She was not a mathematician. In fact, she works at a nostalgia shop, winding the old clocks every hour because they never catch up with the present. The man with the white beard, also the owner of the shop, does not say a single word. She knows what to do on her own. In the morning, once she enters the shop finding him sitting behind the counter in his deep purple velvet throne, she opens the only window at the back of the shop by turning the knob to the left twice then downwards, even the knobs never catch up with the present. Then she starts winding the clocks. It may sound a simple task but with fifty four clocks, two of which took extra special care due to their fragile hands, which the owner claims are as old as the French revolution, it is no trifle. It takes her five hours to wind all the clocks. It is time for the owner to stand up and walk around to watch the clocks tick. He isn’t doing it to check on her work, not at all. He never knows the time. He never catches up with the present. He walks around to watch the clocks tick and listen to their spell binding requiems.
After he finishes his tour, he returns to his throne and sometimes sleeps for an hour and a half. She never understood why he hired her. She hasn’t seen a single customer inside the shop since she came. She assumes that his arthritis deprives him of his clocks and so he needs her to do it for him, every day.
At five in the afternoon, she leaves, and the man with the white beard is still sitting on his throne, dreaming.
She was not a mathematician. She was very surprised when she had that dream. She dreamt a tornado passed by an infinite desert and instead of wrecking and vomiting sand, it left behind hundreds of white cards with the first ten numbers, including zero, written on them in red ink. The white cards would be everywhere around her head, as if suspended in mid air by a spell of ticking clocks. She wakes up afterwards, confused and wonders why she has such dreams and wonders what a mathematician’s dream would be like.
This morning she wakes up, after having the same dream, and finds her window opened and a small pile of dust particles accumulating on the window sill. She approaches carefully, almost fastidious so she won’t scare the dust away. As she comes closer, she smiles. The dust particles form a shape. A number. The number one. Anyone could have easily dismissed such an event as superstitious or fortuitous for the number one is the most easily shaped form in comparison with an eight or a five. But she didn’t. She knew it was the number one.
She was one minute late and opened the door of the shop sheepishly. The man with the white beard had shaved. He was completely bald except for a few strands of white hair on the tip of his chin. She is confused. The owner’s new beard looks like a number one. She heads to the back of the shop and opens the window turning the knob to the left twice then downwards. She is holding the first of fifty four clocks to be winded. Clock number one. Her right hand is swimming towards the hour hand when she hears a sound. Her hand drowns. The man with the white number one beard is walking towards her. He takes the clock from her left hand and hugs it. He hugs clock number one. His embrace continues until he is back in his throne, the clock in his chest, the hour hand as it is, not catching up with the present, his heart beating. It is eleven o’clock.
It is eleven o’clock.
She wakes up.
She is late for the first time.