Alarm Clock


The artificial buzz of an alarm clock filled the room. An early 80s one, she thought, owing to the low-quality synthesized nature of the sound. Any earlier and it’d be a more mechanical ring. Any later, and it’d be a richer tone, still clearly a sample but clearer to the point you could forget it wasn’t real.

Char pondered that dynamic. It confused her. She could clearly hear the difference between those fuller samples and reality, yet she still found herself letting those lines blur, accepting the reproduced sound as if it were really being produced from the small muffled speaker in the alarm clock she bought on a whim from Sister Blanc’s thrift store.

Her knowledge of alarm clocks was not nearly developed enough to make such a guess as this, yet her estimate of the clock’s year of manufacture was spot-on. She had read it on a sticker on the battery cover which originally caught her her attention as it caught the dim lights of the store.

Char would often think along these lines in her own mind, speaking with confidence about subjects she had only the most basic of knowledge on. Her brief shift as an alarm clock expert and digital sound historian made Char feel as though she truly had something of substance to say. Occasionally, she felt a bit silly about this practice but soon realized it gave her experience speaking with confidence.

“What use is being right,” she thought, “if I can’t communicate it with anyone?”

Feeling that she had adequately justified her habit, Char continued to speak authoritatively to herself, an audience to whom she could be positively persuasive. A master rhetor she was considered by all who heard her in this period, a fact which Char found great pride in. Clearly, her practice was worth a great deal, as without going down this path she never would’ve argued herself into such submission, never would’ve awakened this part of her that she had come to hold so dear. As Char herself would attest, no one could speak like Charlotte Sincerity.

With this newfound confidence, Char began to make friends. Reaching out to others was never her strong suit, but at least now she had the internal strength to take the opportunities to build friendships which came her way of no will of her own, growing close to a select few who really valued her.

Nickee O’Hara was one of these new friends. A favorite of Char’s, Nickee was a witty young girl who spoke little, but when she did open her mouth, people listened. A sharp joke or an insightful comment was sure to slip from her lips each and every time. She liked Char for her long ramblings on subjects Nickee had never the thought to even think about. The ethics of custom t-shirt printing, the history of Ghanan film, and the case for abandoning daylight savings: all were topics that Char poured her soul into, suggesting a worldliness and breadth of interest scarcely found in their small rural community. Finding that passion electrifying, Nickee found herself growing closer to the opinionated girl she called her friend, even if she could be a bit of a zealot at times. Nickee saw that zealotry as a natural side effect of her friend’s hot blood, though it managed to get on her nerves more than a few times.

As they spoke more, the two friends spent more and more time together. After a month and a half had passed since the pair had first spoken, Nickee asked the question which came naturally to her but which took Char by surprise:

“Can I stay the night at your place?”

Though she would never be so bold herself, Char knew the procedure. She nervously accepted, excited for the time she could spend with her new friend but worried that she would make a grave mistake and ruin the good that had come to her, as she had no experience playing the role of host.

Nevertheless, the night came and passed smoothly. The two rented a DVD from Family Video, the film Be Kind Rewind, and had a wonderful time. Char deeply appreciated the love of movies she saw in the film, droning on about its beauty. Nickee, on the other hand, hated its vapid silliness and found little of value, but she was determined to make the best of it and spent most of the runtime thinking of new quips to tear the movie apart. Char thought that hilarious and the popcorn delicious. It was a good night.

The two passed out deep into the AMs, Char slumped into a loveseat her legs hung off of and Nickee curled in a ball on the cold ground next to a heating vent. Suddenly, set to go off later than Char would like her friend to notice, a familiar buzz began from the adjacent room. Char ran to turn off the clock. When she returned, Nickee was awake and, to Char’s delight, curious.

“That alarm clock sounds cool, it’s nothing like the one in my room. What kind is it?”

Char lit up. This was it. She had prepared for moments like these and when they hit she felt a thrill akin to finding that clock in the first place.

“If you listen to it, the buzz is not nearly as mechanical as your typical 70s alarm sound, but also isn’t the kind of high-quality sample you’d expect from a more modern clock. So I’d say this is likely a machine from the early 80s.”

Nickee loved this explanation, as it was exactly the kind of passionate rambling about the mundane which made her want to befriend Char in the first place. Yet this explanation didn’t seem quite right. Herself having a passing interest in retro technology, Nickee had a different idea:

“I thought it sounded more 70s myself. Do you mind if I go take a look?”

“No problem,” replied Char, who followed Nicke back into her room wearing a self-satisfied grin. This time it was Nickee who lit up.

“This is a 1978 G.E. model! It looks just like the one my dad leaves in the kitchen since our oven timer got busted. It’s a real beauty.”

Char, a bit upset at the challenge to her confident posturing, flipped the clock over.

“See? Made in Japan. 1982. It was an 80s device, just like I said.”

Nickee thought about this for a moment then replied,

“I’m sure that the model is from ’78, it says so on the manual we flipped through when dad couldn’t remember how to set it. Your specific unit must’ve just been a late production of an old model.”

Char felt foolish. She had spoken with so much confidence and now she looked like an idiot to this important new friend. She had convinced herself she was a genius when she really just had a big ego. What would she do now? Her friend would hate her, see her as a liar, and all her passionate rants were for nothing. What a wa-

“Char?” asked Nickee, gently trying to piece together why the girl had frozen and looked so concerned. She thought the alarm clock conversation was going well. Had she done something wrong?

“I’m sorry,” started Char, “for going off like a pretentious bitch about something I knew nothing about. I’m a moron…ignore me.”

Nickee hadn’t seen Char like this before and paused to carefully choose her words.

“I’m just happy to see you excited about the tech! Who cares that you were talking out of your ass? It’s cool that you wanted to talk about it at all. You don’t take stuff like that for granted. I love that.”

Char felt less foolish.