There was a man who married for love, but lived to repent at leisure. He was a toymaker by trade, and his passion for precision work was known across the Nine Worlds. It was said that he’d made a mechanical bird that sang as sweetly as a lark, and great battalions of clockwork Hussars with sabres at the ready. His dolls looked as if they might draw breath; his engines blew real steam from their stacks, and were fed with tiny coals by mechanical stokers wielding tiny mechanical shovels. His dolls’ houses were marvels in miniature; with tiny gilt mirrors on bedroom walls reflecting tiny four-poster beds and tiny children playing with baby dolls no bigger than a grain of rice. Everything was perfect in the toymaker’s world; down to the smallest detail. Well –
Everything but one thing. His wife.
Of course, they’d been in love, once. But now, some years later, the craftsman began to see that his wife was no credit to him. She was no beauty; her judgement was weak; her housekeeping was slovenly. She loved her husband, to be sure, and he loved her too – in his way. But was it enough, he asked himself? Didn’t he owe himself more than this?
One day the toymaker noticed that his wife’s hair was going grey. It displeased him to see it; and so he made her a new head of hair, spun from skeins of gleaming gold, and stitched it into place on her scalp, as he had done so often when he was making dolls. The wife said nothing, but looked at herself in her dressing-room mirror, and touched the bright, stiff strands of her hair, and remembered a time when he had thought she was perfect in every way.
For a while, the toymaker was pleased. But then he started to notice that his wife often spoke rashly or out of turn, or said things that he found unnecessary, or even downright stupid. And so, as she slept, he cut out her tongue and replaced it with a mechanical one, sleek as a silverfish, crisp as a clock. After that, the toymaker’s wife was always perfectly precise in her speech, and never said anything stupid, or dull, or bored him with her chatter.
All was well for a time after that, until the toymaker noticed that his wife often looked at him with reproach, and sometimes wept for no reason. It made him uneasy to look at her, and so he made her a new pair of blown-glass eyes that were bright and approving, and never shed tears, or seemed to express anything but contentment. He was very proud of his handiwork, and for a time, he was content.
But soon he noticed his wife’s hands; hands that were often clumsy and slow, and so he made mechanical hands for her, and fixed them into place. His wife’s new hands were as white as milk, and as clever as any automaton’s, and so he made a pair of feet, and then a pair of perfect breasts, so that little by little, over time, he had replaced every flawed and worn-out part with clockwork and gleaming porcelain.
“At last, she is perfect,” he told himself, looking at his beautiful wife. But still, there was something missing. Still, she wasn’t quite as he’d hoped. And so the toymaker opened her up to see what part of her inner workings he might have neglected to tune or correct. He found everything in place – except for one thing he had overlooked. One small, insignificant thing, so deeply embedded in the intricacies of clockwork and circuitry that he hadn’t noticed it. It was her heart
—it was broken.
“I wonder how that could have happened?” he said, reaching for his watchmaker’s tools, fully intending to make his wife a new heart to replace the broken one.
But then he looked at her, lying so still and beautiful and pale upon the work-bench; quiet and lovely in every way; every part shiny and gleaming.
“Why, you don’t need a heart at all, do you, my darling?” he told her.
And so he took the broken heart and threw it onto the rubbish heap. And then he turned back to his wife and kissed her lovely silverfish mouth, looked into her shining blown-glass eyes and said:
“At last. You’re perfect.”