“The Toymaker”

Matias Masson


The Toymaker flashed the curtains apart, letting in the bright sun. Warm golden rays filtered in through the streaked windows, illuminating endless specks of dust stirring to life. While the particles danced, the Toymaker set to work. He opened drawer after cluttered drawer, listening to the knock as they opened. He peered down half-rimmed glasses to the bolts of fabric within.

His eyes flitted over the deep sea of reds in one drawer, lingering on the dark burgundy silk, patterned with golden fleurs-de-lis, over to the bright cardinal linens decorated with piercing blue flowers. His gaze roved and he ran his hand over the soft lilac cotton weave. He continued, dragging his hand against a violet felt embellished with lighter-hued bubbles. The fabric prickled at his skin where it caught on his deeper calluses.

The Toymaker closed his eyes and thought of his daughter. She was so boisterous. He recalled the times she’d insisted on playing outside with Lionel the Duck Captain every single time it rained. It had been made of felt, and the continual wet weakened the glue. He thought of the time when they’d gone camping—she’d brought her cloth doll he’d made to look like a shining knight. Over the course of the trip it had gotten dirty and ragged. Eventually, it ripped after being pulled by stray branches in her traipses through the forest.

No, he thought, this one would have to be made of sterner stuff. He stroked his unkempt, silvery-grey beard, hand hovering over the collection. He made the selection: a woolen bolt of dark magenta. Fuzzy curls of the fabric tickled his palm as he picked it up. It was dappled with textured four-pointed stars.

He smiled, thinking of the night they had spent together with a telescope, cataloging the planets and pointing out the constellations. She had drawn the man in the moon the day after, and for weeks had concocted stories involving spaceships and aliens and kind folk that lived on asteroids. He stretched the star-speckled material in his weathered hands. Ignored the pricks of pain in his fingers, he found the cloth steadfast. He nodded, this would do.

The Toymaker ventured to his workbench, spreading the cloth over its surface. This was his canvas. What kind of doll would he make this one?  He thought over the options and visualized them as they came to mind. He could create a friendly octopus, or a cavalier rabbit, or a lively old turtle. Perhaps a teddy bear? She’d never failed to adore them, and it had been a while since the Toymaker had made one for her. He envisioned her reaction, pictured her calling it her ‘space bear’, imagined it in those stories she’d babbled on about. He chuckled a little, picturing how she might play with it, and felt a pang in his chest.

Then he returned to his work, his expression composed again.

His shears glided like shining ships sailing an indigo ocean. First he cut out the template for each part: the arms, the legs, the body, the head, the ears, and the little tail. Once upon a time, he’d had to use pre-drawn templates for the job. He remembered the first toy he’d made without their aid. It had been a toy soldier. Well, it was supposed to have been a soldier. It turned out more like some monster in proportions, with mismatching arms, a hunched back, and odd lumps where he’d misjudged the dimensions of the cuts—even while using rulers. He could remember his hesitation to give it to his little girl, so he’d left it lying in his shop. Just as he’d decided against it, she’d ran to him, and gave him a hug. She’d found it while exploring and ended up loving it as much as any of the others, asking for a princess to go with the beast.

But that had been a long time ago.

These cuts were perfect, the rulers left to the side. He ventured back to the fabrics to pick out the cloth that would form the undersides of the paws, and the tip of the nose. It was important that it would be lighter colored than the body, to accent it. The nice, plain lavender wool would work—couldn’t have it be patterned and conflict with the main cloth.

Then he picked out the main stitching thread. He’d long learned that if he didn’t match it to the dominant fabric she’d pull them apart absently. Squinting as he looked down his glasses, he patiently threaded the magenta string through the eye of a polished needle and tied it off. With practiced motion, the Toymaker pushed the needle through the edge of the section of wool that would become the right leg. Drawing the thread to the other side, he repeated the motion, before tugging it up and out. Up the stitches went, tugging the fabric together until he snipped off the excess.

He left a hole under the foot, and sewed in a lavender paw-patch there, leaving the last few stitches undone. He reached into his jars of stuffing and methodically poked it in with his stuffing stick. The stick made it so he could reach all the way in the back without tearing the stitches with his too-large hands. He set to work on the other leg.

The Toymaker worked in silence, the only sound being the old grandfather clock above his head, tick-tocking away. He focused wholly on his work, stitch after stitch. Left leg, then right arm, then left arm. He followed by sewing silver thread in round lines on the paws to become the bear’s toes. The head was tricky, needing round ears and a big soft nose. The lavender fabric completed the under-ears and the tip of the nose.

Then, the body. He cut it to be rotund. She loved all the fat ones he’d made, proclaiming that it made them better cuddlers. The stitches went up the back one by one. He stuffed the space bear’s belly nice and full, with just a bit of give. After closing it, he gave it a test squish. There was resistance, and a strain could be felt through the fabric.

He sighed—not squishy enough. He undid some of his work, pulled out some stuffing and sewed it closed again. The bear passed the second squish-test.

The Toymaker fastened each part in its proper place. He gently moved them with his fingers, making sure they could be manipulated easily. Once, she had complained of Simon the Bear Detective being far too stiff, not even able to raise his magnifying-glass to his face. He’d had to fix it. He smiled as he remembered her reasoning for asking for the Detective—there had been a terrible crime in the doll kingdom, she’d told him, the princess’s tiara was missing and she needed someone to help her on the case. He’d made the bear and they’d spent the whole day searching and questioning witnesses. Eventually he made an excuse to take a break and gone to his workshop. He’d made a new tiara, and then snuck into her room while she was in the backyard ‘investigating’. The look on her face when she found Jerry the Troublemaking Fox wearing the crown under the stairs…

The Toymaker brushed off a droplet that had settled on the cloth.

Now came the most important part. The Toymaker walked to a cabinet and pulled out drawer after drawer. He perused the plethora of buttons, googlies, dots, beads, and craft eyes he could use. This one needed to be sturdy. He shut all the drawers but the buttons and the beads; the rest required glue, they didn’t last as long in rain and weather. He spotted a pair of metallic bronze buttons, big and expressive. With a trained hand he sewed them in place. He took a step back.

Perfect, the Toymaker thought, gazing into the bear’s thoughtful eyes. He used a line of the silver thread for eyebrows. Now it only needed to be able to speak. He added slight curve for a mouth. Not an overt smile but suggestive of one. In this way, his little girl would’ve been able to interpret the bear as having any expression. It could be happy or sad or angry or curious or whatever else she wanted to imagine.

He held the bear at arms’ length. He could imagine her clutching it to her chest, with both arms when she got scared. Could see her holding it as high above her as she could, picturing her space bear on distant worlds. Playing with all the other toys he’d made her over the years. He could almost hear her voice, talking to it. What personality would she have given it, the Toymaker thought. What name?

His heart hurt, and he blinked hard. He held the bear close for a moment.

The Toymaker put his tools away, each in its place. He shut the drawers, closed the cases, stopped the jars. The cloth was rolled up again and placed with the rest, the stools were pushed in. The thread was spooled, and the needles put away in their boxes. The Toymaker pulled the curtains closed, walked out of the dusty old room, and with a dull key, locked the door behind him.

Bear in hand, he journeyed down the empty hall, past the dull paintings, the pictures. He traveled through the bare-walled living room, the dingy kitchen, and all the other vacant rooms. He climbed up the stairs, knees protesting, and stopped before her room, building his strength.

He opened the door.

The Toymaker entered her room. The walls were pink and decorated. His eyes caught on the princess costume, still hanging from its hook on the closet door. He let out a breath, slowly, and walked to her bed, piled-on with countless dolls and stuffed animals and toys. He placed the space bear down with gentleness, and care. It looked at home there, between the regal lion she would have loved and the proud crocodile she would have cherished.

He sat on the bed, quiet.

“Happy Birthday my dear,” was all the Toymaker could say.

Fiction piece by Matias Masson