rich



one day you'll be rich. i still hear his voice, see his face, that grand-fatherly smile, his mischievous eyes twinkling.
rich? asked grandma, when he had died, what are you talking about? she handled the till and the tap at the pub. she thought she knew everything. 
there wasn’t a savings-book with his papers. the president of the bank played handball with him each thursday. they drank cognac at the reserved table behind the bar. so he would have known. uncle bob was a bookie and bragged grandpa bet every nickel on ponies. he said so right there in the kitchen with grandma bent over a pot tasting soup. she dropped the ladle and uncle ducked behind liz’s back. the maid peeled potatoes into a bowl when the oven mitt hit. uncle’s hand had felt sweet on her thigh. she jerked up from her dream. the bowl doused her lap. spuds reeled the floor. water purled off her legs. uncle snickered, but grandma was mad. i hung my head. no one believed me, i wasn’t rich and the old man was dead.
when grandma retired from the pub, we cleaned out his office behind the bar. this had been his haunt. he first took me there late one sunday morning to vaunt his collection of clocks. there were four wooden cuckoos, best of all the biggest one, a tall black forest farmhouse, carved from dark wood, surrounded by trees and backed by mountains. above the face with its dial and hands were three doors swinging open on time, cuckoos bobbing in and out on the quarter, half, three-quarter and full hours. bright brassy chain-weights shaped like pine cones turned the works and filled the bellows. birds cuckoo-ed from their roosts, some on time, some confused, but most in unison. the chronometer of a steamboat whistled the hours, a calendar clock clicked a new number once every minute, hour, day, month and year, there were bells and chimes, most all of varying chronological accuracy,  some slow, some fast, and one, under glass, opened its door for a ballerina to the sound of music box mozart. her whirling pirouettes alone lasted some minutes. dividing the wall left to right stood a tall grandfather clock, he called it an 'horologe'. it's slow pendulum measured time with each stroke. from atop a foot stool i wound it’s strong spring with a crank key counterclockwise. the clock’s gong sounded in my bones more than in my ears. the noise level was clamorous and during those variant minutes at noon that first sunday i was in complete awe.
grandfather taught me dominos there. while it was his turn to play, i looked around. we played by the light of a lamp, a woman's bare breasted bronze, eye level, the crinoline shade held high over her head. beyond, was grandpa's desk and next to the phone a cage for the parrot. max never took note of the cuckoos. he mostly snoozed perched on the phone’s black handle, but squawked his hello at the first ring. the open roll top was cluttered with stuff, papers and note books, some of them open. flat-nosed tweezers and stamps. mail tied with string, a deer antler dagger and an old upright, where he typed pub-menus, banging the keys so hard the i-dots fell out. behind grandfather hung the king's portrait, canvas torn at his heart. in front of the half drawn curtains loomed a dusty tan statue of schiller. a chinese abacus stood on a book case near the drapes and i caught hell when i played with its beads. a billiard cue leaned up against a small wooden stepladder. it pointed into the curtains. the case held rows of fat books, spines stamped with brittle gold, hard to read in their age. schiller’s rauber, a faint goethe’s faust, gulliver’s travels, la histoire de chine. the slap of his domino brought me back to the world. yet my turn passed quickly and i lost most of those games. but the room stayed with me, at night in my sleep and in school, daydreaming. the coat of armor, his blue uniform, the black leather belt with the brass buckle, 'gott mit uns' engraved around the kaiser’s crown. a tattered old german flag, his fireman’s helmet, a fencing mask, a rusty saber and a bike without breaks. he owned one of the first green magic eye radios, a huge wooden cabinet, a cognac decanter on top. a tarnished plaque from his old daimler, don’t shift with the knee of your pretty companion. and the cigar box to hold our double twelve dominos.
now he was dead. the pub was for sale. uncle bob took the lamp. my cousin got the fencing mask and the fireman’s helmet. i coaxed max into his cage and grandma broomed out the room. uncle bob held the ladder for lizzie, standing tiptoed on top to take down the curtains. but the rod holding those drapes just wouldn’t budge. looking up along lizzie, uncle thought it was screwed down. so he climbed the ladder. he jiggled the peg hard and it let go off a sudden. down came uncle tangled in curtains. he toppled liz. i saw her whites before she could tidy up. the curtain rod dangled, then drooped and coins began pouring from one end, like water from a tap. silver flooded the floor. grandma’s jaw dropped, she had to sit down. she talked of money amiss from the till for years, some days it had been ten marks, others just five. all collected it came to a fortune. i counted thirty-seven stacks of ten five mark pieces.