Catherine Maranto


Catherine Maranto is a sixteenyear-
old writer of essays,
fiction, creative nonfiction, and
she predominately writes midlength
realistic fiction stories.

Clock in Brown Paper


by: Catherine Maranto

It was an open lunch after PSATs last year, as I recall. I was a different person in a very different era of my life, and I’d just met my boyfriend. We were sitting together in a reasonably deserted hallway, talking about memes, how we did, other meaningless jumble. I glanced at the clock. My stomach was hurting; I tried not to tear through the small container of frozen strawberries in my lap, the sole thing in my lunchbox. They’d since “melted”, and were now pulpy and watery; my hands were stained with red at the tips like the pale, vascular hands of modern paintings. He was eating a stromboli out of a box; the warm pastry-and-sauce scent, shot through with the stale smell of previous refrigeration, tinged the air; it had been recently microwaved.

He looked at my Tupperware container.

“What else are you eating?”

I smiled vaguely. “Just this. I’m not that hungry.”

He turned to me full on, and I could feel that smile slipping away with every second that his blue eyes began hardening. I was used to softness, like the comfort of the top of the skies in summertime; this ice was a new development. I desperately attempted to wipe the surprise and
apprehension from my face, because I knew it would give me away further, but I couldn’t hide myself around him.

“Strawberries?” he asked. “That’s your whole lunch? There’s not more?”

“Yeah,” I said over-casually. The carefully composed mirage I’d managed to weave to hide my secret in front of everyone else was unravelling, thread by thread, and I tried desperately to weave them back together. But too much was falling apart at once; I couldn’t fix anything.
I tried to smile, but abandoned it at the look on his face, which was stony. It was then that I felt more and more conscious of what I was hiding, like a pauper hiding an expensive stolen clock in brown paper under a ragged

“You have strawberries for lunch every day, babe. You’re never hungry.”

“Everyone saw you in the shop,” the constable told the pauper, consulting a notepad. “Your description matched the person who ran out with the clock. How did you get into the case? No other thief was able to.”

“Yeah.” I flinched at how casual it was, but didn’t want to make him think his suspicions were right by complying.

“Did you eat breakfast?”

I didn’t want to piss him off by lying. He would know. “No.”

“Yeah, I was in that store,” stammered the pauper. He knew it was
giving him away.

“But you couldn’t buy anything there, could you?” the constable asked, his eyes boring into the raggedy coat and the grimy face. “We checked your workplace. Your pay is ten dollars an hour, even if you don’t support a family. Who would buy a hundred-dollar clock on that pay?”

“You don’t eat breakfast, and then you only eat fruit for lunch?” my
boyfriend snapped. He looked into the container, and then looked back at
me. “That’s not even that much.”

I didn’t say anything. I felt the redness on my ears extend its tentacles to my cheeks. There were a handful of people in the hallway with us, but he didn’t need to raise his voice to make his point: his voice was tense, his whole body taut as if waiting for a whip to lash him. I dropped my gaze to the floor, unable to bear the sickly shame washing in waves over me, pooling at my feet like muddy, dark urine. I was very cold and very warm at the same time, and felt as if my insides were pulsing.

“You almost never eat unless I tell you to.” I sensed my impending doom; he was putting the pieces together. “You’re always like, ‘I just ate. I had a snack. I’m not hungry. I feel nauseous.’ What’s up with that? You barely ever eat. Why not?”

The pauper struggled to keep the paper around the clock as the constable riffled through his pockets. If he was found out…His arm tightened further, clutching, protecting it. There was embarrassment, tinged with regret, surging powerfully. If I had hidden it better…If I was
perfect enough that I hadn’t had to resort to this…The pauper cursed himself for not being rich enough to not have to steal the clock.

I was wearing my black Chucks that day; they were in the phase of their lives where a gaping hole appeared to the left of the toe from wear. I stared at the loose threads, mentally weaving them back together, mending them the way I couldn’t fix the gaping hole in my own life. But
like the hole, I couldn’t fix it. It lay dead there, sad and yawning.

“Move your arm!” barked the constable.

“It—it hurts—I hurt it at work—that’s nothing—just a bunch of paper…I was going to use it to patch the hole in my roof. I don’t want it to get wet or blow away—”


The bundle slipped from under the pauper’s arm, too solid to be paper, and the constable caught it. I didn’t say anything. I fixed my eyes on the grime and discoloured rubber of the shoe, not bearing to look away from it, but feeling worse every second. The game is up.

“Can you look at me?”

I turned my face to his angular one, fighting the urge to curl into a ball. I smelled the sauce and the pastry on his breath. One of my hands flapped; I stowed it away.

“You wanna tell me about this?” the constable asked.

“Mmmmm…” I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t want to tell him endless stories of ripping open brightly coloured cellophane, feeling sick, throwing up in toilets, gagging on toothbrushes, covering puddles of brown juice on the floor in baking soda, endless stories of acid and the agony of a burning esophagus and pain and tears and inadequacy and envy. But I knew he wanted to know, and I didn’t want to be too vague, so I prefaced with, “Um. Do you know what bulimia is?”

His pupils retracted.

“Why?” he said. The greasy box slid off his lap; he didn’t notice. “What
caused this?”

The pauper gazed at the shining clock in the constable’s rough hands
and mourned the loss of his ticket to success. The things that clock
could’ve done for his money…He tried to soak up every detail while it
was still within his vision. That was when he noticed the second hand’s
flimsiness, like paper. Hell, the paper he wrapped it in looked more stable
than the second hand. The ornate detail at the bottom, he realised, was
modelled by a machine, not delicately chiselled by a hand. The angel’s
eyes on the bottom, looking to the heavens, were blank and unknowing,
almost eerie.

He looked into the constable’s blue eyes and realised: in his haste to get
something that would help the situation he was so dissatisfied with, he’d
grabbed a cheap imitation of the thousand-dollar artisan clock people
really loved so much. I realised that in that moment, my boyfriend was not
angry at me for failing him by having a twisted view of food and my own
body. He was worried, and this worry was so enormous that he was afraid
for me, that I couldn’t love myself the way he did, that I couldn’t look at
myself and see the vision of beauty he did.

The pauper was only a thief now. He was not a brilliant capturer of
beautiful objects. He looked upon the ruin of his shining prize, and hated
it more every second; it was not that it was beautiful and had been ruined,
it was that its lie of beauty ruined him. He was even worse off now.

I looked into my boyfriend’s blue eyes and realised he knew the clock
was fake before I did when he pulled it from the brown paper of my lies.

“Baby,” he said, pulling my hands to his. “You know I’d help you. I’d help you exercise and eat right. You need to ask me to help you with things like this, instead of starving yourself.”

“We could get you a job in the station,” the constable said. “A janitor,
some decent job. I don’t know why you settled.” He sighed and looked out
at the darkened horizon far beyond the road. “I don’t believe in arresting
people for not having money. I believe you’re decent, and that you need to
pick yourself up. Let me help you.”

“Tell me everything,” my boyfriend said.

Everything, start to finish, poured out.

My dad started policing the family’s eating when I was in second
—the pauper had grown up with an alcoholic father—
—he used to shame me for not being able to keep up with him on
—the pauper’s mother was a paranoid mess—
—“The kids can’t walk a quarter mile without being out of breath!”
despite the pediatrician saying I was in perfect health for a seven-yearold—
—the pauper sleeping through school because he was kept up all night
by his parents’ fighting—
—comments on my baby fat when I was in fourth grade,
congratulations for losing it all from not being able to eat because of a
painful orthodontic expander in fifth grade—
—the pauper was bullied in school for his ragged clothes and scorned
by girls—
—becoming envious of curvy but skinny girls and hating my chubby
—the pauper scarcely being able to find paid work because of his “ratty
—my embarrassment about exercising—
—the hatred of the condition, the hatred of oneself, the constant sense of doom, the inadequacy, the world pressing down on my lungs and the constant scream of “Why will I never be good enough for this world?”

It took a long time for those blue eyes to settle. When they did, the voice was firm, but fair. Shame swirled still, but it was a productive shame—the kind of shame that drives one to improve, rather than persist in driving into the same wall again and again.

“I’ll be checking in on what you’re eating and when. I’d rather not have to do that, but I’ll do it  if it keeps you safe. I want you to be healthy if you want to lose weight—and I think you look fine—I want to help you.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “Will it work?”

“Yes,” he promised. “It works for everyone. It takes time, but it does.”

“Return the clock, son,” the constable said, “and come to the station to see about getting a job. You needn’t waste your life stealing.”

“I always wanted to be a police detective,” murmured the pauper, overwhelmed with emotion. “I was always good at those logic puzzles in school.”

The constable patted him on the shoulder. “Baby steps, now. I’ll help

“I can’t promise you it’ll be easy,” the blue eyes warned.

“I would rather have hard work than have a hard life,” the hazel eyes responded. And when the pauper did buy his clock at last, every detail was shining, it was beautiful, it was worthy, shining.


Bridge 2024