’s wrong?”
“You don’t mesh with life, with things. To you the whole world is a stew of words. I think that when you were born, the gods looked own and said, ‘Let’s muck about with this one’s head. We’ll make it so he can’t see the world for the words. While most men look for sense in the way things are, he’ll look for sounds. When he’s asked how the world will end, he’ll think for a tick and then say: with a full stop’.”
“Well,” I said, “That took most of your breath. Have you got a wise word or two left?”
“Take the clock,” she said, and from the depths of her clothes she fetched this thing that ticked, with hands that showed how few hours I had left to live. I took it and turned it and gazed at its face as if it knew how to read my mind. It was the kind of clock you find in junk shops. It had been made by gnomes years ago, yet it still worked. Its tick was loud and its hands were large and black, and they struck fear into my heart.
But I took it with thanks. I would, of course, drop the thing down the first drain I came to.
As she left, my niece said, “Don’t you dare dump that clock. I’ve got my eye on you.”
So she, like the clock, could read minds.
I thought about what she had said. Was it true that I did not quite live in the world? Was I a thing of words and not a man who used words to name things? The thought nagged at me. How would I know? What test was there to show if my mind could lay its hands on things and not just on words? I looked at my right hand, the hand that had spent so much of its life in search of gold that was not its own.
Did that hand know its own mind? I knew it had a mind of its own but did it know that mind?. In all the years it had been stuck to the end of my arm, it had not looked to me for help. It had poked its way through crease and fold and pleat and tuck and snapped up any things that it found. Any things of worth, that is. It would not at any time grab a bit of lint or a coin. No coin was worth its time.
And then the truth came to me. I was one of those who lacked the will to sin. A kind of saint. Saint Clootie de la Dip. I liked the sound of that. I could do no wrong. It was my right hand that sinned. I was like one of those men who were so steeped in crime that they could not tell you why they did what they did. The man who would thrust his knife deep in your back and then just walk the streets and not have a care in the world – was he like me, a man cut off from the world who could see the words that made things real but could not see the things the words stood for? Then I was free of guilt. I, who saw words but not things, was in thrall to a hand that knew no words but loved to pinch things.
With a glow that train of thought led to I could now bask in the light of life. I could act and not think or fret.
It was time to go on the hunt.
What I had done in the past was to let my hand show me what to do. I would stroll the streets until a mark came by. Then I would let a trance take me and my hand would take what goods that mark had. But now, with my new thoughts, I set out to drive my hand and would not let it drive me.
I saw a man I did not like. I had not seen him before, but there was a look he had that made me think of a beast of prey. Good, I thought, I’ll get his watch, his cards, his notes and all the things he has that might be of worth.
So I went for him. I stalked him. I told my right hand to go for him. And for once I watched as this hand of mine went to work. It flew out like the tongue of a frog as it takes a bug. There was not a sight on earth to match it.
And then the clock made the sound my niece had set it to make. It rang its head off. She could not have known what I meant to do. She could not have known that the clock would sound just as my hand went into the coat that Detective Wallace Crumb was wearing.
The clock ran on and on. I thought it would stop when its spring ran down. But it seemed not to have a spring. When it had rung for so long that I thought my heart would stop, a big hand snapped at and seized my wrist. Now it may seem strange but the thing that gives my hand a life of its own gives it its own will too. I did not have to think. The hand slipped out of the detective’s grip and he could not prove that it had done what it seemed to have done.
“Look at my face,” he said, which I did. It was a face too big not to see.
“If you see it, and it sees you at any other time, you’re fucked. Take my word, Senior Detective Wallace Crumb. I’d take you in now but I can’t be fagged to write it all up. But next time . . . Now, piss orf.”
Which I did.
At no time since then have I tried to tell my hand what to do. As long as it worked on its own I could stay free of guilt.
But I did drop the clock down a drain.