The tick-tick-tock of the clock

by Cath Barton

From the train I could see the colours of the high alpine meadows, swathes of yellow dandelions against the washed blue of the early summer sky. And I was heading away from it all, back to Geneva, the airport and, by evening the grey skies of London. I closed my eyes and imagined myself on the hillside, arms wide and twirling round like Julie Andrews in the film of The Sound of Music. 

“Are you okay?” I opened my eyes. The man’s brow was creased. His eyes were impossibly blue. 

“You were mouthing something,” he said. 

I pulled a face by way of apology. 

“It’s no problem,” he continued. “I was just concerned about you.” 

I pulled out my book. The man’s eyes were like the sky above the alp. An impossible colour. I was still raw from the last failed relationship. So why would I even think of starting another? 

He was persistent. Asked if he could buy me a coffee. It would have been rude to refuse. When he came back with the drinks the train lurched and coffee slopped, scalding, from one of the cups. He was quick. Sliding easily into the seat next to me and mopping at my skirt with a paper napkin. 

“Please don’t worry,” I said. But his face was too close to mine. I could feel my heart thumping. I pulled back. 

“You’re very kind,” I said. Our conversation was uncomplicated. He said he had a house, just a small one, up there on the alp. He would show me one day. There was an inevitability about it all. The whole of our journey. That we would be taking the same plane. To the same destination. 

I gave him my phone number and told myself to expect nothing. So that when this one went wrong I would not be disappointed. He rang. We met. I was not disappointed. 

Until. Until the day when I listened to the tick-tick-tock of the clock – the Swiss clock with the cuckoo which hangs in my flat – because he had not arrived. Nor rung. He was on his way back from a trip and I knew delays were common. Nevertheless. I went out onto the balcony. The air was full of little dandelion seed parachutes. I held out my hand and some of the seeds landed on my palm. It felt like an omen. My hearted lurched. 

On the evening news I watched the reports of the plane crash, over and over. Coming down over and over. And all the time the tick-tick-tock of the clock and the oblivious dandelion seeds drifting in through the open window. 

I went back to Switzerland, to the high alpine meadows. To his small house. I lay down among the golden dandelions and looked up at the impossibly blue sky. And felt the sun on my face, as a benediction. I was alone. And yet. I had known him. 

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Writers Bio

Cath Barton is a writer and photographer who lives in South Wales. Most recently her short fiction has been published in The Ham, Idler, Story Shack and the anthology One Hundred Voices, Vol 2.

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