Alarm by Hannah Retallick

I must first explain why I was standing at Bangor Station, far down the platform, with this big red alarm clock in my hand, at exactly 10:16 this morning. 

No, I’m not being dramatic; I simply like a good story. Humour your old father! Yes, thank you. Milk, no sugar – doctor’s orders. So, where is my lovely new granddaughter? 

It’s my fault for being late, don’t worry. I’ll meet her when she wakes. 

Well, it was several things really. As I said last night, I’d intended to take the 9:15 train, but events conspired against me – that was how I saw it at the time. It all started when my alarm clock failed to ring. Thankfully I woke anyway, but given what happened with my father, I was somewhat alarmed. 

Har har, an unintentional pun, I assure you. 

Have I never told you that story? I felt sure I had. Not much to it really: your grandfather’s clock stopped ticking on the day of his death. So, as you can imagine, the association was on my mind. 

Yes, impending death. It made me a little uneasy about what happened next. I made the connection at the station too, of course, which will become clearer in a moment. Ah, thank you, that’s lovely, perfect…perhaps a drop more milk? Thank you. Where was I? 

Ah, yes. It turned out that far from having broken completely, my alarm clock simply required new batteries. It was just as well I remembered that was the most likely explanation. When I opened the drawer, I found I had used up my last double As and had neglected to replace them. You know how I like to fix problems as soon as they occur; I was annoyed with myself. However, I had time to beg batteries from my next-door neighbour, Doris, if she happened to be home. And it was an opportunity to give the good news of Lily’s birth. 

No, no, you’re quite wrong. Although I can’t deny that she has been a dear friend these past few months. Anyway, where was I? I rushed out of the house, which was unwise in retrospect, as I had nothing with me, not even my wallet. 

Well, we can’t always practise what we preach, can we? 

Doris was at home, in her dressing gown. She was– 

None of that, please. She was dressed beneath. 

She was clearly in distress, crying and so on. I immediately asked why, of course, and she said her kitten had escaped a few hours before and she couldn’t find ‘Bunny’ anywhere. I wanted to ask why on earth one would call a kitten ‘Bunny’ but decided it wouldn’t help the situation. The point is, Bunny was too young to be out alone. Impending death, I feared the worst. Doris had opened the door to the milkman and only turned her back for a moment etc. etc. and would I help her look? As we’re close to the station, I was sure I could assist her and still make my train in time. 

I felt somewhat foolish, walking around town with this alarm clock in my hand, as I’m sure you can imagine. Ostentatiously big and red…Given how upset Doris was, though, it would have been inappropriate to return it to the house before beginning the search. 

Tempting, but I’m afraid biscuits are also out of the question. Perhaps a small piece of your chocolate digestive would be all right? 

Thank you. 

We walked along the road, peering into gardens and asking pedestrians if they had seen a tabby kitten about this big? Our search proved fruitless, as I suspected. Bangor might be a small city, but it isn’t that small! Doris calmed down considerably though. It felt good to be of service – so much so, that I’d soon abandoned hope of the 9:15 train. 

As I said, it simply felt good to be of service. So, Doris and I walked home. She thanked me an excessive number of times on the way – I’d only done what any decent neighbour would do. 

Look, do you want to hear the rest of the story or not? 

Of course you have a choice. 

Good. It was then I realised I’d locked myself out! And seeing as you forgot to return the spare key after your last visit, it wasn’t a problem that could be solved by simply reaching under the plant pot. 

Don’t worry, it all worked out for the best. 

I risked being late for the 10:28 train. Quick thinker that she is, Doris went into her house and brought money for me to buy my ticket. Oh, and batteries! I stuffed them in my trouser pocket. Seeing as I couldn’t get into my own house, it would have been sensible for me to have left the alarm clock at Doris’s, but it’s just as well I didn’t. 

Lovely cuppa, thank you. 

I arrived at the station a few minutes early, thanks to Doris’s quick thinking and my own haste. It occurred to me, as I waited for the train, that Bunny might have found her way onto the track. As I had nothing better to do with my time, I wandered up the platform, further than I usually go. The toilets were out of order and there were two portaloos there, which I must say required some attention from the cleaners…but that’s beside the point. 

So, that is why I was standing at Bangor Station, far down the platform, with this big red alarm clock in my hand, at exactly 10:16 this morning. I peered down onto the track in search of Bunny – far-fetched to think she might be there, I realise, but she must have been somewhere. It was then that I noticed the young man. 

No, thank you, I had a sandwich on the train. Tuna and mayonnaise. 

There was something about this young man that didn’t sit comfortably with me. He was too still, too intent, too removed. It was on my mind, as I said before, that my clock had stopped ticking. The possible significance, impending death. What if he were the one in danger? Laugh as much as you like, my dear. You weren’t there. 

Don’t worry. 

I studied him more closely. He was dressed in shabby black clothes and had tucked his hands into his hoodie pocket. He stood close to the edge of the platform, past the yellow line, stooping slightly. You know I follow my instincts. Well, my instinct was that I needed to talk to him as quickly as possible. I walked up and said, ‘Nice weather, isn’t it?’ His head flicked towards me. It was as if I broke him out of something – do you understand what I mean by this? 

Yes, exactly, like when you wave a hand in front of a staring person. We stood for a moment, looking at each other silently. And then his face thawed. Not a smile exactly, but close. He said, ‘Mate, what’s with the alarm clock?’ 

I know! Speaking to him was clearly a start, but it was the alarm clock that really brought him back to planet earth. I gave him a somewhat edited version of this story, using the opportunity to take the batteries out of my pocket and remove the old ones. I fumbled around without success. The young man watched me, arms crossed. Eventually he tutted and said I’d put them the wrong way around. He took the clock from me and saw to it himself. I said thank you, and on hearing the rumble from the tunnel, added, ‘I think we should step back a bit, don’t you?’ 

And that was that. We said no more to each other, but he did get on the train. Isn’t it strange? The way unfortunate occurrences connect for good sometimes…Firstly, the search for batteries. Secondly, Doris’s emergency. Thirdly, locking myself out. And fourthly, being at the right place at the right time with an alarm clock in my hand! It does seem fortuitous, doesn’t it? 

Well, yes, I don’t know if Bunny’s been found yet. I do hope so. Doris was clearly in distress. I must pay a visit as soon as I return. 

Stop it. 

And of course, I regret missing little Lily before her nap. But we have plenty of time to spend together, as she is at the start of a long and happy life; the young man seemed as if he were at the end of a sad one.

No, not for certain. He could have simply been tired or drunk or daydreaming, but I had a feeling, a strong feeling. You know? I’m just glad I happened to be in the right place at the right time, with this big old alarm clock. Sorry for my ramblings. I suppose it just makes you think, doesn’t it? 

Oh, and don’t let me go home without the spare key! 

Thank you. 

Anyway, how are you? 


Published in Issue #20

First published by the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival Writing Awards 2019


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