You Can’t Polish Your Soul – a flash steampunk story

The ticking of the machines was a sweet song to Esmerelda Jones. She knew the pitch and rhythm of each one, could tell if something was wrong from those oh so familiar sounds. From the one that served breakfast to the one that starched her husband’s collars to a grand clock that merely told the time, she loved and understood them all. It was easy to do when she’d made them.

She wandered the room, polishing their steel and brass surfaces, making everything shine to perfection. Midnight was approaching, bringing with it the end of the year, and she wanted them to be spotless. That gleam wasn’t just about the look of the place, it was about preparing herself for the change to come.

The Reverend Jones stormed into the room, cassock swirling, and glared at her across his horn-rim spectacles.

“Are you ready to go yet?” he asked.

“Not quite,” she said, looking at the clock. “Just a little more spit and polish.”

“My parishioners will be waiting.”

“You could go to church alone.”

“And face the humiliation of my wife’s disobedience? Certainly not! You will come with me this moment.”

Esmerelda walked over to a large machine she had finished today. Its surface was unspoilt by time and rough usage. Not like her.

“Just a little more spit and polish,” she said, running her cloth over the machine’s surface, brushing away a few specks of dust.

“No more spit, no more polish.” The Reverend strode over, red-faced. “These are just things, of no consequence next to God’s work. You can’t polish your soul.”

He raised his hand. He wouldn’t hit her, of course. That was how she had convinced herself for so long that he wasn’t one of those men. He would grab hold of her, drag her up the stairs, lock her in her bedroom until her will gave way and she agreed to his demands. But would he raise a fist? Oh no. He was a man of the cloth.

The hammering of her heart out-paced the ticking of any of the machines. The New Year was coming. A time of change. A hope for renewal.

“I’m sorry, Jonathan,” she said. “But God is your life. Machines are mine. I have at least left them in a fine state for you.”

“Left them in a fine state? What are you blithering about, woman.”

He reached out towards her.

The clock struck midnight.

The grand new machine hit its critical beat. A cage swung down on a piston-driven arm, crashing into place around the reverend. He had stood exactly where Esmerelda had known he would. That was the advantage of a regular rhythm. You could plan for it.

“What in God’s name is this?” the Reverend bellowed, shaking the bars.

The machined whirred. A hatch opened and spat out a carpet bag. Esmerelda opened the catch and double-checked the contents. Three dresses, two pairs of shoes, toiletries, undergarments, portable tools, two rolls of gold coins and a sheaf of bank notes. Everything she needed to set herself up somewhere new.

“It’s the New Year,” she said with a smile. “A time for fresh starts.”

She brushed a last speck of dust from the machine, popped the cloth in her pocket, and waltzed out the door to the rhythm of the ticking of her creations.

* * *

 

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That’s my last story for this year. I hope you all have a great time seeing the New Year in, and I’ll see you in 2019.