Polly Ticks

Donald Shephard

Glob-the-Obese sat in his parlor sipping a glass of his best elderberry wine. As he felt the glow flow to his stomach, he looked around the room in utter contentment. The late afternoon light was filtered by the autumn leaves of trees outside the lace-curtained windows of his cottage. A gilt-framed mirror reflected the whole scene to Glob as he sat, a gratified gnome, on his green leather sofa.

The happy gnome listened to the sounds of the room. Foremost was his own breathing, beyond that he heard the mesmerizing tick-tock, tick-tock of the clock on the mantel. He had gasped with glee when Ab first presented the timepiece to him, as she pulled it from her hope chest. It was made of the wood of the spindle tree, the same wood that is used for spindles for spinning wheels.

Ob had carved the clock with love for his daughter and a certain pique at the thought of losing her. The result was a mechanical marvel in the style of a cuckoo clock with a black cat instead of a bird. Every hour on the hour, the cat pounced on an unfortunate mouse. At one o’clock, one parasitic tick emerged from the mouse and ran back on eight spindly legs to the internal mechanism of the clock. At two o’clock two ticks left their deceased host. Because Ob had made a reserve tick, on the noon and midnight hours, either twelve or thirteen ticks departed the dead mouse. The number of strikes of the clock’s wooden tabor coincided, for the most part, with the number of ticks it reclaimed from the mouse. For reasons known only to its maker, the clock ran with superb accuracy but, it ran on lunar time. After only six months of marriage and the birth of their Baby, Brab, it was already seven hours and forty-two minutes off.

“You must take great care of this clock, Glob,” Ab had said, “My father made it for me. I treasure it. Its rhythmic ticking comforted me before we were married on those nights when I could not sleep. I even took it to bed with me, pulled the covers over my head and felt the tick-tock, tick-tock as it lay on my chest. I call the clock ’Polly’ “. Glob neither expected nor sought any logic in calling a cuckoo clock made with a cat, mouse and ticks, “Polly”.

He wondered aloud, “Didn’t Polly ticks make strange bed fellows?”

So there sat Glob-the-Obese in his overstuffed green sofa listening to the ticking of the clock. Glob was absorbed by Ab’s orbs. He raised his glass to Ab, sitting in her armchair beside the hearth and smiling, said, “Satisfactory, my love, very satisfactory”. It is true that Ab was a well-satisfied gnome, she raised her glass and drank his toast.

“Very satisfactory indeed!” She smiled at her Glob. There they were, a married couple pleased with the same result for entirely different reasons.

Glob went over the events of the afternoon meeting to relive the source of all this euphoria. Ab had her own version of the completion of her mission. The euphoria came from the politics of Newtonia which were as strange and erratic as the workings of Polly, their wooden clock.

Ob was not only a skilled carver of lunar clocks but also the official Keeper-of-the-Book-of-Law. True, for some time he was not entirely sure where he kept this grand tome of gnomic law but, it finally turned up in his little used study. He often explained that he had it all committed to memory without noting that memorizing it all meant memorizing just two words. For the village of Newtonia was a true democracy. Every gnome was eligible to vote. Every gnome in fact did vote. “One cap, one vote,” was their motto.

Ob was relieved to discover the Book-of-Law one windy day when a good stiff breeze blew through the open window of his study and removed a composting layer of dust which had highlights of pipe ash. The words of law of the gnomes of Newtonia were revealed. Here is their full text.


Law 1. Kindness of gnomes, for gnomes, and by gnomes.

a) Be kind.

Law 2. This space is blank.

Here the great book of gnomic law ends. There has never been an agreement to change law number 1 subparagraph a) nor has there been an agreement to add another law. The gnomes of Newtonia felt that Law 1 subparagraph a) was enough. Some gnomes went so far as to complain that there was too much government intrusion stemming from Law 1 subparagraph a). Ob felt that one was a perfect number of laws and beside his quill had broken at that point so it had to be enough.

Every two years the general gnome population took the opportunity to be heard. The first order of business of the Biennial Meetings, or BMs as they called in the vernacular, was to select a triumvirate of gnomes to preside over the daily administration of the village. Given they had only passed one law in Ob’s considerable life-time, you can imagine that there was not a keen fight for this great honor. The determination of all the men to forego the pleasure of serving their fellow gnomes was matched by the determination of their wives to obtain the bragging rights as spouse of a member of the ruling triumvirate. If you accused the gnomes of sexism, they would explain that the women in their community were far too bright, talented, gifted and wise to waste their time and energy on such trivial pursuits.

At the BM on the afternoon of the euphoria of Glob-the-Obese, when Ob opened the meeting for members to volunteer for the triumvirate, the ladies each set their schemes in motion. Mab had resorted to jabbing Hob with an evil-looking hatpin to provoke him to stand. The honest Hob withstood her efforts to convert the south side of his trousers into a pin cushion and uttered not a word. Snab-of-the-Valley had tucked a handful of burdock burrs into the back flap of Nob’s long johns making his eyes water profusely but he sat stoically still.

Ab normally would have found a similar rouse but she knew that moving Glob-the-Obese required a more oblique approach. But what abuse should Ab use? It was an original Ab solution to the problem made from an aboriginal recipe using the itchy seeds of the rosehip. She stitched a packet of this irritating powder inside the middle of the back of one of Glob’s shirts. If he had thought about it, Glob would have realized that there was something strange in Ab insisting that he change his shirt before a BM. But Glob was a new father walking ten feet off the ground. He happily changed his shirt. By the time he was seated in the village hall, he had the mother of all itches in the middle of his back. Ab helpfully scratched Glob’s back everywhere but in the middle. When Ob first opened up the floor for volunteers Ab scratched the left side of Glob’s back.

“Higher and to the right,” Glob whispered for fear of catching Ob’s attention. Ab scratched the upper right side of his back. When Ob repeated his request, Ab scratched the lower right side of Glob’s back.

“Left a bit, no the other left,” hissed Glob. Just as Ob was conjuring up his most malevolent evil eye and demanding some civic pride, Ab scratched the middle of Glob’s obese back.

“Ah! Yes!” He cried jumping out of his seat in ecstatic relief. Hob and Nob leapt to their feet to try and drag their fat friend out of Ob’s sight but it was to no avail. Much to their chagrin, Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese were duly selected members of the ruling triumvirate of Newtonia.

Mab, Snab-of-the-Valley and Ab were delighted and excited by the turn of events. That excitement stayed with them all the way to the privacy of their own homes where no doubt Mab examined Hob closely for puncture wounds and, no doubt, Snab checked Nob for burr damage. Surely they taxed their civic minded husbands in a most rewarding manner. If Glob-the-Obese needed a bath to remove the itching powder, and, if Ab had to join him in order to ensure that not a speck of it remained, then that it not in the realm of public information. If Ab spent more time that was absolutely necessary examining every inch of Glob for itching powder then you may assume that was her own self imposed penance. We will let Glob-the-Obese and Ab rest there abreast on the green sofa. So you see the erratic nature of politics in Newtonia were the cause of the erotic euphoria shared by Ab and Glob-the-Obese that afternoon.

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