Ralph Twigger -the first story-

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“Watch and Clock Repair…If your ticker’s not ticking, Ralph Twigger’s your ticket!” Ralph was rather proud of the signs. They were printed in a bright color with a grandfather clock, pocket watch and wrist watch at the bottom. It was his habit, on Mondays, to pick up two bear claws at Dorothy’s Donuts, tape up a few fliers and head back to the apartment. But this Monday when he climbed the stairs, he saw the owner of the building inside the apartment next door to his. There was a young woman with two children in tow. “Great,” Ralph winced, “I knew it was too good to last.”

Ralph had had peace and quiet for two months. No one on the other side of #7. And now it looked like two small rockets complete with toys, bicycles, questions and high-pitched voices would be moving next door.

“What’s that in your hand?” said a little voice, startling Ralph so that he spilled some of the orange juice he’d just carefully poured. Standing right in the middle of his living room was a little red-haired five-year-old. “What’s a matter? Cat got your tongue?”

“How did you get in here?” asked Ralph.

“The door.”

“Little boy, I think your mommy’s calling you.”

“What’s your name?”

 

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“Excuse me, but have you seen a little boy, about this tall, red hair?”

“He’s right here, lady.”

“Hi, Mommy. This is our neighbor. He eats bear claws too. Look at all his clocks!”

Just then, two cuckoo clocks, three Westminster clocks, and a grandfather clock chimed the half hour. The little boy jumped up and down. “Do it again! Do it again!”

“Sweetheart, the nice man can’t do it again.” She turned to Ralph and added, “I’m sorry. My son’s very friendly.”

Ralph didn’t’ say a word, didn’t have a chance to say a word as the woman scooped up her son and headed out the door. There was no need for formal introductions at this point. Maybe she’d move in, maybe not. In the last week, he’d seen several people go in and out of the apartment next door, but not a family. There was only one other family in the whole building, and they were downstairs. A good place for families—downstairs—not upstairs next to #7. This was going to change everything.

For two weeks Ralph wondered if apartment #6 had been rented. Then the weekend of March 4th arrived along with a truck full of furniture, boxes, two bicycles, toys and two high-pitched voices. The racket of furniture scooting, hammering, conversation, laughter, and country western music—which Ralph hated—went on for hours. He didn’t get a thing done that day. There was just no way to concentrate with all that noise. About nine o’clock, though, it stopped. Ralph fell into bed exhausted and worried. This was never going to work. His clock repair business was going to suffer, those two kids

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would drive him crazy, and this seemingly nice woman would probably have parties ‘til all hours, every weekend.

Somewhere in the worry, Ralph had fallen asleep and slept soundly, past his normal wake-up time of 6:30. He stared at the clock. It couldn’t be right….8:30? He grabbed his robe and headed for the living room. Every clock said the same thing—8:30. He hadn’t done this in years. He had to admit; he felt refreshed from the extra two hours. His mind remembered it was Sunday.

     Blessed Sunday, indeed.

The newspaper and a cup of coffee were just what he needed. Upon opening the door, he was quite surprised to find the little red-haired rocket and his older brother standing with his Sunday paper and a white bag from Dorothy’s Donuts.

“See, I told ya he had a lot of clocks in there. Here!”

The two boys thrust his newspaper and a donut bag in front of him. The face Ralph had made must have been one of surprise and sternness that translated into “mean.” The older brother had seen that look on annoyed adults before.

“Well, uh….me and my little brother, uh, we gotta go.”

“Yeah, we gotta go now, but you can come with us if you get dressed.”

“Come on Jeremy,” the older one said, pulling his brother down the apartment stairway. “It’s a bear claw. Hope you like that kind!”

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And they were gone. Ralph was left standing there with a bear claw and the Sunday paper. He was somewhat stunned. What did this little gesture of kindness mean? It made no sense.

Neighborliness was foreign to Ralph. In fact, it was the unwritten code of the building: You mind your business, I’ll mind my business. This suited Ralph’s entire existence in life. People get close, and then they leave you.

The day had been surprisingly uneventful. But in the afternoon, Ralph smelled something wonderful cooking next door. Something garlicky and full of onions. Pot roast. The smell wafted its way into his little study. He tried to ignore it, but it assaulted him in the nose again and again.

Then another smell took up the barrage. It was a pastry, no pie, yes… an apple pie with just the right amount of cinnamon.

His wife used to make these wonderful apple pies with two different kinds of apples. His stomach began to growl. “This is ridiculous!” He headed for the kitchen for a snack.

In the living room, the smell was worse! Well, not worse, but overwhelmingly delicious. “This is ridiculous… now, go away smell!” He stuffed some Ritz Crackers into his mouth, washing it down with chocolate milk.

“Mr. Twigger?” His nose was pressed against the screen door.

“What do you want?”

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“Did you like the bear claw, Mr. Twigger?

“Yes, thank you. How do you know my name?”

“I got one of these papers here with you apartment’s number and your name. Our cuckoo clock won’t cuckoo. Can you fix it Mr. Twigger?”

“Well…I don’t know.”

“We’ll pay you a whole dinner for lookin’ at it.”

“Well,…I…”

“We’re eating at six o’clock.”

“Wait…I don’t fix clocks for dinners!”

As quickly as he’d appeared, he was gone. Dinner?! He didn’t eat dinner with anyone except himself. Certainly didn’t want to eat with two yammering kids and their mother. Once again the smell smacked him in the face. Yankee Pot Roast and apple pie had always been favorites of his.

At six o’clock sharp Ralph Twigger was at the apartment door of #6 in his new sweater from his sister, bow tie, polished shoes, shaved whiskers, and his little bag of tools under his arm. He looked a little like Mr. Rogers, except Mr. Rogers was a lot friendlier.

 

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The door opened, and it was like he was like he was looking at his wife 30 years ago. Same strawberry blonde hair, freckled smile, brown eyes.  He let out a little gasp and with it came her name in a whisper, “Rachel.”

“No, my name’s Debra.  Are you okay, Mr. Twigger?”

“Excuse me. I’m fine.  Just a little hungry, I guess.”

“Here. You sit down right here.”  She handed him a small glass of tomato juice. “The boys will be right out.”

He noticed the cuckoo clock lying on the coffee table.  He’d always been partial to these clocks. “She’s a beauty.”

“It was my father’s. He bought it in Germany during the war and shipped it home to Mama. When he died, it was the only thing I wanted. It hasn’t kept time for years, but it hangs on the wall to remind us of Grandpa.”

All the time she’d been talking, Ralph had been fidgeting with the main spring. “Let’s hang her on the wall and have a look.”

She already had a nail on a wall hidden among dozens of family pictures.

“Right here, Mr. Twigger.”

He pulled the weights, set the pendulum to swinging, turned the hands to a minute before six and unhooked the door for the cuckoo bird. It sure was a long minute. He stared at the faces on the wall. There were a lot of smiles, and those two little rockets

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dominated all the happy faces. He was then caught by a high school picture of Debra.

Suddenly, Ralph was transported in time to a porch swing, a warm summer evening, and a first kiss. Just then a cuckoo rang through the room.

“It works! You’re a genius, Mr. Twigger!” She gave his arm a little squeeze.

The boys came galloping down the hall.

“Woah, cool!”—the oldest rocket.

“The cuckoo’s alive again! Yea!”—the youngest rocket.

“Mr. Twigger these are my two boys—Josh my oldest and Jeremy my youngest. Why don’t we sit down and celebrate your fine craftsmanship.”

Ralph sat at the head of the table opposite Debra, flanked by Josh and Jeremy. Jeremy stuck his hand into Ralph’s folded hands and began a prayer to end all prayers, thanking God for food rocks, bugs, dessert, cuckoo clocks and his new friend, Mr. Twigger.

It was the most delicious home cooked meal Ralph had eaten in well,… years. He had seconds on everything, including the pie. The conversation was pretty satisfying, too.  These people seemed so interested in him. He felt important. Ralph even told a few of his favorite riddles which the boys loved. However, they sat too close on the couch next to him.

 

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The cuckoo clock struck nine and Ralph, like Cinderella at the ball, left quickly, abruptly.

“Please let me pay for the repairs, Mr. Twigger.”

“No” was all he could mutter upon scooping up his bag of tools.

“Good night Mr. Twigger,” came a little voice from the bedroom.

In seconds, he was back in his apartment. All of a sudden, he realized he might have appeared rude, but it was nine, and he had stayed too long, maybe said too much, let them in too far. He didn’t do this with any of his customers, certainly not any of the tenants. He felt strange about the whole evening now.

    “They’ll expect things from me now… like hello’s and screen door repairs and cups of sugar.   Oh Rachel, why did you have to die? You were so much better at this. You’d love this girl. She looks like you.  She cooks for you. And that boys, they think I’m funny, just like you… No! I can’t do this, Rachel! I don’t know how to do it. I won’t let them in.”

The walls had always been very thin, too thin, back where Ralph worked on the clocks and watches late at night. And tonight was no exception. He heard Debra’s voice. It sounded like she was on the phone with her Mom or somebody important.   She was chattering away.   He wasn’t listening, eavesdropping, until he heard his name, “Mr. Twigger”.

     “Well, she doesn’t waste any time. Probably trying to fix me up with her mom.”

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Very quietly, he scooted the chair over to the wall.

“The boys loved him. He’s so cute. He fixed Dad’s clock and didn’t charge us a thing. In fact, he reminds me of Dad.”

     Yup, she’s on the phone with her mom.

     “Bless his day tomorrow God, fill it with business and show us how to love him. He’s going to be a good neighbor. Thank you for our new home. Thank you for our new friend, Ralph Twigger.”

An unexpected tear trickled down Ralph’s cheek and plopped onto his sweater sleeve. He hadn’t heard someone do that in a long time. Oh, Rachel used to do it all the time, but Ralph never believed in it much.  He didn’t know what to make out of all of this evening. It was confusing and enjoyable and it was kind of like having Rachel around. But people these days are pretty strange. It was better to keep your distance and keep your guard up. He decided to lay low in #7 for a few days and keep his guard up.

******

The next morning he was up by 6:30 working for a full hour before the fuss started next door.

“I don’t want to go to school.”

“You have to Jeremy. Mommy’s got to go to work.”

“No, I won’t go! I don’t know anyone there.”

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I don’t know anyone at my new job either, but I’m going to make new friends just like you.”

“No!”

“Mom, it’s 7:30…”

“Josh, are you sure you’ll be okay? I hate to leave you with him like this, but I’ve got to go… I’ll be late!”

“We’ll be okay, Mom.”

There was a door closing followed by heels hastily clicking down the stairway.

Ralph couldn’t believe his ears. This nice mother had left two little boys to fend for themselves. Geraldo should know about this. Right after that, it started up again.

“No way!  You can’t make me! You’re not Mom!”

 

“No, but I’m your older brother. Come on, get dressed!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

“No!”

“Yes!”

“No!”

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“Yes!”

Just then there was a loud crash.

It was time for an adult to step next door. Ralph knocked on #6 and two boys, one in a semi choke hold answered.  “Help me, Mr. Twigger.”

“Stop that right now, boys!”

“Yes sir,” they both said, straightening up.

“Jeremy where are your shoes?”

“Josh, are your teeth brushed?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Uh, good. Lunches—do we need to make them?”

“Nope, they’re right here.”

Josh looked at Ralph with a sudden a-ha. “Mom told you to check us, didn’t she?”

“Well, uh, not exactly.”

“I’m ready, Mr. Twigger. Shoes.”

“Good! Now, boys, I need the two of you to listen to me. Okay, uh, you’ve got a big day ahead of you. First day of school. Big day. And, uh, you two gotta stick together.

 

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You’ve got learning to do, friends to meet and when you get home… I’m gonna need your advice about a… um, a clock.”

“Really?”

“Cool!”

Boy, that was quick thinking… thought Ralph.  “Yes, indeedy… it’s real cool. Now, you both walk home together and uh,… knock on my door and come and take a look at this clock.”

“Alright!”

“Bye, Mr. Twigger!”

They were off, and Ralph shut the apartment door. He couldn’t believe what he just accomplished. He’d never had kids, yet he managed to stop a fight, get a kid dressed, calm the queasiness of a new school day. They’d both be back at three. Panic set in.

     They’ll probably need a snack and have homework to do.

He cleared off the kitchen table of papers, magazines, rubber bands, old coffee cups from

days ago. He was ready for three o’clock.

Sure enough. Ten minutes after three there were two excited little boys knocking on his door.   They sat down to a sumptuous snack of Ritz crackers, peanut butter, and chocolate milk, Ralph’s favorite “pick me up” snack. After that, they diligently worked at

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books, dittos, and coloring assignments.  He had to answer a few questions, but he’d managed to fix a pocket watch during the time in between.

“Mr. Twigger?”

Both of them were standing at his office door.

“We’re done.”

“Yeah, we’re done, so we can help you with that clock now.”

“Clock? Oh yes, the clock I need your advice on.”  He pulled a large clock covered in cloth off the shelf.

“Now this is a clock I’m working on…”

“Cool!”

“And I need your advice about the hands for the clock.” He went over to a little chest with all sorts of drawers. Carefully he laid out four sets of brass hands. The boys scrutinized each one, looked at each other, nodded, “This one.”

“Interesting. That’s the one I liked too. Josh and Jeremy, you two have eyes for clocks.”

Just then the doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it!”

 

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“No, no, no.  You hold on there. It could be a stranger. I always look through the peep hole first. Now, I’ll lift you up Jeremy, and you tell me who you see.”

“Oh, no.  It’s Mommy, and she looks mad and… sad!”

“Oh no, boys!  I forgot to leave a note.”

 

He opened the door, and two boys pounced on their mother talking 90 miles a minute about their day.

“I was worried sick when you weren’t in the apartment. Josh and Jeremy, you have to leave a note. Now come on. I’m sure Mr. Twigger has work to do. I’m so sorry for the interruption.”

“Now I asked ‘em. I invited them here, Debra. In fact, it’s better than you think. Their homework’s done and they’ve had a light but nutritious snack.”

“What?”

“Peanut butter, Ritz crackers and chocolate milk.”

Debra had dropped to the couch in a heap with tears streaming down her face.

“They aren’t allergic to peanut butter, are they?”

“It’s not that, Mr. Twigger.”

 

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“The boys said you leave at 7:30 every morning. Now, I’ve never had kids, but the boys and I did just fine this morning and this afternoon. If you need me, I’m available—at no charge.”

The boys were about to burst from excitement. “Please, Mom?  We did everything Mr. Twigger told us to do.”

“Mr. Twigger, I don’t know what to say! You’re an answer to my prayers.”

“Oh, pish tosh, I’ve never been an answer to anyone’s prayers, except maybe Rachel’s.”

“Rachel?”

“She was my wife. She looked a lot like her a little… and boy, could she cook… just like you.”

“I wish I’d known her.”

“Me too.  Now, how about it–do I have a job?”

“Yes, only if you’ll accept dinner in exchange for your labor.”

“It’s a deal!”

“Yea! Mr. Twigger’s our babysitter!”  The boys were pumping his two arms like a seesaw.

 

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“No, I’m no baby sitter. I’ve never liked that word. I’m just Mr. Twigger, your neighbor next door.”

Debra was picking up book bags and lunch pails. “Well, neighbor, your fee will be ready in 45 minutes. How does spaghetti and meatballs sound?”

“I love spaghetti!”

“Come on boys. Let’s get dinner ready for Mr. Twigger.”

She was about out the door when she turned back around and looked at him. “Mr. Twigger,  you are my answer.”

The wiggling and the chatter and all the excitement moved next door. Ralph stood there in the middle of his living room, surprised by the whole day. For the first time in many years, Ralph felt needed and loved and important. ‘The guard’ was down, definitely down, in Ralph Twigger’s life.

 

 

©Melea J. Brock, 1993

(The first Ralph Twigger story in a series about feeling important, needed and loved)

 

 

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