The man lifts the sandwich and bites, as he has done every twenty-six seconds since birth. With casual clothes in acrylic hues, dangling legs and nodding head, he represents tranquility, an at-peace serenity, according to the sign at the Museum of Mechanical Art. You laugh. Have they not seen the glassy-stare, his hollow-glare, the way he scouts out all four corners of the room?
A glance left and right, then you lift him from the shelf, prize off his cover with a chisel. Innards of beechwood bestow strength and stability, brass bearings keep friction to a minimum. You watch as crank shafts shift axles; tooth-locked gears spin; a Geneva wheel powers the cam. Every fourth rotation, he scratches at his hair, and although you know it results from months of planning, from tiny tools and trigonometry, it feels like a miniature miracle.
But something is missing.
Smile, they said on that very first day. Not like that, like this. With teeth. At the camera. Here, not there. Oh, for God’s sake, can’t you just try and look happy?
Your new family, your forever family. Parents you had just met and already started to disappoint. Wild, they called you. Volatile. Not at all like the nieces and nephews; a world away from the child they would have had in a fair world.
You were, still are, an enigma.
Thud, thud, thud, through your pocket, sixty beats a minute. A mechanical heart, the size of a ping-pong ball, crafted with your daughter over a month of Sundays. In it goes, cover closed. You imagine the organ taking root; spreading arteries; blood flowing, body-warm.
In twenty-six seconds, you will discover if the plan has worked. A blink, a wink, a wonky grin would do – something other than blank unbelonging. If not, then no blame, no shame; you will wait here for twenty-six more. On and on, with Automata Man, for as long as he needs, as long as it takes.
Biography: Danny Beusch lives in Birmingham. He was a finalist for the 2021 Manchester Fiction Prize and has been recently published in Confingo magazine. He has also been shortlisted in the Cambridge Short Story Prize, the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize, and the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Links to his work can be found at dannybeusch.co.uk