It was 6 AM. The Watchmaker’s day was about to begin. One of his own, perfectly fashioned clocks rang shrilly to announce the arrival of a new day. He began to get out of bed, slipping into his familiar shoes and shaking off the cobwebs that the devious, dancing spider that was age, weaved in his body, mind and thoughts. Just like his creations, The Watchmaker got right into his clockwork routine. Relieving himself, he woke up Eliza, his wife, at exactly 6:30. At 6:45, a hot mug of milk was present on his table, along with 2 of the cookies that his wife baked and sold to the neighbouring folks. By 7:15, he was in his workshop, amidst the familiar small gears, glass, metals and other clock-making equipment. By 10, like every day, he had thrown open his small shop, at the back of which he worked, and one of the rooms of which was converted into a display case for those willing to buy his clocks and watches.

The Watchmaker had, once upon a time, been the finest craftsman in his village. With failing sight, however, his renowned precision was getting harder to recreate, his hands no longer steady and his vision impaired. Yet, The Watchmaker continued to work, for that was all he had ever known, and that was all that he had to live for. The irony of The Watchmaker’s life would not have been lost on another man; his instruments, that were bought by people to herald a new day, new possibilities, were, for him, merely small cogs in the larger clockwork engine that was his day. It was his clocks that woke him up at precisely the same time every day, and it was his clocks that helped him fill out his whole day, from early morning to late at night. Each hour of every day had become an empty space to fill — and he filled it with his work. Because, for him, every day was the same. They say that the ones who feel like each coming day will just be the same as the day that passed fail to notice all the good things that come with each new day. The Watchmaker profoundly disagreed. Control, routine, predictability — that was his own Holy Trinity.

After working till late, like every day, he headed back upstairs. Eliza was already in bed — that had been the case for as long as he could remember. The Watchmaker slipped in beside her, set his clock, and immediately went to sleep. His marriage to Eliza had been one of convenience — she had become, merely, another part of his own routine. There had been a time when the convenience had included having a warm body to hold in bed on the days he should feel like it. There had, perhaps, also been a faint semblance of love at some point of time? But just as failing as his sight, The Watchmaker’s memory no longer recalled those days, and his love (or so he thought) towards his occupation, became his all-consuming reason to live.

In this way, time passed. Days became weeks and weeks became months, and The Watchmaker’s routine did not change. One morning, after he was done getting up and giving Eliza the usual shake to wake her up, he sat down, after relieving himself, at his table, waiting for his milk and cookies. They did not come. He waited till his internal clock went off to denote that it was time to head to his workshop, then went downstairs. The usual hard day’s work and the usual customers dealt with, late at night, he went upstairs to his bed, and found Eliza in it already. She was sleeping in her usual position, in the gown she normally wore to bed. Setting the alarm, he went off to bed.

The next day, again, his perfect routine was shattered by Eliza, who yet again did not bring him milk and cookies. So again, at the correct time, The Watchmaker went downstairs, did his work, came back up at night, found Eliza in bed and slept off himself.

4 days thus passed by. One day, when Eliza again did not get him his milk and cookies, The Watchmaker went to their room to try and wake up his wife again. She was still in bed! He tried to shake her awake, but on using too much force, she just quietly fell out of bed and onto the ground. She had been dead for the past 4 days.

The Watchmaker’s internal clock went off just then, indicating that it was time to go and work. Leaving her body to itself, he headed down and spent the day hard at work, just like any other day for as long as he could remember. When he came back, it was time for him to sleep. He decided that he would bury her in the half an hour that he usually reserved for his milk and cookies.

The next morning, after relieving himself, he gave a firm shake to Eliza, to wake her up, before remembering what had happened to her. He had no coffin, nor a grave dug. So he merely slung the body on his shoulder, carried her down to his shop, and removed a pair of loose tiles. Stuffing her body into the ground between the tiles, he put them back again, and went upstairs hurriedly for his milk and cookies. He did not have too much time for eating, so he warmed the milk much lesser than usual, found a store of cookies that his wife had prepared, and ate quickly, before heading back downstairs and getting on with his work. And so the days passed, for time held no meaning, or importance to The Watchmaker. The perfection and precision of his routine had made time all but meaningless to him.

For some time, life went on. The only thing that changed was The Watchmaker having to heat his own milk and get his own cookies, for which he added 10 more minutes to his routine. However, things soon started to fall apart.

As was bound to happen given that no one could magically make cookies appear for themselves, The Watchmaker ran out. So from that day on, it was just milk, work and sleep. Apart from waking Eliza, this was the second change that he’d faced in his routine. A few more days — or it could’ve been years, for The Watchmaker would never know himself — later, one night, while heading back upstairs, he thought he saw a shadow move on the staircase. What was that? He tried to recall, but couldn’t. It was someone from his past, he felt, but who? The shadow had looked like a woman slipping into bed.

The next day, as he was getting up, he saw her again, going into the kitchen. He followed, made himself his cup of milk, and went downstairs to work. A pale vision stood there, atop the two broken tiles, a familiar woman, and he was sure, the woman who cast the shadow. He got to work, and she sat down beside him, talking at him, chattering away. He felt that in time gone by, in a past life, or in a buried memory, someone had done something like this to him, before the gears of his clockwork engine had molded her to fit his routine, made her another cog of the watch that was his life. He worked on, discomfited, until at last she seemed to be getting ready to get up around the time he was getting done. He expected her to head upstairs and tuck herself into bed, as he had seen her shadow do. Instead, she crouched down at the loose tiles, removed them and let herself in. She was looking at him sadly, as if begging him to understand, beckoning her to come join him.

What was it that he had loved? Had he loved her? Had he loved his profession? Or had he just loved the routine, the control, the predictability that had been his constant companion when every day that he spent went by much like the previous one? Had the love been misplaced to start off with, or had he, focused so desperately on his routine at hand, misplaced the love himself? Was it Eliza that he had loved? Was it his profession? Or had he really only loved the routine, and only projected that onto his wife and profession, both of which had helped him keep that routine alive?

As if guided by someone, The Watchmaker went to the loose tiles, removed them, got into the ground, pulled the loose tiles above himself, and, hugging her, went off to sleep.

Prompt and inspiration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Hp6lYx4Fvw