New city, new job: I go to IKEA to buy a clock. After considering the Mallhoppa, the Dekad and the Bajk, I decide to splurge and get the brass Gänga and a pack of Alkalisks. I’m moving up in the world; when I make friends at work and invite them over for drinks, when they poke their heads into my bedroom as I’m giving them the tour, I want them to know I’m a classy person and not someone who settles for some flimsy utilitarian two buck Kupong clock.
The assembly is remarkably easy – just pop off the back, insert an Alkalisk, set the time, return the back with a satisfying click. I position it just so on my nightstand (a Nordkissa, bamboo colored if anyone would like to know). I toss the packaging in the recycling bin. Time passes like it’s supposed to; I set the alarm for 7:00 AM.
At 4:37 AM I am woken by a series of bloodcurdling shrieks, like someone is being murdered in my bedroom. Out of pure instinct I grab the nearest object at hand to defend myself, my Gänga. That’s when I realize the shrieking is coming out of the clock, and it’s cold as death itself. Instantly frozen to my hand, it keeps getting louder, its shrieking matched by my own shrieking, the dial swirling around like it’s time’s very own blender.
Somehow I manage to get it off me. I think about calling the police, but that would be horrible. I imagine them hearing the screaming, putting me in handcuffs and then tearing the place apart until they find the person I’d been murdering: because clocks don’t scream like that, that’s only what people getting stabbed to death sound like. I spend the rest of the night in the car, watching YouTube videos on my phone of cursed objects and what you should do about them.
When the sun comes up, I very carefully go back inside. The house is quiet; still, I grab a baseball bat just in case and step by step walk back towards my bedroom, looking for bloodstains and victims. If I had a Bible I’d wave that around, but I just have to hope my alarm clock is an agnostic, like me.
On my nightstand sits the Gänga, like a normal clock, still set to wake me up at 7:00 like it’s supposed to. No sign of blood, but the house reeks, metallic and heavy. I wonder if it’s my blood, pulled out and then somehow shoved back in without my knowledge, while I was panic scrolling in my car, and I shiver.
You might wonder why I wouldn’t just take that baseball bat and smash the clock to bits, but how could I, it’s just a Gänga, and besides, everyone knows that attempting to destroy cursed objects from IKEA only makes life unimaginably worse.
Still the same thing happens three nights in a row. Every time I try to throw the clock away, it shows up right back in my room, like, I really hate to say, clockwork. I experiment with everything they show in the videos: I take out the batteries and unscrew the casing, but it just looks like the inside of a clock: not a demon spider in sight, unless that’s what silent quartz mechanisms actually are. I grow to hate the smell of sage.
So I have to wonder if I’m to blame for what is happening to me. I lose focus on my work, spending time instead retracing each step in the quicksand of memory, looking for that terrible thing I must have done to have been cursed like this. For example, did I cut someone off in traffic? Did I hang up too soon on that telemarketer? Was the t-shirt I wore at the gym truly that offensive to the guy pedaling beside me, glaring whenever our eyes met? At the sportsbar I went to with some of my coworkers for happy hour that first day on the job, did I root too loudly for the wrong team? It must be like the butterfly effect, where that ONE time I assert myself, such as when I told this dude with the neck tattoos that he shouldn’t yell at the IKEA household products coworker just because they haven’t stocked enough white Blomdoft candles and that really, the beige ones smell just as nice, was that it? Anything might have set off the chain of events leading right up to my own damnation.
I might be a terrible person, but no matter how far I looked into my past, I could not see myself meriting being cursed like this. So I fish the packaging and the all-important receipt out of the recycling and drive back to IKEA. The whole place smells sulfurous, despite the hundreds of black Glasbjörks burning everywhere, but like everyone else I put up with it and wait in line at the help window, behind all the other people with various defective IKEA products: the chair with an asp where a leg should be, the Smågöra crib that keeps letting the baby escape, three pillows with the smell of bile and lutefisk leaking out of them.
“There’s something wrong with my clock,” I tell the IKEA returns counter coworker in my best Swedish, putting my BA in Scandinavian Studies to good use. “It screams.”
I get the standard Swedish response: “Come back Wednesday afternoon for clocks. Fill out this form.” I take the clipboard and scoot over to let the next person in the queue have their turn. “Come back three months from Thursday,” I overhear the coworker telling the poor fool who neglected learning another language and chose to major in business instead. “That’s our pillow repair coworker’s next availability.”
I come back Wednesday at exactly 1:02 PM according to my shiny, ten day old Gänga, which, even when I take the battery out, stick it in the hall closet with a bunch of coats over it, keeps crawling back to my bedside, its brass bottom plate scrunching up and hideously back like some mechanical snail, screaming and screaming and screaming. “Please be fixable,” I exhaustedly whisper to it as I walk carefully around the lakes of blood in the parking lot.
I pass the clock over to the clock coworker. “What seems to be the matter with your clock?” she asks.
I tell her everything.
She doesn’t believe me.
I beg her.
“Come back next Thursday.” She passes me a banged up Bajk loaner clock to use in the meantime.
I get a room in a motel that night. It doesn’t matter: my Gänga now follows me wherever I go, even if it’s supposedly still lying in pieces on the clock repair person’s workbench. And the Bajk takes up screaming too. The clocks take turns. Like every night these days, I sleep but get no rest.
Thursday, instead of an IKEA, there’s a crack in the earth, periodically shooting flames into the sky. The line of people waiting to sacrifice their possessions seems never ending. Groups of four line up for the tossing of cribs, Gonatts, Gullivers, Sundviks and unpainted Sniglars, some with their original model babies (at least I hope that’s what they are), heave-ho’ing into the pit.
But like a smart person, I skip the lines and head for the exit (what? Are you one of those people who go through the entire IKEA every time they want to buy a single bottle of Dryck Fläder syrup?). Luckily there’s nobody in line at the returns window because of the whole crack in the earth/fiery crevasse/ just sacrifice your possessions to the Dark Lord and hope for the best sort of thing. The clock coworker waves up at me. “I have your clock! There’s nothing wrong with it!”
“I have rope in my car,” I yell down. “I’ll be back in a moment.”
After I pull her up, we go rescue her husband from what’s left of the scented candle section. Altogether we save about sixteen coworkers from the pit, so there’s that. While I’m glad, an honorary IKEA coworker for the time being, I also feel stuck. Dispiritedly, I wonder if I’ll ever sleep well again.
But then Ingrid, the clock coworker, sits me down and tells me I’m a good person, that I have a good heart, and that maybe I even have what it takes to be a horologist myself. “Why don’t you come over to our place? Bring your clocks.”
That night, at Ingrid and her husband Lee’s house, they tell me all sorts of stories, of how they came to this country, how there’s a surprising future in clock repair if only a person would be open to it, that what’s happening now with the IKEAs is only the start of all the big changes coming, and what I need to do to make peace. They show me one of their clocks, a starter clock, and unlatch the back. It looks so simple: gears, a circuit board, etc., but the more I look the more it unfolds, and as I squint, I hear it singing to me, and even though I don’t recognize the language, I know what it’s saying, about how good it is to fix things, and of how much there is that needs to be fixed.
There are people who fall in love with rocks. Others fall in love with twitterbots reciting lines of poetry. The voice of a car’s navigation fills others with such longing they become so lost it takes years to return home. It has nothing to do with the status of the object; the most humble of things can inspire endless devotion and care. But so many others treat the world around them as if it were trash.
I feel ashamed that I had bought a twenty dollar clock that I was going to abandon in a free box on the curb as soon as I got a promotion or switched condos.
“Gängas are especially sensitive,” Ingrid says. “But I think you know what you need to do.” On my way out she hands me a brochure for a clock repair school in Uppsala.
Back home I wait for the clocks to begin their screaming. I decide not to give in to my fear, or to seek help from some IKEA, which, for all its good nature and social gestures, was only part of the problem. Instead, I decide to think of the clocks as very small children, and try rocking them in my arms. I’m walking around my living room with the TV turned to the PBS Kids channel, the only station that isn’t showing non-stop coverage of all the giant box retailers everywhere tumbling down fiery pits, and what it all might mean. Miraculously the clocks calm, as I point their faces to stare at Daniel Tiger. “Everybody gets mad sometimes,” I whisper. “Can you tell me why you are so upset?” And for the rest of the evening and into the morning the next day they pour out their feelings in beeps, clicks and whirs. Though I nod, and try my best to be supportive, I have no idea what they mean: there are so many moving parts. But I make a promise that when I go to clock school, I’m going to take them with me, and that I’ll never throw them away. They calm down and make little chiming sounds, in a rhythm that’s anything but mechanical. I didn’t know they knew how to do that.
I check out all seventeen of the clock books from the library, and later I apprentice with a watchmaker who teaches me enough to pass my clock school entrance exams. I specialize in repair, revitalization, upgrading: taking broken disposables and unlocking their songs. I make plans to open a shop of my own one day, where I will develop a reputation for knowing how to deal with damage and difficulties and the terrible things that can happen without generosity or love in this world. My life will be full of the music that more and more people are learning how to hear.
Time passes, then it passes some more. I grow old, the world ends, but that’s ok. The world starts all over again. The Gänga and the Bajk, proud grandfathers now with clocks of their own, chiming like nightingales, promise they’ll take care of me, and I know that they will. It’s all part of the same song.