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Rockin' the Clock
Rockin' the Clock - Dried Lemon #4

Rubbing her hands together as if she was about to see her last lottery number drop, Zoe was unfolding the neatly folded piece of paper before the music sheets could land around her. What could it be? Thoughts were rushing through her head... is it from Dad? Did he buy the guitar new? Why did the plush recede? Why am I so nervous? Treating the paper as if it was an ancient treasure map, she unceremoniously backhanded the music biographies from her nightstand and laid it down as if it was the declaration of independence.

Jimi didn't seem offended, staring back up at her upside down. Taking a deep breath, she wasn't sure if she should laugh, cry or scream. Could it be a goodbye note explaining why he had to disappear into the nothingness? Was it a shopping list? Zoe was almost paralyzed by anticipation, trying to downplay the moment to minimise the potential fall out of unmet expectations. "You'll want to sit down for this..." said someone. Turning to the door, she saw Dimple. "Did you just say something, Dimp?", she uttered now torn between the secret scrawl and the possibility of a talking cat.

She often wished Dimple could speak... or at least have thought bubbles like her mom's favourite cartoon strip, Garfield. He was ginger enough but was he fat enough? The thought dissolved as Dimple winked at her. "Seriously cat... the poker face?" she managed, now returning to the paper. Sitting down, whether acknowledging an inner voice or her fluffy, she was now distracted enough to just get on with it. Her Dad obviously had a sense of humour because he'd take the time to yellow the paper with a teabag to give it that treasure map feel. Just short of burning the edges of the paper with a candle, he'd gone all the way... writing a few lines of what looked like an ancient text. It wasn't Klingon because she could read it but the inscription was just legible.

"Read... between... the lines", Zoe stammered. Turning the "map" over expecting to see more, she flicked her blue hair back, bemused and irritated by the cryptic clue saying "Oh boy, now you've done it... Dad." whilst exhaling. It was a definite anti-climax after the build-up and echoing his words again through her head, she wondered what on earth he was talking about. Lines... did he mean the fret board?

Scrabbling over to the guitar case, she dragged her fingers between the guitar strings hoping to find another clever clue. Half-expecting to feel something written in Morse or braille, her face dropped as she came up with nothing. Letting out a yawn, Dimple jumped up on the nightstand where the paper was lying. Rubbing up against the corner of the table, it seemed like he was beckoning her. Heeding the call, Zoe trudged over to alleviate Dimple's permanently itchy ear.

"Ahhhh, the yellowed paper..." she whispered, looking for some acknowledgement from her feline companion. He was either playing it cool or the voice had just been an extension of her already vivid imagination. He had definitely winked at her, which was more of a coincidence but now that he'd summoned her it felt like he knew what he was doing. Gathering her thoughts, she remembered how her Mom had helped her with a science project involving lemon juice. Mixing lemon juice with a bit of water, they'd been able to use an earbud to write messages on a piece of paper. Now holding the scrawl up gently to draw heat from the lamp, she had cracked the code! Between her father's print, the lemon juice had oxidised and turned brown enabling her to see a neatly drawn inscription.

Her smile turned to mush as the bitterness of the lemon juice seemed to sink into her fingers. Her father's last words to her would forever be "read between the lines" as staring back at her she discovered a string of musical notes. Almost wanting to ball up the paper, she felt like she'd been had. Slumping to the floor among the music sheets, she was crushed. Seconds felt like minutes as she stared blankly at Dimple. What sort of father would punk his own daughter? Dragging herself out of the funk, she tried to take another look. Obviously he had meant for her to find the message - why was it just a few choice riffs?

Earlier that year she wouldn't have been able to decipher the music... now picking herself up, she looked to her trusty Stratocaster with a renewed sense of hope.

 
Rockin' the Clock - Orange Plush #3


"How difficult could it possibly be?", Zoe muttered to Dimple before dusting off the guitar coffin. While she'd held Dimple aloft like young Simba as a kitten, he'd grown to the point that it felt like she should be doing reps. This was one of those gleaming magical moments where she felt as if she had to pause in reverence before drawing the sword... nay axe from its tomb of stone. As if ordained, Dimple gave his blessing with a knowing wink before Zoe leaned forward to unclasp the lid. She felt herself trembling ever so slightly as each clip popped open, nervous at the prospect of what new adventures lay ahead.

A hollow creak and the lid flung open to reveal her father's lime green Stratocaster. Now sun-dappled, it looked relieved to feel the warm glow of direct sunlight. She felt its full weight, plucking at a few strings and nursing a vague recollection of the joyful expression her dad would get when he was "in the zone". It brought the same silly grin to her face. Holding back a sneeze to keep Dimple from scattering, she raised the classic guitar into the heavenly light almost as if to say cheers to Jimi.

Rocking out with Guitar Hero is one thing. Pressing buttons, flicking the strum bar and grooving the whammy bar through the Star Power bonus makes you think you can play guitar like Slash in Welcome to the Jungle. While it had helped her develop co-ordination and strength in her fingers, she was entering a brave new world with her resurrected Stratocaster. Watching YouTube clips, young Zoe made it her mission to learn to play the guitar.

Sure, connecting the amplifier and tapping the pedal made it sound like she knew what she was doing but she honestly didn't have a clue. She was sure her Dad would have taught her if he'd stayed around long enough. He was no virtuoso, but it was an undying passion that made him feel alive. It made her feel alive too... and for the first time in her sixteen years she felt like she was taking something seriously like her teachers had always wanted.

Sleep, school, guitar... repeat. Zoe locked herself away in her room practicing. Mom was concerned, but not overly concerned. She knew Zoe had an inextricable link to her father through the treasured instrument, even if it was a full-blown obsession. It was probably bad parenting, but it just felt like she needed to let Zoe be Zoe for now. Filling the void, spacing out, reconnecting with her past... whatever you call it, it was a whole lot better than a teenage pregnancy or a chemical dependency.

While those cliched outlets to teenage angst were't Zoe's style, Mom knew she just had to let her be. It was her way of loving her. She wanted to unburden Zoe of her feelings of abandonment, to make her brand new and shiny again, but it seemed like the only way was through. Delivering trays of food to her door, it probably would've been easier if they had installed a pet door or one those ground level gruel slots.

Zoe knew exactly how Mom felt, but she had given in to the overwhelming sense of purpose behind her new mission. The signature knock at the door and sandwich or warm bowl of food became Mom's way of showing love as Zoe ratcheted her way up rock mountain. From Nirvana's trademark double strum to Knocking on Heaven's Door, the calendar pages peeled away as she shed her novice status. Often listening outside her door to feel a part of her world, Mom would silently cheer Zoe on, noticing a sharp gradient in the learning curve.

Talking the neighbours off the ledge during louder rock out sessions, she was shielding Zoe. An open bedroom window meant Dimple had full access to the Zoe show. He loved rock music, maybe the reverberations from the speaker to be more accurate. Nudging her when it was time to switch focus to those luminous stars, he was her furry guardian angel. Zoe was so taken with her new guitar she was even considering joining the school band to get more practice time. She played that guitar until it felt like a ghost limb. Sitting at her desk at school, she'd feel her fingers twitching for that invisible fret board. She was hooked alright! While her obsession had a hold on her, it hadn't got to the point that she was dotting ts and crossing is.

She'd daydream as per usual, but somehow managed to keep her grades intact. Sure, it wasn't hard for a smart girl to maintain a C average, but she was so committed to her heaven-sent mission that nothing, not even bad grades, could stop her. April seemed like years ago. It was now October - blindingly obvious thanks to the grinning pumpkins that adorned people's front porches on her way back from school. She was now dancing her fingers up and down that fret board, so much so that she would've had a million views if she had the time or inclination to play in front of an HD camera.

The transformation had been incredible, working her way from beginner to Hendrix apprentice. Axe was only too happy to be free of that coffin, which leaned up against a corner in Zoe's room, starting to gather a fresh coat of dust. There had been sacrifices along the watchtower. She'd lost touch with Mom, surviving on the odd high 5 or rare hug instead of their usual heart-to-heart chats over a steaming cup of whatever. On weekends, Zoe would match Mom at her own gown game, respecting her enough to use a pod to bypass the guitar's sound to her headphones before 9am.

Halloween was the day Zoe returned. Maybe it was the kids dressed as aliens that made it feel like she'd been abducted. Maybe it was the sugar rush. Either way, she'd returned with special powers and was now shred-ready. She'd befriended many of her YouTube guitar gurus, pretending to be old enough to make contact without needing her Mom's permission. They had Miyagi'ed her to being as tournament fit as someone can be via email and now she could really play! "Mom, I'm so sorry...".

Before Zoe could mumble another word, Mom had her arms around her whispering "You're back, sweetie - nothing else matters!". The cheesy and even gooey Metallica joke resonated, letting Zoe know her Mom cared, had been there the whole time and most importantly, still loved her ten fingers, toes... blisters and all. The reunion was a culmination of high 5s, an outpouring of laughter and made Zoe feel swathed in warm toweling. That fluffy unicorn gown was one in a million.

"I'm putting the kettle on!" said Mom with a sense of relief. As if re-gathering the ability to speak full sentences again, Zoe rattled off: "Awesome! I'm making... two sugars, a dash of almond milk still?". It had been so long that she had to phrase it as a question instead of relying on instinct. The moment was precious, destined for both of their memory banks, radiating belonging and rainbows. Zoe caught a glimpse in the mirror. She hadn't neglected herself, but she needed to re-blue.

Walking back to her room with a full heart, something was different about the usual chaos. The guitar case had toppled over. Closing the window to dismiss the wind, half-expecting Dimple to be behind the hit-and-run, she picked it up whisking her back to the day of Axe's resurrection. She'd come a long way and so had Jimi, who now lay on her cluttered nightstand, enshrined in other rock music biographies and exalted by music sheets that lay strewn about the floor. Peering inside the old guitar case as if she expected something to emerge, Zoe's eyes locked onto a section of the orange plush interior that had retracted. The jolt of the case faceplanting had dislodged something. As if peering back at her, a neatly folded piece of paper poked out of the lining.

 
Rockin' the Clock - A Blinding Light #2


Flipping the page to April always seemed like a cruel joke. Every year, the zombos made sure that Zoe was reminded of her father's disappearance through a number of stupid pranks. While their howling through the corridors actually took her mind off the unfortunate anniversary, it was the day's silliness that really got to her. Up was down, left was right, fake news was real fake news. Her world had been flipped and she wanted to flip it back to the channel where her Dad existed with a goofy smile on his face. While he'd left without a trace of any replayable memory, the emotional memories and triggers were still there. Zoe had the photos to prove he'd been there, but some days they may as well have come with the frame.

Scrunching her eyes, she could puzzle bits and pieces together from photographs and home videos almost as effectively as one of those rose-tinted documentaries about some icon. She was the April Fool alright, to believe that he would somehow materialise again after all these years. Using her vivid imagination she'd concoct ways he'd reappear to keep hope and humour alive.

Ideally, it would happen on April Fool's Day to really make it a day of two halves. She conjured up images of him arriving to pick her up from school in a car filled with balloons, dressed as an over-the-top party clown - only to reveal his true identity. Or, maybe he'd get her called to the principal's office and swivel around in that old squeaky chair to give her the best news of her life.

Sitting at her desk in a stodgy chemistry class, it was this sort of daydreaming that usually got her into trouble. Her teacher's report card just said 'Flippant', the meaning of which she could have guessed. Hydrogen, periodic tables, potassium's explosive potential and health benefits when appearing in the form of banana. If explosive bananas were only a reality, they'd be perfect to celebrate the absurdity of a day dedicated to fools. "Earth to Zoe?, Earth to Zoe!"... the refrain was growing louder.

Was she really hearing this? Tucking her blue hair behind her ears, she realised everyone in her chemistry class was looking at her with dead eyes. The sound was coming from the front of the class, where her teacher stood contorted leering over his desk as if a gargoyle preparing to take leave of its stony stance.

The snarky echoes were followed up with a glare that could have turned her to stone as Mr Rex, commonly known as 'T-Rex', returned to his filibuster on the importance of keeping your work station clean or something. She'd drifted, but the lesson had taken on a different tone after a gutsy student had managed to stick a picture of a crudely drawn T-Rex to her teacher's back on the way to the bathroom. While the thought of his grand discovery and futile attempts to claw at his back to remove the offending piece of paper tickled her, it also made her think of Dad.

A few school bells and bus stops later she was back home. Twirling her hair and wishing she was in one of those Scandanavian schools that don't give kids homework, it wasn't long before she was aimlessly staring into the fridge waiting for something to jump at her. The cool air, warm light and old fridge's buzz felt like home and while she was more bored than hungry, it felt safe.

This was one of the last good fridges, one of those ones designed to last a lifetime. She felt another warm sensation, this time on her leg. "DIMPLE!" she exclaimed as if expecting him to respond in kind. He was always hungry and also had an affinity for the fridge, especially when it was open. Now, curled around one of her legs the jury was out on whether he was there as a love bug or anchor.

A few shreds of leftover chicken breast later, he was purring as if he was designed to last a lifetime. Zoe wished cats could have their thermostats replaced and simply keep on purring away indefinitely. Although, who knows what they'd ever do if they got beyond their teens? If hieroglyphics were anything to go by, they could literally be our overlords.

The crazy day had whizzed by and after basking in front of the Kelvinator for a few moments, she'd mellowed out. Sliding about in her droopy socks, she and Dimple padded over to what had been dubbed the 'library'. Packed with enough books to open a store, the room and former study had become something of a shrine to Dad. At some point green lamps had been fashionable and after a number of bulbs had blown, it had become more of a decorative element.

Before the Internet, this room was a portal to another dimension, a place of self-learning with reams of content that was good enough to waste ink on. While many of the books were now embarrassingly dated, including the A-Z of World Book encyclopedias, there were still some timeless gems. The fiery ginger cat was now perched next to the lamp, licking his chops to relive the shredded chicken.

Zoe recovered her bookmark from a worn biography of Jimi Hendrix, her father's favourite guitarist. Having inherited her Dad's CD collection, it was easy to see how he'd influenced her taste in music. Blind Faith, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles had cascaded into more contemporary rock bands like R.E.M., The Smashing Pumpkins and My Chemical Romance. Now that their albums were available and accessible simultaneously thanks to music streaming services, it was as if these musicians had just released their work, their everything.

The day's last light reminded Zoe of just how dusty the library was as she flicked up dust particles as she went from page to page. While enough to make you sneeze, it was beautiful how it caught the light as if souls were being beamed up to heaven. Rapture aside, the shaft of sunlight was bearing down on an old guitar case, which had melted into the book shelves, leaning against an ancient amplifier. Looking over to Dimple and then dropping her gaze down to a black-and-white photo of Jimi looking straight back at the photographer, it was almost like he was whispering 'go my child'. As if her luminous stars had crawled their way to her Dad's study, the glowing realisation soon dawned upon her in a moment of heroic inevitability - 'I must'.

 
Rockin' the Clock - Full Moon Shadows #1


Tick, tock, tick, tock... the grandfather clock in the hallway marked the passage of time as Zoe stared at her bedroom ceiling. The plastic luminous stars stared back at her lying on her bed, one leg crossed over the other, hands behind her head. She was daydreaming, lost in the twilight between the glowing stars in the kind of dreamy space outsiders feel compelled to interrupt so they don't have to check for a pulse later. Oh, this was a moon child alright... and the man on the moon was nowhere to be seen.

It had been one of those typical days at school where everyone shuffles around like zombies, preying on anyone who shows signs of intelligence. Being one of the smarter kids in her class, Zoe was always trying to keep a low profile, purposefully dumbing things down to avoid taking too much snark from the zombos. Right now she was decompressing. Being a kid in the year 2020 is no joke and having helicopter parents makes you just want to deploy your parachute before you've even disembarked the plane. Technology-induced alienation, scoring high marks to get into the right stratosphere of society... it just seemed a bit much for a 16-year-old girl. Luckily for Zoe, she wasn't a zombie or a parachutist.

While a bit precocious and known to stick it to the man, her default status was to radiate kindness. She was the sweetest girl anyone had ever met. Not treacle-sweet mind you, but still filled with sugar and spice... all the nice-ish things. While a moon beam, she had her shadows. One shadow she would have loved to see again was her father's - falling over her as he pushed her on the swings or giving shade to droplets of ice-cream melting on baked beach sand.

Towering over her, he was her protector and she had inherited his sense of humour. While the warm memories lingered, she was starting to forget what he looked like. Looking between the luminous stars, she tried to capture glimpses of his face. They had family photos, but the cold two-dimensional impression wasn't enough for Zoe, who was trying to keep him alive beyond his appearance.

Blinking twice to let her mom know that she was alive and to alleviate her now dusty eyeballs, she sat upright. Crossing her legs, she returned to the family photo album. "I miss him too, you know", said Mom. Zoe's mom, known as "Mom" was laid back... maybe too laid back. Often barefoot, adorned by a fluffy pink gown with an even fluffier unicorn decal, she was more of a best friend than a typical mother. Sure, the household got by... there was always food in the fridge... and the red letter bills got paid, but it seemed as though she'd either watched The Big Lebowski one too many times or had adjusted to taking it easy.

"I see you've changed your hair colour again... hun?", she said with some certainty, trying to act as though she knew for sure. "Yep, some of the zombos have started to say I'm a walking mood ring...", she smirked trying to hide the fact that she liked dad joke level humour. "Well, I've got some outstanding transcription to do, so I'll see you in the morning my love bug.", Mom half-whispered as she pecked Zoe's forehead before vanishing into the light.

Inside Zoe knew the schoolyard chirp was actually much closer to the truth than she would have liked to admit. Her father may have disappeared almost a decade ago to the day, but the uncertainty and pangs of rejection still echoed, forcing her deeper into her burrow. With daddy rabbit out of the picture, it was just her, her mom and Dimple, who was now also bolt upright and gazing at her from her stuffed toy collection.

A scatter cushion cat who was more scatter than cushion, he was her fiery ginger companion, even if he preferred the nocturnal lifestyle. His sagging primordial pouch was a bit of a sore point after he'd been restricted to indoor living for a season but he was an expert when it came to cuddles.

Since the tick-tock was relentless, time had passed and the stars were now glowing more brightly along with Dimple's eyes, which were now alongside the bed and gleaming with intent. A quick bunny hop and he was ensconced next to Zoe, who was only too glad to have her purring portable hot water bottle in the steadily darkening room. She wasn't afraid of the dark, but the looming shadows during a full moon kept her wondering, and waiting...