“So it’s you,” a quiet voice sighed from a corner.
It was dark inside, with the only light spilling to the floor from a broken window on the right. The voice had come from just beyond that light, tucked into the gray of a corner. The drummer slowly made his way in that direction, until the form of a small toy took shape in the shadows. He came to a stop in the dusty light.
“Dancer?” he asked, squinting to see her better.
“Oh, but it is you. It must be.”
“No,” she returned more forcefully. “Whatever you came looking for, it isn’t here. It isn’t anywhere anymore.”
The figure’s head turned until it was pointed firmly away. “Toys break. It’s what they do.”
“Oh,” he said blankly, not really understanding.
“You should go on now.”
“Not without you! I came to–”
“To what?!” the head spun back to face him. Now the drummer’s eyes were adjusted enough to be really sure that it was the dancer…but her face was stained and cracked, and hot tears were flinging from her eyes. “You came thinking we could just go back to how things were before? That nothing that happened in between would matter? It doesn’t work like that!”
“What did happen?” he crouched down by her.
She raised her hand, as if to say something, but after nothing came out she made a noise of exasperation and let the limb drop.
“If you don’t understand I can’t explain it,” she finally shot out. “I didn’t realize you were still so stupid about–everything.”
The drummer looked down sadly at that. It had struck something in him. “Yes, I am still stupid,” he said flatly. “Everyone confuses me. They’ve tricked me over and over, and I should have realized it, but they were all so much smarter than I am. I still don’t understand most of what everyone’s saying.”
A look of pity flashed across her face. “I’m–sorry. They did that to me, too.”
“Did it make you mad? I felt very mad about it after a while.”
“A lot,” she croaked, tears now flowing like little streams.
He reached out and took her little fingers in his hand. She started to pull her hand away, but stopped with just the fingertips still touching.
“And then I did bad things because I was so mad,” she said between clenched teeth. “And that made me like them.”
“I’m sorry, dancer–”
“Don’t call me that!” she balled her other hand in a fist and pounded it on the ground. “I’m not a dancer anymore.”
“But why not?”
“Look!” she said angrily, thrusting her palms down towards her legs. The drummer looked, but saw nothing. And then he understood…they were gone.
“Oh no!” he cried.
“Now you get it, do you? I’m broken, drummer. You can keep on beating your batons, but there’s no more gallivanting down the road to a magical City for me. It’s over.”
The drummer wiped away his tears. “No, it’s alright. There’s something wonderful, I can fix and make things now! I can–”
“No!” she snapped, jabbing her finger at his face. “You have no right!”
“I’m trying to help!”
“And I’m telling you that you don’t get to! You. Left. ME!” She shot him a face full of fury, then threw herself to the opposite side and collapsed in shuddering sobs.
“I–” the drummer winced, not sure how to explain that she misunderstood.
“I–” it wasn’t his fault that everyone else had been so mean and delayed him.
He buried his face in his hands and the tears finally flowed out of him as freely as they were for the dancer. “It’s like you said, I’m still stupid. I get so mad because I was supposed to save you, but everyone tricked me and I was too stupid to see through it! I was supposed to, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t enough.”
And then no one said anything for quite a long while. They both just cradled their heads and mourned their wounds. Then, after a long while, they cradled one another and mourned the other’s hurt as well. And they were there for such a long time that the knight and the guards might have come to check on them, but they could hear that the two toys needed their time together.
“I–am glad to see you again,” the dancer said cautiously after they had both been quiet for a while. “I just wish it had been before things were too late.”
“Are they really too late?”
“I cannot walk. And I cannot have you trying to fix that. It would–I don’t know–it would be like saying being broken didn’t matter.”
“I see…” the drummer furrowed his brows thoughtfully, then raised them as a new suggestion occurred to him. “I could…carry you instead.”
“You’d get tired. I’d be a burden” the dancer said, but more importantly she did not say ‘no.’
“That’s my decision. And I think it’s okay for me to be burdened…seeing as I wasn’t there to stop you getting broken.”
The dancer bit her lip.
“Well…maybe you can carry me for a bit…if you want…”
The drummer rose to his knees and very gently slid one hand under the stumps that were all that remained of her legs. Then he put his other arm around her back, and she curled her own arm around his neck. At last he stood up, and together the two of them exited the building.
“Well,” the knight nodded to the drummer, “are we off to the road?”
“Yes,” the drummer said. “Off to the city at last.”
And so the five of them turned from the burned out village, and turned from the seedy town, and felt their way back onto the winding road. At long last they had found the way back towards the Great City. It would, of course, be a very, very long time before they found it, but that was alright.
Well, at long last we have come to the end of The Toymaker. On Monday I disclosed a great deal of how I first conceived of this story, and of how it evolved a great deal between that first conception and this final result. In the end, though, I feel that the story stayed true to its original intent, which was to be an examination of responsibility.
I believe that each one of us knows to be responsible for our mistakes, but we struggle to take ownership for the pains we never meant to cause. If there was no malicious intent, if it was just a mistake, if it was unavoidable due to circumstance, we tend to feel there is no need to say “I’m sorry.”
Perhaps we feel that those who are hurting want us to lie and say that it was all our fault. But really they just need us to hold their pain for a moment, to say that we appreciate the depth of their disappointment. They want a friend who is willing to sit in the hurt with them.
I feel very glad about what The Toymaker ended up becoming. I am still very interested in my original ideas for it, and perhaps I’ll still get around to telling that part of the story someday. Maybe some of its themes will bleed into my very next piece. I guess I’m really a lucky guy, I ended up getting two stories for the price of one!
For now it is time to start moving this latest series towards its close. Over the course of Shade, The Last Duty, and The Toymaker, I’ve been allowing myself to explore the same themes over and over, but each from a different perspective. I’d like to talk a little more about how writing is a way to explore every side of a debate, and how I’ve been doing just that for the last couple months. Come back on Monday to read about this, after which we will have one last story to conclude it all.