With a screwdriver so tiny it was almost lost between his fingers, Oliver tightened the last screw on the clockwork flower. His heart was racing as he looked up to see if Elizabeth had arrived yet, but her workbench remained empty. He just had time.
He scurried across the room, placed the flower in her seat, and ran back to his place, where he picked up his tools and set to looking busy.
A moment later Elizabeth came in, a figure of beauty in blue overalls with a single curl of her black hair falling across her face. Just looking at her made warmth spread through Oliver’s chest. The thought of kissing her sent that glow rushing to every corner of his body.
Elizabeth almost sat down before she noticed the flower and picked it up with a quizzical look.
Immediately, the clockwork began to click. Petals unfurled in a delicate dance that mimicked a rose at dawn. Elizabeth gave a shrug that made Oliver’s heart sink, then opened the side of the device to peer at the workings. Those at least drew a small smile, and hope sprang forth once more.
Elizabeth crossed the room and placed the flower on Oliver’s workbench.
“Your work, I believe,” she said.
Oliver blushed. “How did you know?”
“We’ve worked together for a year. I know how you build.”
“I made it for you.”
“I know. Thank you.”
“I have to get back to work.”
She left the flower, furling and unfurling to the rhythm of its spring, and walked away.
Oliver sighed and returned to work.
Oliver arrived at the workshop early, opened a box behind his workbench, and took out the object he had finished the night before. This time it was a whole bunch of flowers, each one a masterpiece of minuscule mechanisation, each a distinct and different flower he had found in a florist’s guide. He placed it on Elizabeth’s workbench and hurried back to his own.
This time she had to be impressed.
Half an hour later, Elizabeth walked in. As she approached her workbench, her usual swift stride slowed. Oliver smiled as he tried to focus on fixing a clock. She must be impressed.
Elizabeth picked up the flowers, releasing the lever that held the gears in place. Clockwork clicked, setting the bouquet to unfurl while roses reached up from the centre, rising toward the light coming in through the window, slender petals of red brass shining. It was the finest thing Oliver had ever made.
She turned and strode over to his workbench. Instead of a beaming smile her face was stiff, almost scowling.
“Stop this,” she said, slamming the flowers down on the workbench. Oliver winced at her voice and at the rattling from the delicate mechanisms. “I don’t want your flowers, Oliver. I’m sorry if something made you think otherwise, but this has to stop.”
She walked away. Oliver looked down sadly as the roses wilted and their brass petals tinkled to the floor.
Oliver closed the hatch on a mechanical horse eight inches long, then set it to trotting across the workshop floor. He had surpassed himself. The legs moved as naturally as any animal, the silver strands of the mane flowed in an imagined wind. It was a thing of beauty and he had never felt more proud.
Elizabeth loved horses. She had to love this.
The door creaked open, earlier than expected. Elizabeth stood in the doorway, eyes narrowed as she looked down at Oliver crouching over the horse, which was even now making its way towards her workbench.
“What is that?” she asked sharply.
“I made it,” Oliver said. “For…”
He hesitated. He could already see the disapproval in her face, see her tensing as she got ready to tell him off. Tears welled at the corners of his eyes as a gaping chasm opened in his heart, one that threatened to swallow him whole.
But the sound of the horse, its clicking gears and clattering hoof beats, drew his attention. This thing he had made set a slender, tenuous bridge across that chasm inside him, a feeling of warmth and hope despite the darkness.
“I made it for me,” he said, unable to look at her. “To see if I could.”
“That’s amazing.” Elizabeth’s voice softened. She came to crouch beside him, watching the horse as it came to a halt against the wall. “You should be so proud.”
He was. And as that pride unfurled like a flower in his heart, he felt just a little of the warmth he had felt for Elizabeth, turned in on himself.
Perhaps he would make a dog next. He really liked dogs.
If you’d like more flash fiction then you can sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook of steampunk short stories and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.
Dirk Dynamo is used to adventure. He’s chased villainous masterminds across the mountains of Europe, stalked gangsters through the streets of Chicago, and faced the terrible battlefields of the Civil War. But now he’s on a mission that will really shake his world.
For centuries, the Great Library of Alexandria was thought lost. Now a set of clues has been discovered that could lead to its hiding place. With the learned adventurers of the Epiphany Club, Dirk sets out to gather the clues, track down the Library, and reveal its secrets to the world.
Roaming from the jungles of West Africa to the sewers beneath London, The Epiphany Club is a modern pulp adventure, a story of action, adventure, and romance set against the dark underbelly of the Victorian age.
Available in all good ebook stores and as a print edition via Amazon.