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Ticks in Time  

 That clock was robbing me of my sleep

The world slept, and I was losing my mind.

“You’re exhausted,” I told myself, rolling over yet again and giving the pillow a fierce punch. “Ignore the noise and go to sleep.”

It was two-something a.m. Which meant it was four a.m. in Israel, which meant almost morning for us, after missing the previous night’s sleep on interminable travel in taxis, buses, trains, and planes. With a toddler.

I looked at the clock, with its generic white plastic rim, hanging on the floral-patterned wallpaper opposite me and told it to Be. Quiet.

It returned my glare with blank impassiveness and ticked on regardless. Loudly. Tick. Tick. Tick.

For a moment I considered leaving my husband and daughter slumbering sweetly and looking for sleeping quarters elsewhere, anywhere.  Even on a bare mattress. Or the couch.

But the click of the door opening would wake my little siren in an instant. My head hurt, the noise of the plane still droning in my ears, along with the sound of the red second-hand marching slowly around the clock face, echoing loudly in the nighttime silence. Tick. Tick.

I should probably have used the opportunity for introspection, thinking of chassidic masters and mussar giants and their reminders about awareness of Time, the preciousness of every moment. See how seconds slip away from Man! I should have told myself. Hark, O Soul! Awaken! 

I was awake. But I’m sorry to say that instead of lofty thoughts, I lay there imagining myself flinging the offending piece out of the first-floor window, screws and plastic splinters strewn across the bushes. Unnecessary drama; I could just put it in another room. I wondered if I was allowed to take it off the wall on Shabbos.

Morning eventually arrived, some 18,000 excruciating seconds later.

Excusing myself for nodding off into my plate, I asked my parents where on earth they had picked up that monstrosity, because I didn’t remember ever having noticed it, because clocks should be seen and not heard, and who on earth dreamt up such an instrument of torture?

No one even knew what I was talking about and found the whole situation hilarious — younger brothers most of all.

That afternoon I stayed on the couch, dozing over a magazine and waking up with a crick in my neck, grumpy as a NYSE floor broker in 2008.

The second Shabbos was over, I ran upstairs, yanked the clock off the wall and stowed it under Younger Brother’s bed. See how he would fare with something ticking beneath him all night like some macabre countdown.

The next morning, he seemed none the worse for the wear. Ha, all he did was take the batteries out, the smug young man informed me. And I became a running joke throughout our stay.

“So hey, what’s worse, a crying baby or a ticking clock?”

“Hickory dickory dock… the clock struck one, Rachel was gone…”               “What time is it? Time for a new clock.”

I took it all in good humor — as long as I could sleep without that horrible tick tick in my brain. Our precocious toddler provided more than enough noise, thank you.

We returned home, time passed, and the clock and bad jokes were forgotten.

And then we flew in for another visit.

I staggered up the stairs at some unearthly hour, lightheaded from a missed night of sleep, security checks, turbulence, and a layover in what qualified as a third world airport.

In the process of unzipping the suitcase, hoping its contents hadn’t shifted too much and that I could find my night things easily, I stopped.

More than the thoughtfully prepared room — inviting bed, the glow of a Shabbos lamp, bottle of water, fancy tissue box, and towels folded just so — nothing warmed my heart as much as the sight of two batteries lying in the corner of the night table.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 790)

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