far ago—or maybe twice or three times—there lived a toymaker
with a beautiful wife and a charming daughter. Then there lived
a toymaker with a charming daughter. Then there lived only the
toymaker, alone in a quiet house after the funeral, after the
mourners had all left, dressed in his finest black suit, sitting
motionless on a smooth bed, in a cold room, in an echoless
house, simply sitting there, gazing out the window at a sky as
blue as the eyes that would never again confirm their love with
just the slightest, most momentary, smiling glance.
Corner of His Vision
stood then, the toymaker, largely because he didn't know what
else to do, and he left the bedroom, closing the door behind him
with a soft click. He walked down the stairs to the
ground floor, pausing at the bottom of the steps, where the
front door faced him and the doors into the living-room and
kitchen waited to his left, in the corner of his vision, on the
threshold of his memory, closed and with a thousand joys beyond,
those joys and all the sorrow wound within like coiled springs.
toymaker turned right and entered his workshop.
Magic of the Workshop
magic of the workshop was gone for him, of course, every
half-built toy upon the shelves and surfaces an image of
another, an original built for his girl: a teddy bear of golden
fur and black felt eyes; multi-coloured building blocks with
letters on each face; a rag-doll in a gingham dress with wool
for hair; a wooden marionette in lederhosen, red cone for a
nose; a clockwork ballerina in pink silk, wound by a key to turn
en pointe and port de bras to tinkling tines,
toymaker leant against a wall and wept a while.
Single Fibre of a Squirrel-Hair Brush
doll's house was unfinished, just a painted plywood shell of
angled roof and four walls hinged to open out, two floors
divided into rooms, a stairway made with matchstick banisters.
It would have been ready for her birthday, wallpaper patterns
painted on with the single fibre of a squirrel-hair brush, each
room curtained and carpeted in finest fabric, furnished with bed
and dresser, or basin and bath, or sink and cooker, or sideboard
and suite and television set and coffee table and china dogs
upon the mantelpiece.
because he didn't know what else to do, the toymaker began.
toymaker worked he didn't notice the minutes becoming hours, the
hours becoming days, no light of sun or moon to mark time in his
windowless workshop filled with every clockwork toy you can
imagine but without a clock. He noticed hunger and he ate, he
noticed weariness and slept—at first, at least. After a while
he didn't even notice these. He didn't notice the days becoming
weeks, the weeks becoming months. The last thing he remembered
noticing was the doorbell, a neighbour with concern upon her
face, food in her hands.
sure you're coping?” she'd said.
Without a Letter-Box
toymaker worked, each time he came close to completion of the
doll's house, he found reason to be . . . unconvinced by it.
The painted-on front door seemed cheap, a trick, when it would
hardly be impossible to craft a working frame, a door with
hinges, and a pin-head for a doorknob. The windows needed
glazed—no, needed to slide open, up and down. The walls were
bare without framed paintings and bronze ducks. The floors
required Persian rugs. The dresser needed perfume bottles,
photographs. And that front door . . . what was a door without
wasn't good enough.
Shrunken by Sorrow, Consumed by Work
toymaker worked—and how he worked—striving to make the doll's
house perfect for a memory, he didn't feel the wasting of the
years. His hands did not seem frail for all the delicacy of
their age; if anything they trembled less, trained by this work
of such devotion to such exquisite minutiae. His eyes were
sharp as in his youth now, as he worked on tiny letters to sit
on the writing bureau in the living-room.
Shrunken by sorrow, consumed by work, he only felt a little
weary as he curled up on the stool to sleep.
doll's house, he decided, needed an extension to the kitchen—no,
a garage off to one side. No. A workshop.
didn't take long to build, barely a year. The hardest task lay
in the crafting of the tools to line the racks, and the toymaker
had some practice here. He had long since built new tools to
work at the small scale of detail he required for the perfection
that he sought: a half-scaled hammer; a hacksaw at half the
scale of that; a vice scaled down by half again.
screwdriver sat well in his grip.
Little Something Missing
inside the doll's house the work was so much easier now. He
only had to stoop a little as he moved from room to room to
squeeze himself through the miniature doorways. He could kneel
to paint the skirting boards, or to carve in gaps between the
floorboards where he had pulled up the carpet, or to screw in
the power sockets for the wiring he had laid. And the doll's
house in the workshop of the doll's house in the workshop was
nearly complete, only a little something missing, he thought.
letterbox for the door, he thought.
far ago—or maybe never, maybe never—there lived a toymaker
without a beautiful wife and a charming daughter, alone and
lost, somewhere in a doll's house within a workshop of a doll's
house within a workshop of a doll's house within a workshop, and
so on. And so on. He had lived there for so many days and
weeks, months and years, in the houses of his grief, that he had
quite forgotten how far ago and long away the outside world was.
the end of the story?
not be the end.
day. . . .
About the Author:
Hal Duncan was
born in 1971, brought up in a small town in Ayrshire, and now
lives in the West End of Glasgow. A member of the Glasgow SF
Writers Circle, his first novel, Vellum, won the Spectrum
Award and was nominated for the Crawford, the BFS Award and the
World Fantasy Award. The sequel, Ink, came out last
year, while a novella, Escape from Hell! is due out in
2008 from Monkeybrain Books. As well as publishing a poetry
collection, Sonnets for Orpheus, he collaborated with
Scottish band Aereogramme on a song for the Ballads of the
Book album from Chemikal Underground, and has had short
fiction published in magazines such as Fantasy,
Strange Horizons and Interzone and anthologies such
as Nova Scotia, Eidolon and Logorrhea.
Story © 2008 Hal Duncan. Photo by