Image courtesy of Magpie Tale's
Willy Zimmermann was 73, and had long since retired from his job at the county building maintenance shop. He lived alone ever since his wife, Ella, of 50 years had passed five years prior. His only son, William, had died in a tragic car accident over 30 years ago, and there were no other relatives. All of Willy’s friends had passed, one by one over the previous 13 years. Willy seldom talked to anyone nowadays, leaving the house only to walk to the neighborhood grocery store, or stroll thought the local park. The clerks at the store were all youngsters who were too busy talking or texting on their cellular phones, to exchange words with an old man. He didn’t understand them half the time anyway, they spoke so fast and quietly. He used to talk with Hank, the mail man, everyday. Unfortunately, Hank had retired some three or four years ago, Willy couldn’t remember exactly. The new mail man was a young kid, early thirties, nice, polite, respectful… but not very talkative. As a matter of fact it was like pulling teeth to get him conversing about anything. Billy, he thought his name was, hell he wasn’t even sure about that. Billy didn’t make eye contact when he was talking, and seemed to mumble or talk away from him every time.
Willy spent his days, in his work shop, building the dolls. He used to build them for Ella, then she would make clothes and dress them up. Ella sold them at one craft store or another, to bring in a little extra money for their yearly vacations. When she passed on, Willy simply continued doing what he had for years. He spent every day during the week in his wood shop, creating his masterful works. Carving each part with exacting detail, shaping, sanding, fitting, then sanding some more. He put his full attention into trying to make the dolls as life like as possible, being sure to give them movable joints, even on the fingers. Not one was like any of the others, expressions, carved permanently into the faces, added an extra element of character to each. Ella used to name them as he was carving them. She seemed to be able to pick out what the doll was going to be like long before he was finished. When the dolls were completed, she would say, “Didn’t I tell you that he was going to look just like an Arron.” or “She is the most beautiful Rose I have ever seen” The names were never the same either, each doll a unique and individual personality. Willy had to name them now, but he didn’t have the benefit of know what they would wear or who they would be when completed. Ella had known.
“I think your going to be a Teddy.” Willy told the doll he was working on today. He had no idea where the name came from, it just popped into his head, as if Ella had been looking over his shoulder and whispered it in his ear, just like she used to do. “Well Teddy, what kind of a look are you going to have? Are you going to share that little bit of information with me?” Willy paused his sanding, and massaged his hands together. They were so sore these days, gnarled and bent with arthritis. Willy’s wrinkled, craggy face looked down at his aged hands. Calloused with years of shaping wood. They were rough and leathered as if he had spent his whole life in the out doors exposing them to the rigors of treacherous weather. “Well Teddy, I wish I had your wooden hands, with joint that can be taken apart, sanded, lubricated, and put back together with ease. That obviously is not going to happen so I supposed I’ll just have to keep working them lest they curl into useless claws.” Willy sighed as he went back to sanding the little finger parts, and checking the fit until they were just right. “Teddy, my boy, it’s late, and I think, about dinner time. I’ll just have to give you a little color tomorrow and get everything ready to put you together. I’ll see you in the morning my friend. Keep an eye on things in here. Don’t let any of those little hoodlums sneak in and desecrate our things, okay.”
Willy picked up all his tools, and put them in their respective places. “Everything in it’s place and a place for everything ehh Teddy.” Meticulously cleaning up the work bench, Willy swept all the dust into a pan and dumped it in a bucket set aside for sawdust and wood chips. Then swept the floor, carefully gathering all the mess, and dumping it in the bucket also. “Nothing like a clean workplace my friend.” With a final look to be sure things were proper, Willy glanced once more at Teddy. “Teddy my boy, Tomorrow is Friday, we’ll get all your pieces painted and ready to be put together. Saturday is yard work you know, and Sunday is house cleaning and a little rest, my boy. So Monday I’ll start putting you together, I wonder how that will come out. You never can tell my friend. You kids never seem to emerge just the way I think you will, usually much more fitting to your personality. Strange how that happens huh.”
Willy turned and walked for the door, pausing at the drying shelf to gingerly touch the finish on the completed doll setting on a special stand. “Well Bethany, it seems the last couple of days has done wonders for your complexion. I think you’re ready to go in the house with me. What do you think about that little girl, you want to move into the house with the rest of us?” Willy picked Bethany up by the hand made stand, and examined her rosy checks, the coloration of her body, and appendages. Looking closely to be sure everything was just right, with the appropriate shine. “Well aren't you a gorgeous little girl. A becoming glow, not too glossy, and not too muted. You are a prize my little princess, a prize indeed.”
Willy turned out the light, locked the door, and walked to the house cradling Bethany and her stand in his arms. Once inside, he went straight to Ella’s craft room. Locating a vacant space on the shelves occupied by hundreds of perfectly shaped and colored miniature people, awaiting clothing. He gently placed Bethany among them. “Okay kids, this is your new sister Bethany. You’ll all have to introduce yourselves though, I have to get myself some dinner. You know it’s a good thing all of you don’t have to eat, I would go broke with the grocery bills… It would be nice to have a little conversation at the table though.” Willy turned and walked out, closing the door behind him.
Fixing himself some hot beef stew and a salad for diner, Willy sat at the table. He glanced over at the place setting, vacant as usual, but ready… as if waiting for Ella to come and join him for supper. “Ella my dear, I miss you soo, you just can’t believe how lonely it is.” Willy ate his diner in silence, finishing everything, as always, not leaving a thing in the bowl or on the plate. Willy set about studiously cleaning the kitchen. “I know Ella, I’m cleaning up my own mess, you won’t have to worry about it dear.”
Willy watched the evening news, then turned off the television. There was never anything worth watching in the evenings any more. He picked up his book and read a few more chapters, the clock tick-tocking rhythmically in the background. The silence… miserably deafening.
After a short while, Willy got up and headed off to his bedroom. The nightly routine consistent, never varying from a pattern set long before. “ Ella dear, I sure hope your having more conversation than I am these days. Good night love, I’ll talk to you in the morning.” With that, he turned out the light and crawled into bed for a nights disconsolate sleep.
Friday started with the same routine as every day of the last few years. Willy had woken at 7:00 AM everyday of his life for the at least 50 plus years. Then it was off to the morning ritual of bathroom duties, breakfast, and out to the shop. This morning thought, Willy noticed he had no pain in his hands. It had been years since he had awoken with no pain. When he got to the restroom and turned on the light, he glanced down at his hands. They were like finely carved and shaped wood. Visibly smooth and soft, all the joints working just like the dolls he made. A smile crept across his craggy face, and the reflection in the mirror seemed to shine like lacquer.
Willy went to the kitchen and set about making breakfast. Grabbing the coffee cup for that first sip of the morning, he tried to lift it to his mouth, and it shattered under his grasp. “Hmm, I’m going to have to figure this out. I don’t feel anything so I can’t judge how much pressure to use. This may take some getting used to. At least I don’t have any pain, thank heaven.” Willy struggle through breakfast, and set about cleaning up. After breaking the plate, and bending a fork, he finally finished.
As Willy headed out the back door, his new hand brushed the shelf holding Ella’s collection of Little Boy Blue figurines, knocking one off. Willy tried to catch it, yet as he did so, he squeezed just a little too hard. The fragile piece of porcelain crumbled into shards and dust before his eyes. The kitchen light blew out at the same time. “Ella honey, I’m so sorry, It was you favorite figurine. Sweetheart, I’ll find another one for you I promise.” Willy said as he walked out the back door, shaking his head in disgust.
After considerable difficulty unlocking the door to the wood shop Willy went in and set to work at the bench. “Teddy, you won’t believe it my boy, but my wish was granted last night. Look, I have hands of wood, just like yours, a little bigger though. Guess what? No pain, not a single bit! Can you believe it?” Willy tried to pick up the paint brush, sliding it to the edge of the bench before he could pick it up. Then with more trouble than he could ever remember having before, he opened the paint cans. When he tried to actually paint, it just would not flow like normal. Nothing was working right!
Suddenly, a terrible thought crossed Willy’s mind. How was he going to put Teddy together with all those tiny bolts and pins. He couldn’t pick them up. Pushing the paints to the side he reached for the bin that organized all the minuscule little parts. Picking it up he move it close to him. He nervously reached into a compartment and tried to get a knuckle pin out. Ending up knocking the whole parts bin over scattering hundreds of tiny pins and bolts all over the floor.
Appalled, Willy realized he would never be able to do that which had given him so much pleasure in the past. laying his forehead on his crossed arms atop the workbench, he began to sob, like he hadn’t since Ella died. Realizing he would rather have the pain of his arthritic hands back than to suffer the emptiness of his remaining life, without the last love he had available. With this final loss, the only friend he had left to give himself solace, was gone! Lost to a foolish, whimsical wish made out of the frustrations of an old man.
Three weeks later when a neighbor reported that something must be wrong because Mr. Zimmermann’s yard had not been mowed and was getting overgrown with tall grass. Mr. Benson told the police, it simply was not like Mr. Zimmermann to ignore his yard, and he hadn’t seen him in a very long time. They found Willy Zimmermann’s body in his shop, head resting on crossed arms atop the workbench. His hands frighteningly deformed, curled up like useless claws by arthritic disfigurement. A beautifully carved doll sitting on the workbench in pieces, patiently waiting to be finished.