Hickory, dickory, dock,
The mouse ran up the clock;
The clock struck one,
And down he run,
Hickory, dickory, dock.
Someone’s been watching that mouse with the suction-cup feet. From her mouth to our ears.
You all know my story, at least the popular version of it. I was an only daughter, the princess (so to speak) of the house until Mama died. Then Papa, who couldn’t seem to manage anything, much less a busy household, went out and got married again and brought Stepmother and her two ugly daughters into the house…and the princess was promptly reduced to servitude.
One of the things Mama brought to Papa when they married was her longcase clock, which she had inherited from (yes) her grandfather. That clock is ten feet tall, and it stood in our grand parlor until Stepmother moved it into the hall beside the stairs. Now it stands outside my bedroom under the stairs. (It’s my own little corner and I have my own little chair there.) I’ve been looking at that clock all my life. Although it, and our household, ran smooth as the day is long while Mama was alive, it doesn’t always go bong on the regular hours anymore. And when it strikes, something weird often happens. Like, one time when it struck eight, I heard this invisible chorus start singing about going into the woods and being happy ever after. Like, one time when it struck two, three mice came dancing out of it, and when it struck three, they went blind and I had to lead them to their hole in the wall. And one time when it struck twelve, the front door flew open and this beam of light came shooting down from the sky and shone down the hall the lit up the clock’s face. But it was twelve midnight, not twelve noon! The face changes, too. Sometimes it’s smiling, sometimes it has eyes that follow the hands around, and sometimes frowns. And on Sundays, when Stepmother gets her lazy daughters out of bed and I have to help them get dressed (forget about bathing!) and then they all go to the new church, well, that big old clock looks like it’s shaking its head.
And there’s something mysterious that lives inside that old clock. I’ve opened the case and looked inside. I’ve never seen anything except the clockworks, the pendulum, and some stray mice. But there’s something there. A presence that reminds me of Mama and the old ways she taught me about. Like honoring other people and feeding the poor, like not chopping down the woods outside our town, like not setting traps for defenseless mice. When Mama taught me to pray to the Great Mother Goddess who lives down here on earth with us and not in some invisible palace in the sky like they teach in the new church, she always brought me into the grand parlor for the lessons. I always thought her longcase clock was watching us.
I don’t understand quite how that works, how a goddess would even want to live in a longcase clock, but there’s a Presence in there, and there’s an invisible Voice that tells me to be patient with Stepmother and her stupid girls—oh, okay, She also tells me not to call my stepsisters stupid and ugly and spoiled, but what else are they, for goodness sake? The invisible Voice tells me to wait till the clock strikes midnight again. (It’s been skipping midnight lately.)
There was a wandering schoolteacher came to our house when I was very young. Mama and Papa told him they had my education well in hand—I was already reading my way through Papa’s library—but they invited him in anyway. He told the birds fluttering around him to wait outside, and then he stood still and studied our clock for the longest time, like he was talking to it in his mind. He’s the one who invented that verse about hickory and dickory. He said it means “time stays for no man.” Well, that’s normally true, of course…but this clock? It runs on some kind of magical time. I’m sure of it.
And so, if I’m right and there’s a goddess in there, maybe she’s a goddess of time? I found some names in one of the books in Papa’s library—Juno, Menat, Laima, Savitri—and I stood in front of the clock and called out those names. Did I get an answer? I believe I did, though I didn’t exactly hear it. I felt it in my whole body, and the feeling was what the schoolteacher said, that time doesn’t wait for anyone. Time keeps flowing on, and while we can use magic (or psychology) to manipulate it, what we’re doing is changing ourselves, not time itself.
So there’s a goddess in Mama’s old clock and that goddess is living and growing with me. (Someday a philosopher will probably be able to explain that; I hope I’ll be able to meet her.) But what about the mice? I know! They’re messengers! Little angels, like those split-second thoughts that come to us sometimes and tell us (or remind us about) something we really need to know. Why shouldn’t angels be tiny, humble beings? We don’t need to be shouted at or—
Oh, look!—the clock’s about to strike again. It’s coming close to midnight, and I have this feeling that everything’s going to change. I don’t think it’ll be some prince coming along. I know a girl whose grandmother says the princes these days are all lawyers. If a lawyer (or a prince, god help him) came near us, Stepmother would grab him so quick his head would spin. No, this change is for me alone. Will She get me out of here?
And here it goes. It’s so loud! Is that mouse waving at me? The Voice: Hickory, dickory…And here I go…and Goddess go with me! I’m spinning. Flying. I’m dizzy. Quiet now. Looking around…same house. Different time. I’m older. I have four sisters. A new mother. I can hear her talking to my sisters. “Netherfield Park is let at last.”
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the Neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.