Her hands of plastic, her heart mechanical. Her feet programmed to skitter lightly across street, stage and shop floor. She is Coppelia 3, the animated mannequin, the woman of my dreams.
I'm not some stalker, some weirdo. I've spoken to her, even made my feelings known to an extent. Her fingers are soft, malleable, constructed of a new material that is more like skin than skin itself. Pale white epidermis shot through with just a hint of puce. She even has fingerprints, though on microscopic analysis these will also reveal her serial number clear to the magnifying eye.
Sensibly, she is not thinking of committing a crime any time soon.
But what is she thinking, what is she feeling? Are her words to me to be read as real emotions or mere programmed platitudes?
"You're sweet, Silvio. You know I like you… but as a friend. I'm not ready for a more intimate relationship."
She removes items from the rail, places them carefully onto the static, inanimate mannequins, presenting a colour display of this and, indeed, next season's key fashions. But she is the model that catches the eye. Always.
"Will time change that?" I ask eventually.
"Time changes everything, Silvio. Professor Clork said so. By how much or how little is the abiding question." If I'd wanted philosophy, I could have re-enrolled in said Professor's didactic lecture scheme. She playfully drapes a scarf around my neck, holds a chemise or two in front of me, eyes half-squinting and tongue pressed against top lip in a manner I find ridiculously coquettish. She shakes her head, says, "I must return to my duties now." and I'm dismissed.
Never mind Professor Clork, it's Bryan Hoffman who is my true mentor and master. Yes, that Bryan Hoffman - ex-lute player extraordinaire with The High Sea Lord's Non-Shanty Singing Troubadours; ex Astronomer Loyal; now backroom tinkerer and ducat millionaire inventor of dubiously useful gadgets. I confer with him in his less than tidy workshop off Regent's Parade where the ever-present air pollution of metal shavings tends to exacerbate my latent rhinitis. All conversation is, therefore, punctuated with steel sliver sneezes.
"She will yield, Silvio. It's just a matter of finding the right code words."
"I don't want her to yield, I want her to reciprocate. Love me with all her … soul."
"Assuming she has one. I don't believe such a concept was designed in."
"But Turing predicts that it will occur spontaneously, that after a time all will coalesce, there will be no difference between the biologically born and the artificially created."
"Ah, Turing and his brave, foolhardy notions. Who's to say either of us will survive long enough to witness that glorious day." He stops and extracts a clockwork ladybird from behind his left ear. I hadn't been aware of its presence previously; Hoffman has a predilection for conjuring tricks. "Follow your instincts, Silver-Man. The lady may yet be persuaded."
A later search on my suspicion machine proves that Hoffman is a Qualified Life Coach, First Class. It's not about advising anyone, it's just about getting them to make their own decisions. What a cop out! And people pay him for this…!
"I've been offered a part," she says. "In 'Swan Lake', the ballet. Do you know it?"
As if I'd know any other ballet. She will be a vision in a tutu and white tights. I purchase a ticket for the first night.
There's a small protest going on outside the theatre. Two striking young women - hair scraped back, cheekbones like boat prows - push a hastily printed leaflet into my sweaty palm. It seems the chorus line has been displaced by technically perfect automata. The prima remains unaffected, determinedly human, a true artiste. Professor Clork had something to say about this, some analogy of backing singers always being on pitch whilst the star is allowed and expected to warble freely.
I feel a little bad that I may be contributing towards someone's unemployment. A similar issue arose with the Coppelia Ones, most of which were assigned to fun palaces. Maybe strumpets and courtesans have less of a public voice in our society.
In my darker moments, I consider that there must be some of these original editions still around and, if things don't work out with my ideal woman, I might yet go seeking in that direction.
But hold - the show has started. The lead male - the prince or some sort of assumed title - has it all on display, a big bag of festive nuts in his groin region that gets the whole front row swooning and the premier violinist out of her seat whilst she fiddles in order to get a close-up view.
My would-be love is third from the left and commands my full attention until… I have to admit that the clone-like similarity of the enchantingly attired company means that I lose her in the rush and swirl.
I say nothing of this at the stage door afterwards. I bury my face in her discarded costume. She laughs and says, "It would suit you, Silvio."
I am happily multi-tasking with two suspicion machines and several paper trays on the go. My boss Mr Cleggmoss will surely be very satisfied. There is so much work to do on this upper floor in order to keep 'Divine Creations' at the top of the capital's roster of department stores. I know that my ultra-efficiency annoys a few of my fellow workers who take a greater interest in last night's greyhound maze results than this month's sales figures. I try not to show them my Achilles' heel of desire for the enchanting Coppelia.
"Silvio," they say at the end of the working day, "have yourself a good weekend. Anything planned?"
"Nothing yet." Not true but secrecy is the first necessity of any war.
"It's Mothering Sunday, of course," one of them responds, "so that puts a damp squid on proceedings."
"It's squib," I answer. "Damp squib. Like a firework."
"Yeah, there'll be fireworks from the old squid if I don't bring flowers and condiments."
"Sure," another adds, "got to keep the old hen sweet."
I nod along with their mild anti-maternalism. We all find our outdoor cloaks but I mumble something about a forgotten item and as they leave I return to my station, flicking on machines and side lamps.
Did I enter this world fully formed just some months ago? Whatever is the case, I have neither memory or record of any siblings, parents or, truthfully, close friends.
Bryan Hoffman is not answering my summons. I am feeling chilly out here on his stone doorstep and I pull my new red scarf, a gift from Coppelia, tighter around my throat. Why is he not at his workshop in my latest hour of need? There is no one else I can turn to.
As I do indeed turn, with the intention of leaving, he saunters up the garden path towards me.
"Well met, Silvio," he hails. There is complimentary alcohol and canapé filling detectable on his breath. "Been interviewed on the Baroquephone," he adds. "Might be getting the old band back together."
This should fill me with a rush of excitement but my own problems are too front row to focus on musical miracles and cultural happenings. He purses his lips and invites me inside.
"I only have one question," I state. "The answer to that may lead to further queries but…"
"I'll be straight with you, Silvio," he answers. "There have been some experiments over the past year or so which have moved our understanding forward. New components, new challenges, exciting ventures that have pushed back the envelope. We are achieving results that we hardly dared dream of. We are narrowing perceived gaps. In the field of emotional intelligence, we have made huge strides -"