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Blackhorse Road

Mosaic showing a black horse.

Picture by practicalowl: Blackhorse

Joseph and Ambrose Sainsbury live on Blackhorse Road, a few minutes’ walk from the station. There isn’t a lot of passing trade; but then, turret clocks are a fairly specialised market, and as such are rarely purchased on a whim by people who just happen to be passing a turret clock shop.

The sign by the door shows a church tower, but of course their clocks also find a home at railway stations, atop town halls and factories, occasionally out by a distant country house. The Sainsbury brothers do not, however, deal with mantel clocks, grandfather clocks, cuckoo clocks, egg timers or — most especially — watches.

Joseph Sainsbury is the talkative brother, and he explains this rule to several aspiring customers a week.

“I accept,” the girl says, “that watches aren’t your area of special expertise, but the problem has arisen before and I’m assured that it’s a very simple fault. Mr Timbleton was able to provide a remedy in minutes.”

Her coat is green; her tone is stubborn. “In that case I suggest,” Joseph tells her, “that you take the watch to Mr Timbleton.”

“If Mr Timbleton were not now dead, I most certainly would,” she says, but Joseph has already stepped away from the counter. He holds a large cog up to the light and squints. The girl waits expectantly; but after he turns the cog over and continues to squint, she sighs and leaves.

Joseph had expected more of a fight. He puts the cog down, on a back shelf out of the way; he has in fact very little idea what to do with it, or with the springs or the escapements or the bells that line his shelves, or with any mechanical device. He keeps the shop tidy; he looks after the books; and he arranges new commissions. The clockmaking itself is Ambrose’s concern.

Lunch is another of Joseph’s responsibilities; he’s in the back room carving a very large ham when someone comes into the shop. It’s the girl again, carrying a box under her arm.

“Good afternoon,” Joseph says. “Have you decided to replace your unreliable pocket watch with a fine Sainsbury Brothers turret clock?”

“No,” she says. “I already have a turret clock. It’s broken, and I’d like you to fix it.” She puts the box down on the counter, and then lifts out… a tower: pointed roof folded from brown paper, sides made from the torn covers of an old three-volume novel, string, ragged pages. Near the top, wobbling slightly, held in place by the twisted loops of its chain, is the watch.

Joseph laughs. In the time it must have taken her to build the tower, she could surely have had the watch fixed elsewhere by now. But she tilts her head back, and it’s a challenge: go on, you can’t turn it away now, Mister Too-Good-For-Watches.

“I’m afraid,” Joseph says, “I still can’t help you.”

“Mr Sainsbury,” the girl says, “I was under the impression you dealt in turret clocks. I have brought you a turret clock.”

“Yes,” Joseph says, “I can see that. But I don’t deal with the clockwork myself, you understand. All the family’s physical dexterity is invested in my brother.”

“I’m very happy for your brother to fix the clock. I have no preference among Sainsburies, I assure you.”

“No. But… perhaps you’d better come with me, and meet him.”

She picks up the tower gently, and lays it again in the carton. “That sounds like a very god idea.”

Joseph shouldn’t be doing this, but the tower is so precarious and wonderful; he can’t turn her away without an explanation. He leads her through the corridor, and out into the yard behind the shop.

Ambrose is sitting on the ground, cross-legged, leaning over his workbench. The bench is significantly taller than Joseph.

“Oh,” the girl says.

Ambrose looks up, a fourteen-foot pendulum poised delicately between his fingers. He blinks, startled, and his eyelids are vast and slow.

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