She found him in an antiquary shop, propped beside the storage door at the back, supporting a tall stack of old tomes.
She stood before his motionless stature, studying from up-close his pale face and chocolate brown eyes. His porcelain expression felt alive and she thought he might grimace to her for disturbing him just there. But he remained a silent gentleman with his silly top hat and almost invisible chuckle on the lip.
She touched his torn shirt, the material rough under her fingers, and underneath it she met steel, solid and cold, although covered with fabricated tissue. She smiled. Then she gasped fascinated by a discovery. There was a lock on his chest and a key, once silver now tarnished, penetrating it. She tried to turn it, but it was stuck, rusty from time.
“Pardon me, what is this machinery here?”
The antiquarian came by her side, putting his round glasses on.
“Ah, the automaton. My nephew brought it from America in hopes to fix it. But I’m afraid he has ticked his last hours. His system seems to be missing specific parts, and the key, in some unfortunate event has melted into its lock. It is a shame; this might have been the greatest invention of our century, if succeeded operating. You see, his inventor Thomas Gast thought of revolutionizing the manufacturing of automatons, making them more close to human, capable of engaging in more activities, even giving them emotions so they would serve as equal companions to man. Needless to say his attempts met failure and public humiliation.” The antiquarian fixed the hat of the automaton “My nephew Henry won his lifelong creation for 150 dollars in an auction in Texas. Sad ending for such high hopes.”
An idea overwhelmed her as she listened to the story, her eyes never leaving his chocolate brown.
“I can’t give you the full price, but I can pay you 50 dollars now, if you allow me to take him home, and I will pay the rest of the sum within a month.”
“Why would you want something broken?”
She felt a lump in her throat but suppressed the tears. Broken, yes, so truly broken.
“I want to fix him.”
The old man laughed.
“You heard the story yet you think there’s a chance for this old-timer to function again? Mended by your hand?”
“I do.” Her word was firm.
“Well then, I can’t argue with a wish so passionately spoken. Besides he’s taking space. Oh, I almost forgot, these go with him, but I do not know their purpose.” The antiquarian handed her a velvet bag with heavy coins.
She glowed with happiness as the enormous package was delivered to her small apartment.
At first he sat on the table, making her company as she ate, as she danced around the living room, his eyes following her every movement. She was not alone anymore.
But soon enough he was only a silent spectator and she longed for someone to converse with.
She sat before him, probing the silver, carefully trying to turn it, but disappointed she spoke to him:
“Why won’t you let me near your heart, you with a mysterious chuckle on cold lips, with lively eyes on a fragile face? I only want a friend, a lover maybe, to ask me of my day and kiss me for goodnight. Is it so much I ask for? Has love been denied to me even by you, manmade and abandoned as I am? At least you listen, but now I need an answer. Well, we’ll share our loneliness from dusk till dawn, until I sleep forever and you my sweet unreal boy remain this way.”
She wiped the tears from her face when something clicked. The key slipped from its hole, falling undamaged to the floor, and a little door swung open, revealing a part of the magnificent mechanism of the automata. Stunned by what she sees, she grabbed some tools and with little knowledge, but determination she began examining his system, searching for a way to switch him on. There in the middle of the clockwork system was the ratchet which twisted the mainspring, but next to it she spotted an odd slit, large enough to consume a coin. She rushed for the velvet bag and fed one coin to the slit. She closed the door and slid in the key turning it without difficulty. The noise that this action produced was satisfactory.
Then he blinked. And smiled.
She kissed his cheek and took his hand as they walked in the park. She sang to him and he clapped and they both laughed and smiled. She made him new clothes and combed his dark hair and dreamed of him at night. She triumphed. Day and night by his side, his presence filling her with utmost joy, never alone, never rejected – her own sweet friend, her gentle companion, loving her as she loved him. Not a toy of science, but worth twice as any human she’d met.
And he…He welcomed her home and kissed her cheek. He curled next to her at night, his heart ticking in the night. He laughed with her, made her dinner and shared her happiness. He was hers. Obedient and happy. Not alone.
In a week the coins were used but one. In her joyous mood, salvaged for the misery of her former solitude and broken heart, she had forgotten the purpose of the coins, as they were the magic that gave him life and made his chest “beat” with the rhythm of a human heart.
He sat on the bed, twisting the coin in his fingers. He opened his chest and inserted it, winding himself for a last tick. He looked at her, her expression calm, her body eased in her sleep and he smiled. With the tip of his fingers he caressed her face, then lay and closed his eyes, giving his remaining hours alive beside her.
Inspiration comes from this song