Renaissance Man

Christmas, 2001 / No. 7
Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

He leaves his room: locks the door, steps down the stairs, enters the street. At the sidewalk, he brushes his jacket, straightens his tie, buffs his shoes on his pant leg, steers clear of litter, dodges doggie droppings—“Uhh. Lousy mutt.”—and alertly evades every crack. He checks his watch. “Be right on time.” Arriving at the corner, he tilts his face toward a large clock, then again checks his watch. “Damn.” He raises his wrist to his ear, listens, shakes his wrist, listens. He adjusts his watch. “Damn. Now how the…? ” He spins on his heels as if to return to his apartment, sighs, spins again. He crosses a street, enters a café, orders coffee and bran muffins. He reads a paper. Finishing his second cup of coffee and the last bite of muffin, he neatly folds the paper, places it on the counter, peers up, and spots a clock. “What…? ” He twists his wrist, reads the time, compares his watch with the clock on the wall. He taps the watch crystal. He bends his ear to his wrist and listens. His eyes travel back and forth from the clock to the watch, from the watch to the clock. “Then, I wasn’t late. I’m late now.” He adjusts his watch. He pays and leaves. In the doorway, his head turns left, right, homeward. He checks the time, scratches his head, smiles, shrugs, reaches into his pocket and produces a coin. The coin flips, lands, is returned to his pocket. He points right, walks, sniffs the air, and gazes into the shop windows: books, clothing, hardware, groceries, bathroom accessories, and…a clock. He stops, checks his watch, compares, shakes his head, and adjusts his watch. He returns to the café, sits in a booth, orders the veal cutlet special with milk, coffee, and rice pudding. He eats slowly, finishes, pays the bill, and exits. At the door, he stares left, right, homeward. A horn blasts from the left. He turns and follows the sound around the corner. For a few blocks, his legs stretch in long, even measures. At an intersection, he stops in front of a clock. He reads the time, compares it with his own, and adjusts his watch. He swivels his head, locates a restaurant, and hurries to the door. It is locked. He searches for a sign listing the hours of business, discovers one, reads, checks his watch, and tries the door again. He rattles the doorknob, bangs on the window, flashes his watch. No one answers. The place remains dark. He whirls, sees a second restaurant across the street, makes a face, and winds through the traffic. He enters the restaurant, orders spaghetti and ribs, a flagon of red wine, and salad—no garlic bread. He eats. The waiter takes the empty plate. The man calls for coffee, spumoni ice cream, and a brandy. After two brandies, he licks his lips, burps lightly, excuses himself to no one in particular, dabs his mouth, and pays. “Excuse me…but could you tell me the time? ” “Eleven-thirty,” says the waiter. The man looks at his watch, adjusts the time, yawns, curls up in the booth, and sleeps. Two waiters and the manager form a half-circle at his table. They try to wake him with pleas and pokes. They shake him. No luck. The waiters grab his legs and slide him out of the booth while the manager waits to secure his head and shoulders. They pick him up, carry him to the door, and toss him unceremoniously into the street. He wakes up, opens his eyes, squints, cringes, shields his eyes from the bright sun. He feels for his watch—the crystal is shattered, the hands bent uselessly. The man leaps to his feet, spins, presses his fingers to his temples, and races down the street. Reaching a corner, he skids to a halt and freezes; feet spread, legs locked. His palms fly away from his head stretching his arms straight out from his body. For a moment, he stands immobile, trapped like da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, in a small circle of space. Then, his thin arms begin to revolve slowly, slowly, slowly…ticking out precise seconds, minutes, hours. His face is black, his eyes are fixed as his body aims directly toward a tall, concrete tower upon which rests a massive round clock with brilliant gold numerals and no hands.

Stan Rogal lives and writes in Toronto. His work has appeared in magazines and anthologies in Canada, the United States, and Europe. Last updated winter, 2020–2021.