Gerrard Houdini would never be a cat burglar: that required stealth, poise and a certain arrogance he simply didn’t possess… dog burglar would be more accurate.
Gerrard perched on a brick wall in the spring sunrise, watching the warm fuzz cast its patchwork blanket, each home seeming open-armed in welcome. He struggled to think of his hobby as theft and trespass – they were such dirty words! He just loved to explore, and the trinkets he stole were mementos of strange houses and unrealised friends.
Tonight it was the house on the corner that had set his bulbous nose twitching like a wagging tail. It was tall and spindly, distinctly different from the surrounding gingerbread terraces, and looked like it might be hiding a few mysteries in the backyard under clumps of neglected daffodils. When he saw the interior windowsills were lined with the dull twinkle of silver, he lost his footing in excitement and fell, colliding face-first with an overflowing metallic dustbin in a blur of noise and banana peel.
Not a curtain twitched as Gerrard Houdini rolled his podgy midriff clumsily over the garden fence. Tonight the gossips set their gaze elsewhere, for no one wanted to interfere at mad Madame Clockwork’s house. After jimmying a window and climbing inside, disturbing a couple of dozing pigeons in the process, Gerrard reached out a gloveless hand without thinking and flicked the lights on.
“Oh f – !” Gerrard realised his mistake and hastily corrected it. The momentary flash brought the realisation that he was surrounded. The occupants were enormous buxom women with chocolate skin, great squares swathed in great drapes of silk – wait, square?
Gingerly, he flicked the switch again. The room was lost to a swarm of antique furniture, arranged too closely and awkwardly to indicate use. Cotton dustsheets thrown by short-reaching arms barely covered their half-imagined modesty.
Gerrard found every room he entered in a similar state of mid-dress. They were like ladies awaiting assistance from handmaids long since dead. Didn’t anybody live here? Failing to spot the Edwardian table leg emerging from under a cotton corner, he tripped and fell in a clatter.
Impatience drove the great dope to descend the stairs. It was curiosity’s fault, though, that he opened that door. Despite the silence, the light made him certain someone was behind it. The room was not what he expected, and neither was its occupant, but what was strangest was their juxtaposition. The room was pale gold and gleaming, garnished like an appetiser not meant for eating. Its tall walls were drenched in clocks, set mere inches apart, their stern round faces towering over him. Each shelf and decorative table, too, teamed with a battalion of time-keepers.
Stood at the centre of all the luxury was a woman so elderly she seemed to degrade before his eyes. Age made a mockery of what once must have been a handsome face. Her chandelier cheekbones were long lost behind the cobwebs of wrinkled, translucent skin.
This breathing antique gave him a much-delayed smile, toothless but warm, then beckoned him inside with feather-light fingers. “You’re just in time! Come in and make yourself at home, my dear.”
A smile broke like eggshell and slid across Gerrard’s face. In his pleasure at being expected by her, he forgot that he was an intruder and made himself comfortable in a tasselled armchair so cushioned it half-swallowed him.
“Nice place you’ve got here,” he stated with a vague but vigorous nod. Observing all the absurdities of British politeness, he started to look around meticulously at nothing in particular.
“Oh, yes. Shame it’ll all be gone soon.” There was a great sadness in her eyes that Gerrard struggled to interpret.
“Throwing a few things out in the spring clean?” His head began bobbing mindlessly again. “I hope you keep the clocks!”
“Oh yes. Without the clocks, how would I ever know when it’s time?” The silver bells of her laughter rang senile.
“Time for what?” In confusion, Gerrard’s face was all angles.
“Why, my dear, the end.”
Gerrard’s wit flailed uselessly like a Labrador’s tongue. “The end…? Of… the month?”
Madame Clockwork adopted a dramatic stage whisper. “Of the world.” She shuffled closer and beckoned him into a conspiratorial huddle. “At exactly 4:54 we will experience THE LAST SUNDAY.” She spoke the last three words in capitals.
Gerrard Houdini glanced at the clock. It was 4:54 now.
“That clock must be wrong,” he murmured dismissively, exercising all the tact of a bull loose in porcelain Legoland, “the sun’s rising.”
“That just proves it! Don’t you see?! The sun is rising now because there won’t be a 6:00!”
It took the great Houdini longer than most to defeat her warped logic with common sense. “It’s because you haven’t changed the clocks! They went forward today,” he departed with a knowing nod. “’Spring forwards, fall back!’ I’ll give you a hand changing them… shall I put them to 5:55?”
“CHANGE?!? To FIVE?!?” Words spluttered from her in ugly, volcanic fury. She swung her arm at the clock Gerrard was resting his clumsy paw on. Her strength in anger was surprising.
“Noone changes time! NOONE! Get out of my house! How dare you tell me it’s already past five? How dare you come here and ruin an old woman’s happiness?!? GET OUT!!”
And then old Madame Clockwork began to tear the room apart with fierce, tiny claws. The air was suddenly awash with fragmented glass and cushion-stuffing, and punctuated by frantic, frustrated shrieks. Houdini fled through the unlocked front door, loudly cursing the day he ever heard of Daylight Saving Time.
Old Madame Clockwork concluded that The End Of The World was a complicated and time-consuming business, unlikely to be thrown off by something as whimsical as ‘spring forwards, fall back’. It would no doubt be along shortly. No matter that it was 5:15.
It was only a matter of time.