The Wedgewood, the Watches

Benjamin S. Grossberg

Wedgewood didn’t matter, my mother says,
speaking to me in a dream. The little vases
and ashtrays, the boxes littering the house,
I ask, they didn’t matter? No, she says, swirling
ice cubes in a tumbler of vodka, no, though
haggling for them at yard sales, watching
people wrap them in newspaper, then shoving
them so-wrapped into my purse, that mattered.
She takes a drag on her cigarette like she used to
at Bingo when I was five, six, seven years old
and she sat across from me, smoking cigarette
after cigarette to the drone of numbers in a hall
so dense with smoke you couldn’t make out
blue hairs five seats away. What about watches,
I ask, knowing my mother’s predilection
for watches: a Hamilton! she’d cry. A Seiko!
It still works! Winding its gear between
the long nails of her thumb and forefinger
and thrusting it right up against the side
of my head so I could hear the tick. Watches,
she says now, so ghostly in my dream
that she flickers as hazy and insubstantial
as cigarette smoke—smoke generating
smoke—didn’t mean shit, she says, slicing
the air with the edge of her palm like she did
when she was alive, her face, her jaw
set firm. But showing you, showing dad
the watch after I came home from the auction,
holding it out and watching for the tick
to register in your eyes, that, she says—
then she mentions dad, how he’d snatch
the watch from her hand and hold it up high
and say, “It ticks! It ticks! She got a real
bargain, a real matziah, a Hamilton
that ticks!” Then he’d parade around
the kitchen a little, do a kind of strut,
and she would grab the watch back from his
hand and strap it on her wrist and wear it
the rest of the day and say, “I know! I know!”
as if there wasn’t any irony in his pronouncement
and who knows maybe there wasn’t. That,
she says, mattered. And now, because
it’s a dream, she grabs my wrist and zap!
we’re in the house where he still lives, watching
him bend over a drawer with nine or ten
Seikos and Hamiltons, with his fore-finger
stirring them around as if they were morsels
of frying meat. He’s speaking in a low voice:
“She liked watches, your mother.” So I ask her,
if the watches don’t matter but this matters,
doesn’t that mean that the watches matter?
She swirls her tumbler and we look up from
the kitchen counter at my dad who continues
explaining about watches, but soon all we hear
is the ticking of out-of-sync gears. Tick, tick, tick.

Benjamin S. Grossberg is director of creative writing at the University of Hartford. His books include Space Traveler (2014) and Sweet Core Orchard (2009). His new collection, My Husband Would, will be published this fall.
Originally published:
April 1, 2019


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