Poetry reading during shop hours was forbidden, but I broke the rule gleefully. I breathed in the old, musty pages of my book, wondering how anyone could prohibit such enjoyment in literature.
It was snowing outside. Just the look of it made me grateful for the coal burner under the counter, to warm my feet inside their black stockings and shiny shoes.
I had just glanced down at the pages again when the shop doorbell jingled, signalling the arrival of a customer. I quickly slid the book into its secret wooden compartment, smoothed my skirt and tried not to slouch like Aunt Phyllis told me.
A man, tall and sturdy, stepped into the warm haven of the shop. The brim of his hat covered his face, so I could not observe his features just yet. He carried a miniature grandfather clock under his arm, which, I noticed, had stopped its time telling quite a while ago. He awkwardly tried to brush of the snow collected on his shoulders with his one free hand while gazing at our wall of assorted clocks. Their endless ticking was enough to drive me mad some days.
I cleared my throat loudly enough for him to hear. “Hello, I’m Margaret. Can I...help with anything?”
He swung around, my voice startling him, I suppose. I gasped as I caught sight of the colour of his eyes. They were grey, such an unusual colour. Light, piercing grey, and they bored straight ahead into mine, alert but strangely absent. He was beyond doubt a stranger in this town, since I’d never seen or heard of the likes of him before.
“Margaret?” He echoed. An odd look was on his face, as if he recognised me. But it couldn’t be. He didn’t look the slightest bit familiar. I piped up to answer.
“Yes. What is your name, sir?”
His eyes were still boring into mine. Then he shook his head as if to clear any absurd notions he might have been pondering.
“Robert.” He placed the clock under his arm carefully, so he had one hand free. He extended it toward me.
“My name...is Robert.”