Fiction: ‘The Shoemaker Who Made Toys’

54 - The Shoemaker Who Made Toys

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Finn Dreyer was a shoemaker who didn’t really like shoes very much. No, he didn’t like them at all. Every day he would rise early in the morning, walk across town through the slushy snow to his master’s workshop, and spend hour after hour, day after day, year after year, making shoes.

First he would carve the soles from sections of willow. Then he’d trace his master’s patterns into strips of leather which he collected from the tanner, and stitch these pieces together over the wood.

The process wasn’t so dull when he first began at the age of fifteen.

But after years of following the same method, he began to feel that it wasn’t quite as interesting as he had thought when he first purchased his apprenticeship with the little coin he had.

Each day after the sun had set, Finn packed away his tools, cleaned up the workshop, prepared his station for the next day, and walked home through the snow.

He’d light a merry fire in his fireplace.

When the flames were hot and the coals were glowing, he’d cook a simple meal and then sit at his scrubbed wooden table where he’d spend the evening making the most beautiful toys anyone had ever seen.

He carved puppets on strings and jack-in-the-boxes that sprung from their cases. He fashioned the loveliest dolls and whittled animals so realistic they practically came to life. He carved horses on wheels that could be pulled along the floor, automobiles that zipped across table tops all by themselves, and soldiers with muskets that shot out little cork rounds.

He made toys so clever they could walk and dance when you wound a little key on their backs.

Finn loved making toys.

And he really didn’t like making shoes.

So one day he packed a selection of his finest creations into a small trunk, put on his best coat and hat, and went to see the town’s toymaker. He knocked on the wide varnished doors, his heart pounding with nerves. There was an entire swarm of butterflies in his belly, and he really felt quite sick by the time the door swung open.

A young man with haughty eyes looked at Finn’s lop-sided hat and frayed coat.

‘Yes, can I help you?’ the man asked impatiently.

‘I was wondering whether I might speak with the proprietor of this toyshop?’

The man’s lip twisted into a sneer. ‘Sure,’ he replied, choking back a laugh. ‘Come on out the back.’

So he led Finn through the busy store full of excited children examining the newest toys, and out through the back where a large man with a gold pocket watch hanging from his belt was browsing through a ledger.

‘Master?’ the young man asked.

‘What is it, Daan? Can’t you see I’m busy?’ he snapped.

‘I’m sorry, sir. This gentleman has requested a meeting.’

The large man peered over his glasses. ‘Well?’ he asked after a moment of scrutiny. ‘What do you want?!’

Finn made a strange noise in his throat. He cleared it, took off his hat respectfully and took a step forward.

‘Hello, sir. My name is Finn D-‘

‘I don’t care what your name is. I’m a busy man! What do you want?’

Finn glanced at Daan, but the young man kept his eyes on the far wall as his lips quivered with stifled laughter. ‘Well, you see, I – I make toys. And I was hoping you might take a look at some of them?’

The large man began to laugh so hard his glasses slipped off his nose onto the desk. He practically roared as Daan began chuckling too. Finn turned pink and then red, silently wishing he could disappear forever.

‘Don’t waste your time! I have apprentices lined up for the next twenty years. Anybody who is anyone in this forsaken town has paid me nicely to train their young. What would I want with a fool like you?’

‘I just – I’ve been told I’m really rather good. If you would just take a look, I’ve brought some with me.’

The large man stood up, making himself even larger. ‘Listen well, I’m about to teach you a lesson. It’s not about what you can do. It’s not about how nice your little toys are. It’s not about how much you’ve learned, or what you know. This is business. And business is all about who you know. There’s plenty I can offer to the highest bidder, but ask yourself, what can you offer me?’

The room was so silent they could hear each gust of wind rattling the windows.

Finn drew a deep breath. ‘Please, sir. I have so much to offer, if you would only give me a chance to prove-‘

‘Who do you think you are?’ the man shouted. ‘You are no-one and nothing to me. I wouldn’t give you a chance if you made magical toys that came to life and danced all by themselves! Take your junk and get out of my shop! Get out!’

Finn was so flustered he knocked over his trunk and rushed out of the workshop without it. He ran passed the curious families staring in the shop, and burst out into the snowy street. The freezing air swirled around him. As he slowly made his way to his little cabin, his heart sank lower and lower until he thought it might fall out through his feet.

It had all been so pointless.

Afterwards he packed away all of his marvellous toys into boxes. In the dark of the night he carried them to the river, and threw them into the rushing waters where they would rot under the currents.

Finn never made a toy again.

And he was never truly happy as day after day he made shoes he didn’t like for people who barely spared him a glance. Meanwhile the large man in his toyshop rummaged through the trunk Finn had left behind. He analysed the toys and put every one of his talentless apprentices to the task of figuring out how they worked and how the foolish stranger had made them.

But no-one ever came close to figuring out those marvellous little creations.

~ Ekaterina

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