A Story by Lea Sheryn
Harvey the mouse lives in a Grandfather Clock
In the hallway of the old Victorian house on Oak Street, a stately grandfather clock stood in the sheltered nook beneath the staircase. Whenever I visited the ancient aunts who kept the house as though it were a shrine to olden times, I would stand in the dimly lit hall and stare for hours at that old timepiece. Faithfully, Aunt Minerva would wind the clock with the rusty key she kept on a chain around her neck while Aunt Evangeline made sure the pendulum continued to swing back and forth. If they noticed me standing there, they never acknowledged my presence. After all, I was only four years old and they were in their eighties.
It was a ritual in my small family to stop off in the small town of Magnolia Hollow, Georgia, on our way to Florida for our annual autumn vacation. My mother’s elderly relatives expected it and, even though daddy grumbled about the time it took to pay the visit, he always succumbed in the end. As long as we only stayed overnight, he could take it; any longer and he would have driven off, with or without us. The aunts, as he said, could try the patience of Job with their fuddy-duddy ways.
My mother, Ava, believed I was a child prodigy by the way I stared at that old clock. In her opinion, my fascination was with the antiquity of the piece; she claimed I understood it in ways that were beyond the intelligence of other children my age. Father, on the other hand, thought my ogling was caused by pure boredom. What else was a child to do in the home of two old women who had forgotten about childhood decades ago?
My reasons for staring at the stately grandfather clock were much simpler than either my mother or my father’s explanations. I stood in the hallway staring at the old timepiece because of Harvey. If I looked hard enough perhaps I would be able to see him inside the mechanism that made it work. You see, Harvey was a mouse and Harvey lived inside the clock.
If a four-year-old child could have an obsession, Harvey was mine. One had to look very hard to find him. His grey fur and little pink ears could blend in easily in the dark corners of the clock. Sometimes it was his pink nose that gave him away. If I looked hard enough, I could just see it make the slightest twitch while the gossamer whiskers, fanning out to the right and the left, were barely discernable. When I pointed him out to daddy, he would stare for a moment, raise his eyebrows then shake his head to indicate that he hadn’t seen a thing.
“Come away, darling, and say hello to Aunt Minerva and Aunt Evangeline. We’ve come all this way and they want to see you,” Mommy would say as she placed her hands on my shoulders to gently draw me away. I never believed the elderly aunts had any desire to see me. I was only a child and below their notice, but I had to be polite and say hello. After all, as mother pointed out, we were staying in their house, if only overnight.
With my legs dangling off the horsehair couch, I did my best to keep from slipping off onto the floor. It simply wouldn’t do if I did anything to cause a commotion, but it was dreadfully hard to sit between my parents for a quarter of an hour or a half hour or even longer. Without a television or a radio in the room, there was nothing to entertain a small child, so I allowed my eyes to wander over the stodgy wallpaper with it’s vines of faded dainty rosebuds and the furnishing that held the musty scent of age. The time-worn portrait of the grandfather that hung above the marble fireplace filled me with fright; I thought the old gentleman would step down out of the frame to scold me for swinging my legs and whacking the center support with my small white sandals. How I dreaded that room and the aunts with faces as faded as the rest of that old Victorian homestead.
While the old ladies were fussing over the tea tray and the parents were munching cucumber sandwiches, I took my opportunity to return to the hallway. Standing with one foot on a white tile and the other on a black one, I searched the grandfather’s clock for a sighting of Harvey. Was that him hiding behind the scrollwork on the top or was he crouching at the bottom just beneath the slowly swinging pendulum. I couldn’t be sure. Maybe there were two mice in the clock. I looked and looked and finally decided there was a whole family of Harveys living in the timepiece.
Sitting on the black tile, I began to count. One Harvey, Two Harveys, Three Harveys, Four Harveys, Five Harveys. A daddy Harvey, a mommy Harvey and three little baby Harveys. Five was as high as I could count. Grinning to myself, I stared inside the clock again and, yes, I was sure I saw a family of mice living in the clock. Clapping my hands, I bounced my little bottom up and down on the floor; I was so pleased with myself at finding so many Harveys. Before I knew it, I was giggling out loud.
Abruptly, my laughter stopped. A shadow appeared across the hallway darkening the space. Someone was watching from a distance. Quickly standing to my feet, I brushed the dust from the seat of my overalls and slowly turned in the direction of the figure looming behind me. How much trouble was I in? I wondered. Would mommy take me to my room and talk to me sternly for being rude to the old ladies? I only wanted to see the little mousey.
“Did you see Harvey?” a lilting voice asked as Aunt Evangeline approached. Placing her hands on my shoulder, she turned me in the direction of the clock as she joined me in my search for the mouse who lived there. With her arms surrounding my upper body, I leaned comfortably against her floral patterned dark calico dress and pointed out the figure of Harvey in the oak scrollwork near the top.
Overcoming the shyness I had about the old woman, I asked, “Can you really see him? Can you see Harvey?”
“Oh yes, little one,” Aunt Evangeline answered with a rusty giggle that she probably hadn’t used in years. “There was a Harvey in that clock long and long ago when I was a wee little girl, just like you, Angel-Lee; just like there has always been an Evangeline in the family.” Although mommy was called Eva and I was Angel-Lee, our long names were really Evangeline.
Smiling up at the ancient aunt, I realized I liked her. Suddenly she didn’t seem as old or as staid as Aunt Minerva. She had a soft friendly smile and a certain twinkle in her eye that told me there was more to her than just being an old woman. The fact that she could see Harvey too told me there was a bond between us that brought us even closer together. A little mouse was all it took to make us lifelong friends.
Age finally took the old Aunts. Aunt Minerva first then Aunt Evangeline a few months later. I was just turning twelve when we traveled down to Magnolia Hollow, Georgia, for the funerals. There was sadness in my heart at having to say good-bye to the both of them, but particularly Aunt Evangeline. How mother and father fought over that old house that was left to them in the final will. Daddy wanted to sell it or bulldoze it; mother wanted to keep it for old time sake. I was relieved when they decided to keep it to fix it up and live in. The day we moved in the first thing I did was run to check the stately grandfather’s clock that stood sheltered in the nook beneath the staircase. And, sure enough there was Harvey peeking out from behind the oak scrollwork. One sight of his little pink nose twitching at me and I knew I was home.