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art by Jeffrey Redmond

The Watchmaker's Wife

***Editor's Note: Here be mature and potentially disturbing themes. Read on upon your own recognizance***
The old watchmaker went to the builder of dreams. "Make me a wife," he said.
The builder of dreams looked at him and smiled. "Yes, sir," he replied, rubbing his hands together and nodding his head. He looked into the mind of the watchmaker and drew from it the hopes, dreams, and memories that he found there. Taking these, he set to work, fashioning them into a young wife for an old man. He gave her the image of the watchmaker's first love, her hair the color of a summer sky and eyes as dark as night. Then, taking the thought of the most complex and delicate timepiece, he set a pendulum to swing as her heart, wound her once and set her to life.
For days she sat in the dream builder's shop, her black eyes staring out through the window, a hollow shell waiting to be filled. After a week had passed, her creator asked a boy to fetch the watchmaker and tell him that his bride awaited her groom.
"But he's dead," the boy said. "Robbers set upon him not far from here, just a week ago."
The dream builder turned to the woman he had made and sighed. "What will I do with you now?" he asked, but she made no reply, for the watchmaker had never dreamed of a voice for his wife.
For months she sat in the window of the dream builder's shop, waiting for a man that would never come to claim her. Word of the abandoned bride spread through the town and many came to the dream builder's workshop just to see her, and the dream builder taught her to stand and shake their hands. Many offered to buy her, but the dream builder would look into their minds and shake his head. "Your dreams are different," he would say, and then he would offer to make them real.
In time, the presence of the watchmaker's bride brought in more money than he would have gained in the selling of her, and he began to see her as a lucky charm. He would talk to her as he worked, telling her what dwelt in the minds of men, and the dreams he built for them.
After a time she began to listen, and her head would turn at the sound of his voice and her black eyes would watch him as he worked.
"There was once a man that wished me to build him a dog," he said. "But when I looked into his mind it was filled with knives and razors. So, when it was made, its teeth were like steel, and he bled every time he stroked it." He smiled at her and she learned to smile in return.
"Ah," he said, "I wish you were my dream." But she was not. The dream builder's mind was filled with thoughts of gold, and there was nothing there that could fill her.
One day a man who had heard the story of the watchmaker's wife came to see her. He stood across the road in the shadows and watched her stand and walk, smile and frown. He imagined her with the dream builder, just as though she were a real woman.
"No," the dream builder said, when the man asked if he could buy her. "She is not your dream. Let me see inside your mind and I will build your dream for you."
The man opened his mind and opened his hand, revealing a tiny blade, curved and sharp, like the crescent moon. When the dream builder lay at his feet, the killer turned to the watchmaker's wife, the body of her creator reflected in her black eyes.
"Come with me," he said, taking her by the arm. "You're mine, now."
He took her to the poor part of the town, where the houses crowded together beneath sagging roofs. Here he placed her in a small room where an iron-framed bed lay against the wall and a grimy window looked out onto the rain-washed street.
"You know what to do," he said. She didn't, but she soon learned.
She learned how to lie on the bed for the men that bought her for an hour or a night. She learned not to smile and she learned not hear, but to bend and to kneel in accordance with their desires. She learned the touch of their rough hands upon her and she learned how to be filled with their lust.
"You're every man's dream," one of them said, and as he punched and he kicked her, using her as he dared not use his wife, she turned her head and stared out at the darkening night.
"Look what you've done," her owner said, his hand upon his knife as he inspected the crack in her flawless skin. "How can I sell her now?"
The man shrugged his shoulders, throwing a handful of coins onto the floor. "She's just a doll. You can mend her."
He patched the crack in her skin with plaster and glue, smoothing it as best as he could. "There," he told her. "All better now." But it wasn't, it was a rough patch where once she had been smooth, flawed where once she had been perfect.
Perhaps it was something about her imperfection that begged for more, or perhaps it was just that men are cruel, but after that first injury, the blows came thick and fast. Her cold skin cracked and broke beneath their hands, and her owner swore beneath his breath as he patched the ruin that they made of her.
In the cold light of day, when she was alone, she would look at the scabrous patches on her skin and imagine them as a disease, caught from the bodies of men, which spread across her body, inch by inch. Then she would stare out of the window and sharpen her silver nails on the stone sill.
However, after a time, her owner ceased to mend her when she broke. He allowed the men to do with her as they would, sending them to her in twos and threes, and he avoided her room as much as he could.
One day when he could avoid her no longer, he unlocked the door and stepped into the room. The gas light burned upon the wall and glowed upon the ruin of her skin. He stared at her for a long moment, at the breaks and the holes in her shell, at the exposed cogs, cables and struts within.
"Is that all you are?" he asked. "Just a toy?"
He dragged her down the stairs, holding her at arms length so that he could not hear the click and whir of broken gears, or smell the stink of men upon her. "You're just a broken thing," he said as he pushed her out through the door. "Get out. Go where ever it is that your kind goes."
But she did not know where that was. She had never known another of her own kind. She had been made from the dreams of strangers, her creator was dead, and there was no other like her in all the world.
For a long time she stood in the street beneath the glow of the streetlamp. Men and women passed her by, looking first in curiosity and then in disgust.
"What is it?" they asked. "Who put it there?"
As she heard them, she remembered the dream builder looking into men's minds, and she looked into herself in the same way, searching among the cogs and gears. Inside she found not her own dreams, but those of others, the dreams of the men who had known her.
She took these dreams out and studied them, finding them dark and warm, filled with blood and life. She thought of her owner, a wicked little knife in his hand and she tasted this dream, the cogs of her mind turning with thought. Then she walked back across the street and knocked upon the door.
When the man who was no longer her owner opened it, she smiled and laid her hand upon his arm, letting the dreams that filled her spill out into him, letting her sharp silver nails bury themselves in his flesh as he had once buried his knife in the heart of the dream builder.
When he stopped moving and lay at her feet, she turned away, leaving the door open behind her.
As she walked through the dark town, it seemed the dreams that had filled her were gone, as though the death of her owner had washed her clean. She flexed her arm and watched the cables and pulleys move. She opened her mouth as though she could breathe. She lifted her foot and walked toward the sunrise.
As she walked, she passed a shop filled with clocks and watches. She paused, hearing the ticking of a hundred tiny hearts. Turning to the window, she placed her hands upon the glass, staring within.
In the morning, a young watchmaker, his head filled with dreams of cogs and gears, found her there. At first he imagined that she was a poor lost girl, but as he drew closer he saw the broken shell of her body and the mechanism inside, and remembered a story he heard of a clockwork bride, waiting for a husband that never came.
He ran a tentative finger across her skin, feeling the rough and the smooth, imagining the ways in which she could be mended. Then, as though she might be cold, he took his coat and placed it about her shoulders.
"I think I dreamed of someone like you," he said.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 15th, 2012
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