The Sands of Time play an important part in Clementine’s 23rd Adventure.
That day, Clementine Fraile was working with Harriet, the high school senior who returned to The Happy Store during her Christmas and summer breaks, and Betty Davis, the lead sales associate. Walter Graybill, the store manager, would not be coming in.
It wasn’t one of those “when the cat’s away the mice will play” situations. But if Walter had been standing vigilantly behind his handlebar mustache observing the experiment, his patience with Clementine – often running thin – might have sprung a leak.
Betty Davis had been in on it from the start. And Harriet, pretty, plump, and good natured, never even considered the possibility that Clementine might steer her wrong.
Anyway, the teenager wanted to know the answer as much as did her older (and probably less-wise) co-workers.
And it wasn’t as if they were Internet gambling or giving themselves manicures on company time. It was all about a beautiful, thirteen-inch tall brass hour glass, mounted on a swivel bracket, filled with sparkling white sand, and selling at $58.99. Not cheap, but so evocative of an earlier and more elegant era, that it seemed well worth the price.
At least Meghan Mallard (like the duck) had thought so when she brought it to Clementine at the check-out counter.
Clementine often remembered repeat-customer’s names, but she had never seen this one before. The alliterative syllables, though, and the “like a duck” memory cue stuck in her head. Also, the woman – early thirties and expensively dressed – was unusually pretty, with smooth caramel skin, intelligent amber eyes and a taut, athletic body.
Clementine inspected the hour glass. “I never saw this before,” she said. “Where did you find it?”
“Tucked in among the vases,” the customer responded briskly.
Clementine inverted the hour glass, and began to watch a slim stream of sand slip through a small aperture separating its two globes. Then she looked up and asked, “Will you be using your Happy Store credit card?”
The woman shook her head. “I don’t know yet if I’m buying it.”
“Okay,” Clementine shrugged. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Yes. I like hour glasses. I’ve always liked them. But they are usually off by five, ten, sometimes as much as thirty minutes. I want this one, but only if it actually measures sixty minutes. Do you know if it does?”
“Interesting question.” Clementine’s yellow-speckled green eyes stared speculatively at the object in question. She quickly reversed the position of the timer’s two globes so that, as before, the almost-empty one was on top and the almost-filled one was at the bottom.
“What are you going to use it for?” Clementine asked, never having learned to respect the boundary between seller and buyer, and not really expecting an answer.
So she was pleasantly surprised when the woman said, “I’m a child psychologist and there’s a little girl I can’t get through to who is obsessed with time. She won’t make eye-contact with me, because she is mesmerized by the second hand on her wrist watch. I’ve been thinking that if, during our one-hour sessions, I replaced her watch with an hour glass that measures exactly sixty minutes, it could be a first step in…”
She let her voice trail off.
Clementine slapped a hand against the counter and exclaimed, “We’ll test it!”
“But,” the customer frowned. “I’m late for an appointment, and…”
“Not to worry. Give me your name and phone number. I’ll call you with the results.”
Which was how Clementine learned her customer’s name, and why she, Betty Davis, and Harriet (Clementine always wanted to hug the girl and give her a lollipop) were conducting their experiment.
It started fifteen minutes after the child psychologist left. Betty set her cell phone to the “stop watch” function and held it in her left hand. She called out: “Five. Four. Three. Two,” and then slashed the air with her right hand. “Start!”
Clementine swiveled the hour glass so that the sand-filled globe was on top, the empty globe was on the bottom, and a steady trickle of sand obeyed the laws of gravity.
Over the next sixty minutes, Clementine and Harriet returned, between customers, to monitor the hour glass’s progress. There was a moment of panic when Harriet thought the sand has stopped streaming, but that had been a misperception caused by a shadow. There was another crimp in the proceedings when Clementine’s father, Rufus Fraile (what was he doing here?) entered the store, tossed off a casual, “Hello Clemmy” to his daughter, made a bee-line for Betty Davis, and began to distract the pretty blond sales associate from the experiment.
But Betty left her cell phone beside the hour glass, so the count-down went on uninterrupted.
THIRTY-MINUTES: Each globe of the hour glass was equally filled with sand.
FIFTY-SEVEN MINUTES: A small pool of sand ebbed at the bottom of the top globe.
FIFTY-NINE MINUTES and TWENTY SECONDS: A sparkle of white stand remained in the top globe.
SIXTY MINUTES. The top globe relinquished its last few grains of sand, and…
Clementine and Harriet exhaled two whoops of joy. Curious shoppers gathered to ask what was going on. The sales associates explained, and sold four more hour glasses within the next fifteen minutes.
Once the customers had gone, Clementine called Meghan Mallard to convey the good news. “Eureka!” she said into the phone. “It measures exactly one hour. But I only have one left.”
“Great.” Dr. Mallard (Quack. Quack) responded. “Hold it for me. I’ll be in this afternoon.”
Harriet put a “sold” sticker on the hour glass, and Clementine wandered toward the back of the store to say “Hi” to her father and give Betty Davis back her phone. The lead sales associate, she noticed, was earnestly in discussion with Rufus about an outdoor umbrella which he did not need or want, not having a table in which to insert the pole. However, he stared at it rapt, as though Betty (she never made eye-contact with him) was displaying a rare edition of the Guttenberg Bible.
“I’ll take it,” Rufus said softly, sounding more as if he were taking a vow than making a purchase.
But a vow to whom? And for what?
Clementine was about to shout, “Dad, are you crazy? You don’t need a…” But she saw Betty Davis blush, and she heard her father cough nervously.
So she did not join them at the back of the store. Instead, from afar, she studied the delicate features of her boss’s pretty face, surrounded, as always, by a halo of golden blonde hair. She scrutinized her father’s handsome but – she had thought until that moment – somewhat stoical countenance. She sensed nervousness from both, and an undercurrent of … what?
Then Clementine remembered Walter’s insinuation of the week before, and all of a sudden, she wondered.
Could what Walter Graybill suggested be true?
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2019. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com