This was written as an answer to the Author Aerobics Plot Challenge posted earlier this week. I have to be honest and admit this took two lunches, not one. I also went over the limit by 200 words. I admire all you flash writers out there! It’s hard to write such concise stories!
I enjoyed this exercise, but I think next week’s challenge will be a lot less time intensive.
The Metal Girl
by T.S. Bazelli
“How do I look my darling?” The words were curdled milk on his’s tongue, but he wanted to practice his English. The silver mirror had oxidized in places, making it difficult to gain a clear view as he turned around in the mirror the silhouette of the tailored black suit and waistcoat.
“Hnuh!” Fan snorted, and replied in Cantonese. “You look foolish, husband.”
“Nevermind me.” He waded through the stacks of boxes full of gears and metal scraps salvaged from the streets. “Today’s our daughter’s big day! She looks glorious doesn’t she? Are you ready Mei Ling?”
The metal girl was still and silent as he gingerly wheeled her out towards the front door. He had not given her a mouth to speak. If only I had a pump, he thought, but that was idle speculation for another day. This body was the product of many years work. He knew the range of motion built into each finger, where every nut and bolt fit together. Perhaps if they were successful he could afford better parts, he resisted the urge to pat the wig of black hair, and as always, carefully arranged his daughter’s golden clamshell necklace beneath the collar of the frilly British girl’s dress.
“They’re here!” Fan yelled out, her face unreadable.
He nodded, and helped Mei Ling out the door.
“You must be the inventor.” The man chewed at a wad of tobacco and got out of the hulking shape of an automobile. He thought that was what they were called. He had seen a photograph once. He was delighted they had honored him such. It would be something new for Mei Ling.
“Andrew,” He extended his hand, offering his English name, but the chewing man did not extend a hand in return.
They drove through the busy streets, into wider fuller streets, past staring rickshaw drivers and store fronts. His daughter’s eyes were wide and expressionless, but she saw. He knew it.
They stopped in front of a large new world style building, with its smooth white, columned facade, and tiers of shuttered windows. As the chewing man held the door open, he stepped into a world he only fantasized about.
“If you do well, Mei Ling,” he whispered in Cantonese. “One day we will live in a palace like this.”
They entered a large hall with a piano set at its center. It shone liked lacquered wood. Its keys gleamed brightly ivory. Mei Ling’s eyes rested upon it, but Andrew’s eyes darted elsewhere. Black and white photographs hung on the walls depicting what seemed like the same man. A man standing outside a Zepplin, the hulking shape of a zeppelin, a man in standing in the streets of Paris, a man shaking hands with King George V. An important man, his heartbeat quickened. A rich man.
“So! You are the inventor we’ve heard so much about!” The man from the photos rolled off a couch. He was not British but American, he placed the accent.
“So pleased to meet you. I’m Andrew.”
The huge man clasped his two hands in his, nearly crushing them with his force. “Welcome to my humble abode Andy!”
Andrew, he wanted to correct, but held his tongue. He bowed slightly, unsure how to proceed.
“Robert Moore’s my name. I fancy myself an adventurer, and an exporter or strange wares. You can call me Bobby.” Bobby turned his attention to the girl. “She’s so little! I thought she’d be bigger.”
“She’s only 12 years old.”
Bobby laughed, mistaking it for a joke. He reached out for her metal hand.
Andrew stepped between. “Please do not. The mechanics are delicate.”
“Oh right. Sorry, sorry.” He tilted the hat on his head, revealing a sweaty brow. Odd people, Andrew thought, as he sat Mei Ling carefully down at the piano. Still, they had promised him a generous amount of money for the performance. It was something a poor mechanic could not afford to refuse.
“Shall we begin?”
Bobby nodded. The other gentlemen and ladies in the room murmured among themselves. Fascinated by the small metal girl in the frilly dress.
“Play Mei Ling.” He whispered in his daughter’s ears. “Like you did when you were a real girl.”
Beethoven’s moonlight sonata, began to whisper out of her fingers. The room became hushed, until the only sounds were the click of metal upon ivory, and the notes of the piano. Her fingers fell silent as the song ended
“Bravo!” A red cheeked woman wiped a tear from her eyes. A mustached man frowned slightly. Bobby’s face had turned bright red. “Another! Let her play another!”
And she did.
Andrew smiled on as his daughter played Mozart then Bach. She had learned well. She played until her fingers began to slow and the spring coils that powered the movement had unwound completely.
Andrew bowed, “I’m afraid that is all for the evening.”
“How did you do that? You are a genius, man!”
“It took many years.” Andrew lifted his face up.
“I need to have her! Name your price. I don’t care how high, how much would you sell her to me for?”
“She is not for sale.”
“Every man has his price.” Bobby grit his teeth together. Andrew tried to look him in the eye. Who was he? Nothing amid these strange, well clad people. He longed to take Mei Ling home.
“Mr. Anderson!” Bobby replied. “You are a scientist are you not? Why don’t you have a look here and see how this man did it. If he will not sell it, maybe you can reproduce one like her for me. Figure out the mechanics behind it all.”
A spectacled man came over, and lifted up a limp arm, rotated her fingers between two of his.
“Please be gentle,” Andrew whispered.
“A complicated set of gears in the fingers. Like clockwork.” He undid the back of the dress, and peered into the large rectangular hole in her back. “Movement is powered by coiled springs. Yes! I see! But what I fail to understand is where the routines for music are stored.”
“It’s devilry!” The mustached man exclaimed. He had gotten redder in the face. “What else could it be? A machine cannot express emotion.” He shuddered, and crossed himself.
“I assure you there is a mechanical explanation.” Mr. Anderson replied. No one seemed to remember the Chinese man in the room now. The two men pushed past each other, peering into the heart of the machine.
“No!” Suddenly sick to his stomach. “You will damage her.”
“You want her, you can keep her, but please, I beg you do not destroy her.”
He walked over and unclasped his daughter’s golden locket from her neck. Bobby, nodded and a man passed him a wad of cash. It was more than his life was worth.
He refused the automobile, and called for a rickshaw. He clutched the locket in his hands, and opened up the two halves, revealing a coil of dark hair Fan had clipped from their daughter’s head before she died. His eyes full of tears. He whispered, and pressed the locket to his ears like a seashell. He could hear it still, the faint sound of music playing, and a girl’s laughter. “Not devilry, but a miracle.”