I Killed the Clockwork Key: A Bryant Street story, page 1
I Killed the Clockwork Key
Dean Wesley Smith
Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith
Published by WMG Publishing
Cover illustration copyright © Apples/Dreamstime
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I Killed the Clockwork Key
Dean Wesley Smith
The early morning on Bryant Street seemed like any other early spring-morning day in a subdivision that looked like most other middle-class subdivisions in America. Young trees, well-kept green lawns watered by automatic sprinkler systems, clean sidewalks, and a dozen for-sale signs every two blocks.
Half the houses along Bryant Street were bank-owned, and most of the other half had huge mortgages that would never be paid off and would soon also become bank owned.
Barb’s and my place was no exception to that. The Bryant Street subdivision was a small, but beautiful subdivision that might as well be a ghost town.
And I was one of the only remaining ghosts. A ghost of the past times on Bryant Street just as any ghost was from a past where life had once existed, but had been killed in a brutal and ugly fashion.
Tuesday had arrived. Monday was finished. The week stretched ahead of me like a dull highway across a flat desert. Or at least I thought it did until I killed the Clockwork Key, the thing inside of me that wound me up and kept me moving along the same path, in the same circle day after day after day.
We all have Clockwork Keys, but most of us never notice we have them or seem to care.
When I killed my Clockwork Key, I was halfway to my sixty-three-payments-left black Lexus. All normal, until Barb came out of the front door.
“Ram!” she shouted.
She called me Ram because of my days playing football in college where we met. It had been my nickname and she still called me that, even though my real name and the one I liked was Raymond. To her calling me Ram reminded her of better times, better nights of sex and lots of drinking and laughing and throwing parties where kids threw up in garbage cans and behind hedges and called it the “good old days.”
I turned, not really caring what she had to say. We had gone through the morning routine. I had kissed her at the door, she had said she thought she was going to have better luck today finding a job. I had told her I thought she would as well.
All simple morning lies to keep us walking along in our circles and not thinking about anything in our life or how we would eventually have to leave Bryant Street and her dream house that we had paid far, far too much to build back when “times were better” as people said.
I’m not sure I remember those times, but people do tell me they existed.
“You forgot your briefcase!” Barb shouted as if I couldn’t hear her in the complete silence of the early morning in a mostly-empty subdivision. I was usually the first out of the subdivision these days of the few people that actually left, since I was one of the few on the street who actually pretended to still have a job.
She held up the black briefcase and instead of coming down the sidewalk to bring it to me, she just stood there, waiting for me to come back to her to get it.
And I just stood there waiting for her to bring it to me.
We had a marriage standoff.
Barb and I had had many such standoffs over the years.
But back in the “good old days” or when “times were better,” I usually was the one to break the marriage standoff. Now I couldn’t care.
I had walked down the sidewalk, I had done my bit to keep the morning moving, to stay in my routine, to continue to pay for the house and the cars and the food for as long as I could, even though we were within six months of being out of money.
She had done her bit to cook the breakfast and to make small talk and to pretend she was preparing to go looking for a job even though we both knew there were no jobs to be had and she would never leave the house or get out of her bathrobe.
We had both played our parts perfectly, just as we did every morning.
Now, standing there on that wide sidewalk with the carefully manicured edges so that the grass wouldn’t touch the pavement, neither Barb nor I knew what to do.
We did not know in our perfectly ordered world who had the responsibility for the briefcase.
A marriage standoff.
Sure, the black briefcase was supposed to have my job paperwork in it, paperwork I brought home every night to do, but never did, because I hadn’t had a job for over a year.
And in a year of looking I had found nothing.
And had never told Barb I had lost my job. It just hadn’t been worth the problems telling her would have caused me every day. We had long before stopped acting as partners.
And the last thing I had wanted to do was stay in the house with her all day long. I felt bad enough about losing my job and not finding a new one. I didn’t need that kind of punishment as well.
My former job was nothing more than crunching numbers to determine who would be laid off next. I assigned people, real people, numbers, calculations, statistics and then gave those special living numbers to my boss who pretended to check them and then give them to his boss and so on up the corporate ladder until someone decided to act.
Because of my numbers, a certain person or numbers of people each week had been laid off to keep the company profitable on paper for the shareholders who continued to send the stock higher and higher making everyone happy who owned the stock.
At first I had felt remorse for the people that my calculations had caused to lose their job. But then, after a few years of the same thing every day, every week, I no longer cared about the faces and the lives destroyed behind those simple numbers.
And then one day I had become a number as well. Someone above me had figured the numbers for me and I had been laid off.
Now in our marriage standoff, Barb, once a good-looking woman with brown hair and good teeth, stood there in her blue bathrobe and blue matching slippers on the brown welcome mat in front of our brown and tan home, smiling and holding the worthless lie of a briefcase that contained nothing of value in it.
My life had become nothing of value, either.
It seemed logical I should carry a briefcase that carried nothing.
I stared at her and she smiled at me, holding the briefcase.
And I smiled back and made no movement toward her.
The morning sun felt warm against my back, and I realized that in all the years of mornings I had walked from the house to the car I had never noticed any feeling about anything.
Now I felt warmth.
And the smell of my freshly-mowed grass suddenly caught my attention.
And the sounds of birds in the young trees chirping almost distracted me from staring at Barb.
Slowly, her smile faded.
“Ram, don’t you need your briefcase?”
I turned my back to her and looked around at the neighborhood.
It was a perfect neighborhood in a perfect Hollywood version of a neighborhood, as if some screenwriter had written in a few words at the beginning of a script, “Standard Subdivision: Well-kept and manicured.”
I had not r
The paint on a few of the empty homes was starting to show weathering. The shrubs on a few homes hadn’t been trimmed in years and were too large for the yards.
Windows on two of the closest bank-owned homes were dirty and the drapes in one window were torn and looked faded.
And as I watched a woman’s face appeared beside the torn curtain, staring at me with sunken eyes and hair that looked like it hadn’t been combed in weeks.
A ghost of a former resident, maybe.
I recognized her after a moment. DeAnna Sterling. Or what was left of DeAnna Sterling. She used to be a large, almost obese woman. Now she looked more like a model for a bad fashion designer.
Her husband, Dan had been laid off two years ago and the bank had foreclosed on their home over a year ago.
That home had been DeAnna’s dream home and she and Barb used to be best friends.
I had a vague memory of Barb telling me DeAnna had had a breakdown and had refused to leave her home.
Now I understood why our grocery bill had grown higher. Barb did the shopping, telling me about the inflation. The inflation was that we were feeding DeAnna.
I looked down the street. I wondered how many other ghosts were in these empty buildings and what they did when I was working.
DeAnna ducked back into the darkness of her home.
I turned back to face Barb who had that “worried look” I knew so well on her face. She had not expected this marriage stand-off either this fine morning. More than likely she was missing her morning program and her second cup of coffee, and that was not right.
Or more likely she was worried I had seen DeAnna.
I stared at my home. I had somehow managed to continue to make the payments on this “perfect” home. I had started to do the yard work when I could no longer afford a gardener, and I had drained most of the remains of my estate from my parents to keep walking this routine.
To keep pretending that I was living a life I wanted to live.
I was nothing more than calculations and statistics and numbers as well. My entire life consisted of walking the same routine, doing the same thing, trying to find a job that didn’t exist to pay the bills I didn’t want to pay so that I could keep doing the same thing again and again and again.
And now, because of a briefcase and a marriage standoff, I could see clearly for the first time what I had been doing.
I had broken the cycle.
I had broken my Clockwork Key.
I reached up and undid my tie because I was getting warm in my black suit standing there on the sidewalk.
Barb’s “worry look” switched to her “puzzlement look” mixed with her “slight-panic look.” I knew all her expressions. I knew how she thought at every moment of every day.
I dropped my tie on the grass I had mowed yesterday after I had gotten home from my pretend job.
“You keep the briefcase,” I said to Barb.
“Ram!” she shouted, her voice rising to the level I hated, the level that made her sound like a record had spun up just a little too fast while she spoke. “What are you doing?”
“You keep it all,” I said, waving at the home I had come to hate and the neighborhood I had never really looked at in years.
“Ram? What’s wrong?”
She had still not moved off the porch and was now clutching my briefcase against her chest as a symbol of the life she didn’t want to lose. An empty briefcase that meant far more to her than I ever did.
“Nothing’s wrong,” I said, smiling at her. “I’ve got to go. You keep it. You keep it all. You win.”
With that I turned and made the short distance to my car and got in.
She still stood there in front of the worthless home, in her blue bathrobe with perfectly matching blue slippers, my empty briefcase clutched against her chest.
I still had enough savings left to get a divorce, give her the house in the settlement, pay off my car, get a nice, cheap apartment in some place where there were still a few jobs to be had, and maybe eat for a year or more.
After all, I was a numbers man and I knew the numbers. I had lived those numbers for years now, walking in clock-like service to a life I did not want with a woman I had grown to hate.
I pulled out of the driveway and stopped in the middle of Bryant Street, giving it one more look.
Barb clutched my briefcase, staring at me.
I smiled at her, a real smile for the first time in years. Not a pretend smile, but a smile I actually felt.
Then I waved at her and with my hand solidly planted on the horn, I drove down Bryant Street for one last time, letting the loud sound of my leaving echo off the ghost-like remains of my former life.
Bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith has written more than ninety popular novels and well over 100 published short stories. His novels include the science fiction novel Laying the Music to Rest and the thriller The Hunted as D.W. Smith. With Kristine Kathryn Rusch, he is the coauthor of The Tenth Planet trilogy and The 10th Kingdom. He writes under many pen names and has also ghosted for a number of top bestselling writers.
Dean has also written books and comics for all three major comic book companies, Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse, and has done scripts for Hollywood. One movie was actually made.
Over his career he has also been an editor and publisher, first at Pulphouse Publishing, then for VB Tech Journal, then for Pocket Books.
Currently, he is writing thrillers and mystery novels under another name.
Smith, Dean Wesley, I Killed the Clockwork Key: A Bryant Street story
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