Conceptia had this thing about ten o’clock. She had a clock that chimed, and one day, just as she discovered her cat had died, the clock chimed ten. After that she couldn’t bear for the clock to chime ten and, of course, it would do so twice a day.
She took the clock to a clockmaker and asked if he could remove one of the chimes when it hit ten, so that it simply chimed nine instead. He said it might be possible. Just leave the clock with him and he’d see what he could do.
The clockmaker phoned Conceptia to say the clock was ready to be picked up. Her request had been achieved! Conceptia took the clock home. (Perhaps it should be pointed out that the reason Conceptia kept the clock at all was because it had been her late dearly-loved grandmother’s clock).
The first time that ten o’clock arrived Conceptia listened (and counted) with relief. It chimed nine times only! But come one o’clock and, although it chimed just the once, Conceptia thought that nine plus one equals ten. And two plus eight. And three plus seven. And four plus six. And five plus five. The only safe numbers that didn’t reek of sad cat memories were eleven and twelve. Then Conceptia thought that the one missing chime at ten o’clock if removed from eleven in fact equals ten. And for it to miss the tenth chime twice in a day meant twelve minus two.
Every chime of the clock throughout the day reminded Conceptia of her dead cat. Even though she now had another cat, called Fluffy, she still missed Muggins terribly.
Things came to a head when the clock fell off the shelf in an earthquake and shattered to pieces. (It was only a minor earthquake but enough for the clock to wriggle off its shelf).
When it is said that “things came to a head” it did so literally. The falling clock landed on Conceptia’s head just as she was bending down to pat Fluffy. As the saying now goes for a person a bit hard up for common sense: They’re one chime short of ten o’clock.