By Gabriela Mayer

It is with immense pleasure we present this up-and-coming Argentinian short story writer translated into English for the very first time. And we do it with a striking tale which confidently builds up its pathos towards an unpredictable and magnificent end

At night, the wooden clock creaks. In the living room, the solid oak creaks. In the heart of the Agronomía neighbourhood in Buenos Aires. Before that, it spent many years huddled in an old house in Parque Chacabuco. And now it creaks. With a mournful tone, as the dampness comes out.

Long ago, the clock arrived by boat from Germany after a long transatlantic journey aboard the Monte Rosa. The ship was full of Jewish migrants, among them Ingrid’s family, the Weisses. Ingrid’s grandparents and father disembarked without really knowing where. They were able to go into exile with the belongings they managed to gather in a few hours, which they put in a large wooden and metal container.

But it’s not the creaking that bothers Ricardo Muratore. If only it were that. It so happens that Ingrid Weiss’s clock—the one that every guest admires as soon as they step into her living room—keeps chiming. Thunderously. Out of tune.

For every hour, one chime. Two o’clock, two chimes. Six at six o’clock. Twelve at twelve o’clock. Every hour that has passed, is passing and will ever pass in the Agronomía house comes with that sound from another time and another world. From a dissonant world that probably no longer exists. A world that only stirs, brief and ephemeral, with every chime.

The clock’s door, with wooden edges and thick, bevelled glass, grants access to the weights and the pendulum. From the back of the door, the chiming clock testifies to its lineage with a bronze plate: 

Peter Krag, Frankfurt a.M.

Vilbelerstr. 1 Tel. H. 4713

Ingrid religiously complies with her winding ritual, so that the two huge weights do not keep going down and stop the machinery as soon as they touch the base. First, she opens the door, then she stops the pendulum’s swing. She pulls the chains, gently but firmly, so that the weights rise back to their initial position. The ritual ends with the reading of the black letters engraved on Peter Krag’s signature plate, and the closing of the clock door.

Two days have been chosen to wind it—Wednesdays and Sundays. Ingrid told him once, a long time ago. This is her way of respecting and perpetuating the family tradition. She never gets tired of repeating Grandma Weiss’s warning—If the machinery stops running, it could break down.

Ricardo knows that Ingrid takes the preservation of the clock very seriously. It is very difficult to find someone in Buenos Aires who can fix Peter Krag’s creation.  He has heard hundreds of times that it had a long journey from his clockmaker’s shop in Frankfurt. That it was manufactured at the beginning of another century. And that it arrived in Buenos Aires on the Monte Rosa.

Occasionally, Ricardo has even watched Ingrid stroke the dark oak wood, as if in a trance. He has seen her long fingers, her nails painted red, slide down the sides of the clock and its inner panels. Carefully, so as not to scratch the wood with one of her golden rings.

The Ingrid who owns Peter Krag’s clock is much more sensual than the Ingrid who walks around the house the rest of the day. Often scantily dressed, sometimes with her long hair down. With grey hair starting to show through.

He curses the day he said yes to keeping the Weisses’ clock. And to taking it from the old run-down house under the highway. There were so many other things to choose from, but Ingrid wasn’t interested in the reclining chairs or the coffee table, nor in the white porcelain plates with a golden rim.

She wanted the clock. Peter Krag’s clock. With its chimes striking inside the house. With only two hands—a shorter one for the hours and a longer one for the minutes. All guests tell her what a wonderful clock it is. What a beauty. Some ask Ingrid to open the wooden box, to show them the clock, to explain it to them. She loves that.

She shows it off slowly, as if in an ancestral, hybrid ceremony that unites Germany with Argentina. Or that at least unites her with her parents and her paternal grandparents, about whom she has barely ever talked to him. Once, a long time ago, Ricardo saw her sitting at the table, sorting through old family photographs. As soon as he entered the room, Ingrid quickly put the photos back in their box and closed it.

The surly Ingrid denies him the chance to get close to the Weiss past. She guards it with zeal, just like her photos. The sensual Ingrid shows whoever wants to watch how she opens the clock’s door, and how the weights slowly rise as she pulls on the chains. She stops the swing of the pendulum and then, with a small finger movement, almost a flutter, she starts it up again.

Several times he’s seen her stroke it. Ricardo Muratore remembers that the hand that slides down Peter Krag’s clock has not touched him for ages, especially with that much devotion. Perhaps those fingertips are only meant to stroke the Weiss past that he is not allowed to see.

Something changed between them, a long time ago. Was it when the clock arrived? Was it earlier? Ricardo can’t quite remember. What he is sure of is that they are out of step. When he goes upstairs to bed, she is usually already asleep. He hears her breathing rhythmically. She seems cold, distant. He sometimes wonders whether she pretends to be asleep when she hears him come up the stairs.

Every night Ricardo turns off the light in the bedroom hallway and goes to bed. He thinks he can hear Peter Krag’s pendulum ticking downstairs, although Ingrid swears that this is impossible. But the chimes do climb the stairs and tear through the silence in the house. He hears them every hour. Laughing chimes that trigger sleepless nights to disturb his daily life.

He has tried closing the bedroom door. Turning on the air conditioner, at least on fan mode. Letting that noise overpower the ticking clock. But nothing works. He has long hated nights, and with them Ingrid’s breathing when she is asleep, the chimes that don’t stop, the sleeplessness.

Ricardo suddenly realises that he could stop Peter Krag’s creation during the night. It is just a matter of holding the pendulum for a second, restraining the rod on which it is mounted, and the machine will stop. And then starting the clock again in the morning.

Would he dare to tamper with a clock that has only known the touch of Ingrid’s long fingers and the fingers of her Weiss ancestors? One night, he makes sure that his wife is asleep, as always. He tries to open the side of the clock, as he has seen her do so many times. His hands shake. A splinter grazes his left index finger. That must be a sign. Perhaps he shouldn’t.

One Sunday he decides to go to bed early. He is woken by the endless chimes of midnight. And by the chimes of one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock. At four, he finally manages to fall asleep and stops hearing the chimes. Until Ingrid wakes him up at seven, so he can get to the office on time.

She is never late. She is the most punctual person Ricardo has ever known. Her timing is always perfect. Ingrid, a secretary at a German school, has never clocked in after the bell rings.

As always, that Monday morning Ingrid wakes him up with a quick kiss. He feels her cold, almost limp lips on his cheek. He would like to draw her to him by the waist, as in the old days. The light is still working on their sleepy eyes. He wishes he could take her clothes off and hurriedly make love to her, then get dressed quickly and say goodbye.

He forgets that fantasy and tells himself that he has to talk to Ingrid as soon as possible, to let her know he can no longer bear Peter Krag’s chimes. To ask her to please stop it or to call some expert clockmaker who can silence the clock once and for all. Towards the middle of that week, he plucks up enough courage and decides to finally tell her on Saturday or Sunday.

The following nights, the chimes sound louder than ever, almost as if the clock wanted revenge. He cannot get more than two hours of sleep in succession. That is when the headache begins. No painkiller can solve the thud over his eyebrows, which sometimes extends as far back as the nape. The chimes thunder, haughty and dissonant, inside his head.

“Ingrid,” he says on Saturday, as soon as they go down to the kitchen for breakfast. “I could barely sleep all night.”

“Really?” she replies—half her body hidden behind the wooden island that she likes so much—while she toasts the brown bread.

Ricardo tells her just like that, out of the blue. He can’t take it anymore. The chimes. The sleeplessness. The loss of focus. Now, the headache.

“Migraine,” she says. “It is more precise, and things should be called by their names.”

“So?” Ricardo implores.

“No,” she answers curtly, pressing down the toaster button again.

“Don’t those chimes bother you?” he asks.

“Never, I don’t even hear them,” she replies.

Ricardo would like to step up to the challenge and say something like “It’s the clock or me.” But he knows the answer. He stares at the plate with two pieces of toast that Ingrid places neatly on the table.

“You shouldn’t drink so much coffee if you have a headache,” she says as she spreads the homemade blackberry jam. She hands him the plate, but he rejects it with a quick wave of the hand.

“You know those chimes have been keeping me awake for a long time,” he says in desperation.

“Oh, please. You’re very nervous, take some Xanax,” Ingrid replies as she straightens a ring on her right hand and fixes the knot in her nightgown. When she hears the nine o’clock chimes, she gets up. She has a busy Saturday schedule ahead of her. She gets dressed and leaves.

Ricardo’s day, on the other hand, goes by slowly, as if in fits and starts. He struggles to deal with his headache and the resulting confusion. He goes out into the garden. Perhaps the fresh air will give him some peace. He rummages through the faded shelves in the shed for a while, until he finds the shears and the axe. Using the shears, he tackles the Chinese jasmine that overhangs the wall. Using the axe, he chops some overgrown branches of the silk floss tree. Maybe tomorrow, if he wakes up with more energy, he could use the edger.

He falls asleep, but the short nap fails to make up for his few hours of rest. That Saturday, he begins to think that even if Peter Krag’s clock stopped chiming, he would still hear the chimes every day of his life.

Ingrid gets back home tired, probably from her evening walk. She throws herself on the couch to watch a European film and does not invite him to join her. Later, she reheats food from the freezer and places the two steaming bowls on the table. She says it is a vegetable stir fry. Has she made it herself or is it takeaway? He pours two glasses of water. They eat quickly and quietly, just after the eight o’clock chimes. After a while, she walks upstairs to bed.

Ricardo goes out to look at the stars, but he feels a little cold and comes back in. He wanders through the living room and comes face to face with the clock. He stands still, staring at the pendulum that swings back and forth. With that movement, Peter Krag seems to be teasing him, telling him that the clock will last forever. Stressing that he, Ricardo Muratore, will die one day, but that the Krag creation will keep on chiming forever and ever.

When the ten o’clock chimes come, the pain gets worse. As if his head was being compressed from the outside to stretch and deform it. He walks in circles around the living room. He decides to go out into the garden again, to breathe in more of the damp night air. He takes a deep breath, but finds no relief. As he enters the house, he squints and feels the soft wooden handle in his hand. He doesn’t remember having gone all the way back to the shed. He only knows that he’s clutching the axe.

The metal edge is unforgiving. First, it shatters the glass into pieces. Then, it easily breaks the pendulum and the rod. It also cuts through the chain and the gear train. The metal makes unpleasant clangs. The axe then hits the wooden box. It splits and cracks the oak. It penetrates and breaches the box. The final blows deform the dial. Its sleek Arabic numerals will never again tell the Argentine or German time.

Ricardo’s hands are wet. The axe feels heavier. His feet climb up slowly, step by step. The walk to the bedroom takes longer than ever. In the darkness, he can make out Ingrid’s body. Her light-blue silk pyjamas squashed on the mattress. Her hair scattered on the pillow. Her limp arm hanging out of the bed. If his head didn’t hurt so much, Ricardo would swear he heard Ingrid’s body creak.

Translated by Ingrid Aragüés and Verónica Sardón

Gabriela Mayer is a journalist and short stories writer. She collaborates with Infobae, an Argentinian international online newspaper. She also works in the press office for the Goethe-Institut of Buenos Aires and has published four volumes of short stories: Sueños como cuchillos (2022)El pasado sabe esperar (2018), Todas las persianas bajas, menos una (2007) and Los signos transparentes (2003).