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Breath & Shadow

Spring 2022 - Vol. 19, Issue 2

"Danny The Clock"

written by

George Zancola

Danny thought of himself as an accurate timepiece. He liked to think of himself as a stopwatch. As he did not have many options in the way of career choices, and felt compelled to do something, or be someone, timekeeping seemed a doable sort of work.

Danny couldn’t admit to himself, or to anyone else, that he was unemployable. He wouldn’t allow it. He didn't want to spread a lie. Who knows, he might recover one day, and find a job. But mum’s the word. He wasn’t letting on that he had plans of any kind.

Around here, they’d never let him live down what they had told him was an absurd notion. The only consequence to Danny actually working would be laughter and tears. Oh, they didn’t say it outright. They implied this idea. He could see this conclusion, drawn by almost everyone, stated in their stares at him.

Who would want to work anyway, if there was an easier way to get by? That’s what they’d say, that is, those who would help him find work. Danny did not agree with this worn-out notion. He was not a fanatic communist who wanted everyone to think the same way, or a crazy capitalist who wanted so much independence that he could get away with murder. Danny was different. Smarter, maybe. He was a being with limitations, and boundaries set by those limitations. He knew the demarcations of his capabilities. He knew what he could do. He knew what he could not do. He didn’t try to get fancy. He stayed within his bounds.

The means by which he could make a living were few. No one would ever hire him, so he had to create his own work. Danny knew well enough to keep within the natural restraints upon him.

Danny was a stand up guy. He could poke fun at himself for asserting that he was a clock. He did it all the time. He slapped his knee and chortled over the jokes he made up about living in the present moment. What else could a clock do? Besides being there, and on time!?

What else was there to do other than to eat, tick, and be merry!? The idea of clockwork fascinated him. He was unlike other people. They didn't know what they were missing by forgoing the study of time. He was appreciative of the difference between himself and others, even if they couldn’t get his jokes. They weren’t rolling in the aisle when he said something funny. Sometimes their reactions were markedly confused, baffled, or even frightened. If they laughed Danny felt that they were merely being polite.

When he was told a joke, he listened politely, but made no reaction to indicate how he felt about the joke. He stared blankly at the wall, even if he thought the joke was very funny. He would normally laugh, but he now conveyed a very different persona.

No, he wasn’t anything special, nothing like that, but he was wiser. He had no choice. He needed wisdom to read people. There were certain trust issues, but that wasn’t surprising. He really was Danny the clock. He was fearful of being found out.

In the distant past, in another lifetime, a social worker he once knew told Danny he told jokes that only a schizophrenic could understand. Danny wasn’t insulted. He was proud to bear this comedic distinction. This interaction took place before his ‘accident’. After that the number of those who could appreciate his one liners further narrowed, particularly if they were to be categorized by diagnostic groupings. He had a funny line for it. He called potential fans his loser group.

“Welcome to the loser group,” he could be heard to say when he opened his act.

Still, no one got it. No one knew what he was talking about.

“The world is a tough room,” he told the social worker. “At least I know when to laugh, and when not to laugh.” The social worker was mystified. This observation by Danny couldn’t have been original. He must have heard it somewhere else. It was too perceptive to have been thought of by someone with such an unmanageable disorder.

One liners, whenever Danny came up with them, were a gift from God, at least in terms of their tight, comedic punch, and the brevity of the illumined hilarity. Unfortunately, a one liner would roll off his tongue in ten to fifteen minutes. The world was ungracious, and merciless, to a comedian in a chair.

Nobody hung around long enough to hear any of his pithy punch lines. Never mind, they were more often than not unaware that he was telling a joke. He had a lot to say, He could tell it like it is, but no one ever tried to converse with him. Ever.

Danny had been working on himself, quietly, discreetly. He understood that his comedy was a cover for his anger, and that beneath his rage ran the melancholy. Somehow, in all the storm of emotion inside him, he learned to let go of hurts and harms done to him. He had forgiven the world, and everyone in it. He forgave God, too. Whatever happened was meant to be. Not even God could stop it or control it.

Yes, life was on a set course, but Danny had found a way to circumvent the inevitability of what happens in the world. He just wasn’t talking about it to anyone. He was keeping it to himself. Mum’s the word.

This discovery was potentially dangerous should he mishandle it. The revelation of it unfolding in his consciousness put him in the order of those with a higher intelligence. As a result the powers that be were watching him. He vowed to himself never to make use of his secret knowledge to harm any living thing.

At least, he thought this was the case, until they hired a new night man. Through interactions with this recently hired staff member Danny became aware of how deep and intense was the rage that ran within him. Danny wanted to fix the night man’s wagon.


Danny couldn’t commit to his name when he was asked to say it. Yes, yes, it’s Danny. No one understood him, not anyone, not anywhere. No one could comprehend how his mind worked, if not with locked away cogwheels and springs unique to him.

He could not relate to himself unless he called to mind the internal movements of a stopwatch.

Certainly, he would have his vengeance. His desire to get even, though, only made that night man smile. Danny saw the taunt in his eyes. What would Danny do to hurt him, the night man was likely thinking to himself. Who would believe that he could be cruel. Poking Danny with a key was easy to do. Who would ever find out?

And damn that psychologist with terms like ‘acting out’ when Danny drooled, and he took it to mean that he was spitting at him. Or the psychiatrist’s descriptive medical phrases like ‘uncalled for’ when Danny wailed if his plate of food was taken from him too soon. He shook his head in anger at the thought of those who put him down with their textbook expertise. How could they dare say anything about him? Insults were far worse than being poked in the ribs with a key by the night man. They knew this very well but they persisted in putting him down.

He was not powerless. Able to think for himself, and to be his own person, he would show them. He tried to make this obvious by raising his voice. Oh, but they still pretended not to understand him! Why doesn’t he keep quiet? Why is he agitated? No! He was only trying to make a point. About Thursdays, for example.

Still, nobody understood what he was saying. Or were they pretending not to know? His concepts weren’t complex. He didn’t say too much. He loved the lunch time ‘mac and cheese’ on Thursdays. Like all of his food this meal was in mushed form so that he wouldn’t choke on it. He might swallow too much of it at one time.

Thursday was the best day. That same day was ping pong day. No, he didn’t cry when he lost. He didn’t do stupid things with the paddle. They should speak for themselves.

Time went by like a shipwreck. The hands on the wall clock moved like a ghost. He was taken for granted during its passage, as if he didn’t know the value of the passing second, minute, or hour. And he was making a point when he shouted out aloud. His point? The mac and cheese was so good, it didn’t need any condiments.

No, he wasn’t a gourmand. He was also saying he didn’t like to eat living things. Animals had rights. They were trying to make a living, too. He hated the fish sticks on Wednesday, and the chicken on Fridays. And why did they serve turkey? But that wasn’t the point, either. Time sailed by! That was the point! And he kept track of it. He made the tally without haste. And he could wait.

In the afternoons, he spent hours noting changes in overhead weather patterns. Doggedly, he tried to correlate the vastness of the canopy above him, and the speedy movement of time through it. There was a purpose to the actions of time. He learned to see it well enough. They wheeled him to the bay window each day to look at the sky. That’s where he sat to do his count of seconds, minutes, and hours.

There was a pun there somewhere. He was working to develop it. And there was more! The truth wasn't always evident. The second hand inside Danny’s head was moving towards the end of the space-time continuum. And then there was his desire to get even. Could he exact his revenge through time’s forward motion?

Did they understand that he was a dangerous man? Is that why they immobilized him by putting him in this chair? Did they know what was really going on? And did they know that he knew it, too? In short, he owned the marvel of physics. Time, that is. He was the banker of the moments. No wonder that he was confined to this hospital with its locks on its doors, and its obscene medications.

His freedom was another matter, though, and they could not touch it. He was not bound by the lies they told. The night man was going to get his, and so were all the others who ever touched him, however they did it, or why. Or when. Or where. There were no statutory limits. What did it matter that it was sixty years ago, and that it was in the basement of a torn down house, in a corner of time no one could any longer see. Danny called this intersection of space and time the place of lost dreams.

Yes, he was a stopwatch. His ticking could be heard by all, if they cared to listen. This was metaphorical, of course. No one would take him literally, but he wouldn’t be surprised if they were worried he might have something up his sleeve. He did. This hidden thing was the concept by which he would be vindicated.

All intervals of time were on deposit with him. He was the stock boy of time. Metaphorically, of course. And realistically. He was in charge of time’s allocation. He gave time. By consequence, he could take time away. He held a very responsible position. He was aware of it. They were aware of it, too. And he wasn’t alone. There were other stock persons, other repositories for the intervals of time. Together, they controlled time. It was, if you will, legally, and practically, in their possession.

Danny preferred to bestow time upon others, rather than remove it. He had a good heart, as did all his fellow timekeepers. He'd go so far as to do a good turn for the night attendant. Danny was not an evil man. He was not the judge of others. But one could land softly on him or fall upon him hard. No wonder they threw the key away! He knew too much. And the night man was in for it, unless he changed his ways.

Danny did everything quietly, and never spoke. Not a word. Rarely. Once or twice, maybe. Like saying not to put ketchup on the mac and cheese on Thursdays. Why should he express himself? Why say anything at all?

He was a clock, and clocks don’t need to speak. Not in words.

George is a writer of stories and poetry that have to do with the psychiatric condition. He has recently completed a work of short stories entitled "Hey, Beethoven!" He has previously published in the Open Minds Quarterly, the Humber Literary Review, and the Nothing Without Us and the Inkwell Writing Group anthologies. He has been nominated for a Journey Prize and is the recipient of an Ontario Arts Council Grant. He is currently working on a novel. He has recently published a chapbook of poetry called 'A Big Wheel Went Up A Hill' on Secret Handshake / books. He lives and works in Toronto.

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