6 Jan 2018 – The Gear Sculptor

Scott Summers365 Stories, General Fiction


Photo by Heather Zabriskie on Unsplash

The watches came by the truckload.  Some were cracked, others crushed, but they all ended up in boxes outside of Anderson Cordray’s shop one way or another.  It was the first day of Kendrick’s internship when they arrived, and the bewildered look on his face spoke volumes about the work he thought he’d be doing to earn his college credit.

This wasn’t the kind of internship he’d been expecting.  Several of his classmates had gone to marketing and design firms, but Kendrick wanted to do something other than just fetch coffee and look at design meetings from outside conference room glass.  He wanted hands-on experience, and he figured that the best way to do that was to find a local artist and beg for an internship.  He’d been ecstatic when Anderson Cordray, the famed “Gear Sculptor”, had accepted his request.

Now he knew why.

“This is part of it, lad,” Anderson said.  He clapped Kendrick on the shoulder and waved at the driver as the truck pulled away from the red-brick storefront and started down the road.  “Now, help me move these boxes inside and we’ll be about the day’s business.”

Anderson knelt and snatched up the first box into his boney hands, before wandering off inside.  Kendrick stacked two atop one another and followed the wisp of white hair atop Anderson’s head — the only part of the man he could see over those boxes — into the shop.

It took half an hour to move them all.  On their second trip out, Anderson furnished two hand trucks to expedite the process.  By the time they were finished, Kendrick was sweating.  He’d come to the shop dressed in a light blue shirt and khaki pants, equipped with little more than a notebook, pen, his college textbook, and a sandwich for lunch.

“Not quite what you expected?” Anderson laughed, when they finished.

Kendrick shook his head.

“Figures.  Those art textbooks only show you the finished product.  They don’t talk too much about logistics.”  He strummed his fingers on the boxes.  “That’s why you’re here, I suppose.  Real world experience.”

“Yes, sir,” Kendrick huffed.

“Well, let’s get to it.  These sculptures aren’t going to build themselves.  Grab a box and follow me.”

Kendrick grabbed a box off the top of the stack and hauled it over to the workbench.  With Anderson’s help, they dumped the bulk of the old watches onto the surface.  Anderson opened a drawer and hauled out a handful of tools, then pulled up a tall stool and ordered Kendrick to do the same.

“The first thing we’ve got to do is strip out the parts,” he said.  “Now, every part of the watch is valuable — even the plastic bands on the cheap ones — so be careful when you disassemble them.  Try to divide everything into similar parts.  It’ll be easier to make sense of when we get around building.”

“Sir,” Kendrick said, “I don’t know anything about watches.”

At that, Anderson laughed.  “This don’t got anything to do with watches, lad.  This has to do with parts.  You don’t need to know their names — I sure as hell didn’t when I first started doing this.  Just open up the case, strip out the gears, and put all the similar-looking parts together.  Big gears with big gears.  Little gears with little gears.  You get the idea.”

Kendrick did.

Anderson watched him disassemble the first one, guiding him through some basic tool usage, then disappeared into the backroom to work while Kendrick focused on the best way to disassemble and arrange the parts.

Before long, Kendrick had a sizable pile of gears and screws and metal watch links.  He made a few mistakes during the deconstruction process and set those off to the side to consult with Anderson later.  By the time Anderson came back to check on him, Kendrick’s fingers were getting sore.

They broke for lunch.

“How many days do I have you for?”

“Just three, sir,” Kendrick said while he unwrapped his sandwich.  He wished it was less than that, but it was a minimum thirty-two hour internship.  Kendrick had selected that, not wanting to impose.

“Oh, good.  We’ll be able to get quite a bit of work done.”

They ate in silence.  Kendrick had a list of questions in his notebook that he’d need answered in the next few days, but this didn’t seem like the right time.

They got back to work a few minutes later, Anderson disappearing into the back room while Kendrick plugged away at the watches.  Around mid-afternoon, Anderson poked his head through the door.

“That’s about enough of that for the day,” he said.  “Come on back here.”

Kendrick all but dropped the tools as he slid off the stool.  He stretched his back and his arms, catching Anderson’s sly grin as he did so.  He suspected that the old sculptor had been in his position countless times before.

“It’s tedious work,” Kendrick said.

Anderson laughed.  “That’s art, my boy.  What you’re doing out here is just as important as what I’m doing back here.  Problem is, only one side of it gets shown to the public.  No doubt, you’re wondering why I’m having you pull all those pieces out by yourself instead of helping you.”

“Free labor?” Kendrick asked.

“Not at all,” Anderson said, suddenly serious.  “It’s because, as an artist, you’re going to be alone.  A lot.  My job is to let you know what life is really like if you go into a business like this for yourself, right?  So here it is:  You’re sitting where I sit most of the day, and now that you’ve done that, you get to assist me with the thing that makes all the difference.”

Kendrick stepped into the backroom of the workshop.  Anderson led him down a narrow corridor, where hundreds of sketches and designs had been pinned to the wall.  Kendrick resisted the urge to stop and study them.

At the end of the hallway, they entered a brightly-lit room.  Kendrick stopped at the door, gaping.  A row of wooden cubbies lined the wall, filled to the brink with gears, screws, rotors, and dials, all the parts of the watches he’d been working to assemble.  There were even minute hands, watch links, and metal plates of varying sizes.

In the middle, set upon a thick metal plate, Kendrick spied an artist’s easel the length of his arm.  A man, comprised fully of gears, stood beside it with a thin, metal paintbrush in his hand.  Mounted on the easel, Kendrick spotted a familiar portrait comprised of entirely of clockwork parts.

“Is that . . . the Mona Lisa?”