Time You Understood
There were two faces in the dining room. One belonged to a little girl called Susan, and the other belonged to her enemy, the Clock.
They hadn't been enemies when the days were long enough to explore and play and make up songs to butterflies. It hadn't mattered then where the Clock's hands happened to be at any moment. Daddy left for work when it got light, and Mummy put on her apron and washed dishes and vacuumed the house. When the sun went to bed, Mummy took off her apron, put on her lipstick, and Daddy came home, so they all had tea together. The Clock had just been something that sat on the mantlepiece and made a pleasant tick, tock, and chimed like the radio at news time.
That was before school.
Susan had wanted to go to school, very much, and Mummy had talked specially to the teachers so she could go straight after Christmas, instead of waiting until after the summer holiday. She enjoyed playing in the sand-box, and painting and drawing and being able to read and write. She puzzled over buying painted plaster cakes with cardboard pennies, and sticking Cuisenaire rods together - what was all THAT for? But her enemy at the moment was the Clock.
The Clock told her when she had to go to school. It kept her in class until dinner time, even if the sun was shining, and it forced her outside when it was raining, just because it wasn't lesson time any more. It told her that she had to use the loo at playtime when she didn't need to, so that she didn't have to hold up her hand and ask to go during lessons.
Worst of all, school wanted her to understand what the positions of the circling hands of the Clock actually meant. That was when the Clock became her enemy. Sometimes the Clock played chimes over and over in her sleep. She had nightmares in which the Clock, staring white, grew multiple hands that flew round and round and escaped whenever she tried to focus on them. Sometimes the hands of the Clock were a faceless black spider that marched off the dial and advanced on her.
Susan tried not to learn anything about the Clock, and refused to answer her teacher when she asked, "Now, what time is that?" over the cardboard copy of its face. The Clock became a torture to her. In the end the teacher spoke to Mummy, and Mummy spoke to Daddy, and Daddy stood her in front of the Clock in the dining room, and Susan knew she must be in trouble.
"It's time you understood how to read the clock. Things happen at school at different times. You need to know what time it is so you know when to drink your milk, or eat your dinner, or to meet Mummy and come home."
"I don't want to," was all she could say.
"Look at the big hand," he commanded, as he moved it round to twelve. "When it's up there, it means it's something o'clock. And what's this number here?"
"One," said Susan. That was easy.
"So when the little hand's on one, and the big hand's on twelve, it's one o'clock."
Susan looked at her enemy, and it seemed to wink at her. "One o'clock," she said.
"Now," said Daddy, and he moved the little hand to two. "What time is that?"
Susan looked at her enemy, and it seemed to smile. "Two o'clock."
"You're right. Now," said Daddy, and he moved the little hand to three. "What time is that?"
Susan looked at her enemy, and it seemed to point out of the door. "Three o'clock and home time." She clapped her hands and said, "I know the time now, Daddy. Can I go out and play?"
"No," said Daddy, and he moved the big hand to six. "Now, what time is that?"
Susan looked at her enemy, at the Clock with its impossible face, and wondered why Daddy had to go on making things difficult, even when you'd done something right.