“I remember as a child, the sense of wonderment that the toy hospital had instilled in me. How did a broken toy get mended? How could that mended toy be newer than it had been when I’d destroyed it?”
“The mystery was as profound and magical to me as all of those tales of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy had frightened me as a child; that much was certain. It was all of the sneaking around in a boy’s bedroom when he is asleep, swapping teeth for cash; cold, hard cash to spend on more sweets to get more bad teeth? The cycle seemed endless, as did the nightmares. The questions that no one could seem to answer were: Where did the teeth go? What did the fairy use them for, and why? ”
“Toys, as a child, were the world away from television; a playground for the soul, an escape from rules, doctrine and routine. Any boy plays roughly with his toys. We have this unquenchable lust for destruction you see. Cars would collide and crash, towers of blocks would rain to the carpet as trucks smashed through them. The towers would grow ever taller until cars or trucks, sometimes even dinosaurs, would crash into them; sending pieces clattering around the carpet in chaos. Not to say that I was a particularly destructive child, just a normal boy really”.
“Of course, toys frequently became damaged and as upsetting as this was at first; it quickly became embroiled in mystery, because the toys always came back from hospital better than new.”
“The process of getting a toy admitted to toy hospital was simple; I’d pull the wheel off a car and go crying to dad. He would examine it closely for a while and try to pop the wheel back onto its axle. Failing that, he would pop it into his pocket. After a night’s sleep, it would be on the kitchen table next to the cereal packet; good as new. When I say new, it would have a fresh coat of paint and the dents taken out too. Good as new. A miracle! The magic of the process never ceased to amaze me and as the years went by, the mystery deepened”.
“I would avidly watch the ‘Masked Magician’ on telly, hoping vainly that he would show me the secret. He could do it with a watch, but by only pretending to break it in the first place. Of one thing he had convinced me, dad was pulling a fast one. Dad must either be the toy doctor or a blinking liar! I set about to prove my theory with a gusto and a fervour that I had not felt since losing my faith in Santa Claus. I mean I’d been good all that year, even dad had said so, and I still hadn’t gotten my bike. Now what kind of Santa would do that to a boy? Not one I wanted to place faith in.”
“Mum had explained that when you get an idea about something, you need to test it out to make sure that you’re right about it. Method: from what I understood of it, meant first proving that destroyed toys were not simply replaced with new ones. I had to mark the broken pieces, in a way that only I knew. If those markings were not there after the surgery, than dad would be proven a liar!”
“The plan came together easily with the magic pen. The pen, you see, wrote with ink that you needed a special light to see. The police use it to track stolen things and having one to mark your valuables made the bills cheaper somehow; some grown up thing. The point is that dad had shown me the magic on the VCR, and sure enough you could see our postcode under the magic light. Stealing the pen was something that I was not particularly proud of, yet it had been surprisingly easy”.
“Colouring my car with that magic pen was really messy. I took the car outside when no one was looking and parked it under dad’s car wheels. He would drive over it on his way to work, destroying it utterly. I ‘forgot’ about my car all evening; and sure enough it was crushed and shattered beyond repair that following morning. I had seen the whole thing from my bedroom window. I took the car to mum all bleary eyed, and she had said that it would need ‘intensive care’. I had asked her how that worked and she explained that some things took more mending than others; like that time grandpa had fallen off the ladder”.
“He’d gone to intensive care, in the people hospital, and now got around in a wheelchair. If not for intensive care, he would have died. Our cat went to intensive care once too, that was when Mr Snape ran over Fluffy in his car. Fluffy went to the vet. Fluffy went to intensive care and fell asleep.
Fluffy never woke up again. Sometimes intensive care does not work for cats or people, but it always works for toys. Not for everybody, mind you, anybody else would take this twisted wreckage of a car and throw it in a bin. My house has a toy hospital though and the surgeons are awesome. They can fix anything, even this crushed car”.
“Now one thing I’d noticed was that other parents would get really cross when a toy got broken. Their children would be told to ‘play nicely’ and not to ‘be so rough’ with their toys. Not mine though, my parents are cool. I think my dad is the toy doctor and mum’s his naughty nurse. I don’t know what mum does to be naughty; but dad likes to smack her bottom for it. Mum seems to like that too. He doesn’t like smacking me though because that’s different. Parents are just weird I guess”.
“Mum’s routine, oh yes; it (the toy, silly) goes into a shoe box that mum locks in daddy’s wardrobe. She puts the key in her bra, so that only she and daddy know where it is. Then they leave the room and the surgeons come and operate, just like the ones on ‘Casualty’. The next day she would bring the toy down as good as new. Well we’ll see about that now, won’t we? I rub my eyes with my itchy jumper, so that my eyes water and mummy gives me ice cream; which, of course, she does. I heard mum say to dad, when they thought I couldn’t hear them, that she can’t wear a bra today because her nipples are milky! Yuck! No more Corn Flakes for me”.
“Grownups are strange sometimes. They get really weird when they think you can’t hear them. I secretly thought that daddy broke mommy’s bra looking for the key, but decided not to ask. Why didn’t she use a pocket like everyone else?”
“Anyway she got the ice cream and rubbed her tummy with a smile. That’s funny; I thought she doesn’t like ice cream because it makes her teeth hurt. She doesn’t like anything that makes her teeth hurt; because she’s scared of the tooth doctor. She bends to open the freezer door and that’s when I see the key on the stair carpet. It twinkles at me as she gets us both some ice cream and we eat it together. She talks to me about brothers and sisters. I don’t know what she was saying because that key is twinkling at me from the stairs. It’s hard not to look at it as I eat the ice cream, it keeps twinkling to me”.
“Mum keeps talking about my brother or sister, which was mad because I haven’t got one. It’s just me, mum and dad; just the way I like it. The weird thing is that she hasn’t noticed the key and my hands are getting all sweaty despite the cold ice cream. My head is throbbing and sweat stings my eyes. The key isn’t just twinkling now, it is singing and only I can hear it. I tell mum that I want to go to bed because my head hurts. She thinks it’s from eating ice cream too fast, I agree although I’ve barely touched mine. She has a tear in her eye as she starts to eat mine”.
“I remember it well now, after ‘all that nastiness’. Yet back then, the only thought in my mind was of that singing key. It was the key that would unlock the gateway to those secrets that only my house held, it is the key that changed my world forever and theirs too”.
“It was warm when I picked it up and it glowed in my hand. I clenched my fist around it to drown its light and although it bit into my palm, the entire landing was suddenly aglow in its magnificence. So much so, that I did not need to put the light on to go upstairs. Stealing a look behind me I noticed that mum was crying, she had her back to me but I could still tell somehow. Right then I didn’t care; because I was soon outside their bedroom. The one place I dare not enter without permission; yet there I was, my hand on the handle”.
“I was like Frodo at that moment, with a key and not a ring, the key to some Narnia like place that only grownups knew about; only some grownups anyway, my grownups. I was outside of their room, a place of dark secrets that no child should ever know of. Of course I didn’t know that as I turned that lock, with that key. It was humming in my hand as I turned the tumbler and as I pressed the door with my foot, the lock clicked open”.
“I felt as if some evil creature might jump out and suddenly tear me apart; some weirdly silent sentinel guard. I glanced toward the bedroom door, dimly noticing that I had left it ajar. There was a creak from the bottom stair, mum was coming! I had to be quick! My heart thundered in my chest, I can remember feeling hot and dizzy. I could hear my own racing heartbeat roaring in my chest. My face felt itself stretching as my eyes bulged wider and waves of panic washed over me. It was now or never. I yanked the door open and gazed inside”.
“Another creak on the stairs, it sounded like dad at Christmas when the clock said two and they thought I was asleep. Still it gave me little time. I quickly noticed the strange clothes; all leather and cold metal, handcuffs?”
“My fingers were already exploring the dusty darkness in their wondrous wardrobe; clawing and grasping for that box of mystery. A bag, it rustled and a terrible smell escaped it, the contents were hard, rubbery and slimy to the touch. Fighting the urge to bring back up that uneaten ice cream; I stretched my fingers into the dark recesses of the wardrobe until they felt the hard corners of a cardboard box. I grabbed at it and pulled it toward me, scrabbling now in frantic haste. The footfalls were getting louder; now outside the door; I was caught for sure. I had to know what was going on in that box. Did it somehow contain something that could frighten me more than my mother’s temper when she caught me with it?”
“Her footfalls just then; right outside of the door and a terrible panic rose within me, my head was screaming and an inky blackness swam into my vision. I blinked twice and examined the box. I could see light coming from within its cardboard folds. I was committed right then, regardless of whatever would happen next; I pulled of that lid”.
“What I saw in there changed my world forever. I blacked out as the bedroom door opened; the box had tumbled to the floor. I remember the last two things that I saw, as the darkness enveloped me: Mum’s pink bunny slippers pointing at me, and the shrivelled little man in strange clothes that was running under the bed, trying desperately to hide behind a train-set box”.
“I awoke in the midst of darkness, a heavy weight holding me in a springy black prison. I could hear mum and dad shouting at each other, it was worse than ever before. Then I noticed the time, ten o’ clock. My time, my clock, my bed; I fumbled for the switch and clicked on the lamp. The shouting suddenly stopped; and soon dad was in the doorway. I rubbed my eyes and looked at him, he simply stared at me. I remember that look, and now that I’m older I’d say he looked angry and sad, confused and relieved; all at the same time”.
“Back then he simply looked weird, everybody did after that. Mum came to the door next and dad‘s eyes got cross. He gave mum that ‘go tidy your room’ look and she scurried away. He doesn’t shout at her like he does at me. He looked really tired as he stepped into my room, without asking, and clicked the light on”.
“He came and sat at the end of my bed and as I looked at him, he cried. I think it was his first time; he didn’t seem to be very good at it. His nose was running and I sat up and gave him my cleanest tissue and he blew his nose on it. Wisely, I said nothing. I felt like I should give him a hug and pat his back; but it suddenly felt weird and well, I didn’t. Looking back I wished that I had. You see that was the last chance that I ever got to hug my dad. I’ll never get another one, because it was the day before the nastiness happened. No one had seen that one coming. When things get nasty they never do, you know, see it coming”.
“The talk went on forever, before he first mentioned that box. He went on and on about the usual stuff; you know: privacy, boundaries all that kinda stuff. I remember thinking it was all a bit silly really; I mean he’d never asked to come into my room either, but I knew better than to mention it. These grownups make their own rules to guard their own guilty secrets, I know that know. It’s why different grownups have slightly different rules you see, because they all have different secrets; locked away from the prying eyes of the innocent, you know kids like I was”.
“Looking back I thought he would have mentioned the box a little earlier. At one stage I thought he wouldn’t mention it at all. Yes I was a little naïve back then, not like now. Now I know lots of things”.
“He went on and on for ages, it was like we’d suddenly become friends and we could share anything and everything. I almost believed him too, but that was when he mentioned the box and a huge wall climbed up in my mind. The memory of the box was locked behind it, on my side of the wall; the side where no one would ever get to it”.
“It’s dead silly looking back; I mean he obviously knew what was going on in the toy hospital; with its casualty department, the intensive care ward and the shrivelled little surgeons that operate in the magical dark. Somehow he thought, or rather hoped, that I had seen nothing. Maybe I had ‘blacked out’ before discovering the truth behind those age old lies. So in the end it was quite easy to deny all knowledge of his guilty little secrets. He left me feeling ashamed and guilty. What I had seen was a lie, surely born of some ice cream headache”.
“After our talk he’d seemed relieved, he’d even smiled as he reached into his pocket and handed me ‘a brand new little something’ before he left”.
“He’d handed me a car. I gazed at it in horror as he left the room, surely this was a new one; yeah he’d just bought it for me, even though all the toy shops closed up at tea time. I was feeling hot again and panting for air as he closed my door. I glared at it in panic, my eyes stretching in my head; and yet I still needed to see it under the magic light. Was any of this real? Had I actually seen what I had seen? Again I was overridden by my own curiosity, that desire to shine a light on the truth hiding in the shadows of the lies. Curiosity, a strange word, and well we all know what curiosity did; don’t we? Well we do now!”
“The magic light was soon out from my pillowcase and plugged in to where my Power Ranger lamp had been. I can’t remember if I screamed when I switched it on, because mum and dad were arguing again. There was definitely a screaming in my head, that I do remember. I remember the surgeon with the ugly smile clambering from my little glowing car as he spoke to me. You see it was my toy car all as good as new, washed in magic ink. The little surgeon was the magic driver you see; and he sometimes tells me things about people. Things those people don’t want you to know, dark things; you know real dark”.
“I’m not going to tell you those secrets, I can’t I promised; but I will tell you that my scientific curiosity was tingling. Yes that, and the fact that I now had more questions about that toy hospital than ever before. With that curiosity in mind I set about with my ‘new experiments’.”
“The shouting got worse after all that; and sometimes they shouted late into the night. My tears and shouts for them to stop only made them worse. After a few days of this I became as tired and grumpy as they seemed to be all the time. I kept falling asleep in school, and that made mum really cross. Dad was worse, in those days he’d just look at me. He’d just sit there and glare at me. At least I knew what was going on in mum’s head because all of the bad language told me. When someone just stares at you, you can only guess; and that is kinda, well you know; scarier”.
“Dad put the hospital out for recycling, so it was quite easy to put it into my schoolbag and sneak it upstairs to hide under my bed. I’d also found it quite easy to ‘forget’ to feed Bubbles for a few days. With mum and dad fighting so much I don’t think they’d noticed the departure of ‘that bloody fish’ until I told them. The worst part was holding the slimy thing and pretending to flush it down the toilet; while secretly putting it in my jumper. It was well yucky, smelly too. Anyway I put Bubbles in the box after tea. I didn’t sleep much that night I can tell you. So the next day Bubbles was deader and stinkier than ever. Mum made me take some medicine the next night, and I remember that it left me all woozy, it also made me sleep”.
“Sleep was a part of the magic, I know that know; as Bubbles was okay again when I woke up. Well more than okay actually; he was as good as new. So it was with a certain renewed vigour that I poisoned Snowflake. Hey don’t look so shocked, cats get poisoned all the time and toy hospitals can mend fish, so the cat should have been alright; shouldn’t it?”
“Actually he was, washing up liquid works fine on goldfish; but I was going to need something stronger for a cat. Snowflake had only gotten a little sicky, although he didn’t trust me after that. Mum had always told me about bleach being nasty but I didn’t listen back then. I was only six so that kinda makes it all right yeah? Killing her was an accident I swear, honest it was; I didn’t know mums like cat biscuits. Well mine does. Well she did. Dad took her to the people hospital and they made her kind of better. She lost loads off her fat belly and one day even she smiled at me for the first time in ages”.
“I know that the surgeon helped her because he told me in my sleep. You see I’d put his car into her handbag because I knew that people doctors can’t cure bleach. Bleach is awesome it can kill everything, dead. The surgeon was great, because even the doctors at people hospital said that a part of her had died. It was a miracle that she’d survived. A miracle, ha if only they knew. See I’m not bonkers or anything, I was there I heard them say, honest!”
“Mum was great when she got home, she was better than new. She actually wanted me and dad and everything was all cuddles and late bedtimes again. Although I once saw her rocking herself saying over and over”:
‘In the darkness I am longing,
Just one more time to hear,
The pitter patter of tiny feet,
Drawing softly near’.
“Yeah she kept saying it over and over; you know like when a record gets stuck. I don’t even know why I remember it. You know how strange grownups can get”.
“Aside from that, everything else was just great. Mum even bought me a new bike; it wasn’t my birthday or anything. Dad though, well he was still broken. He had a new friend at work or something, been having her all over the office for ages; in all of that overtime that he kept putting in on her. All that overtime that would never pay the bills, I know because I heard mum shouting at dad about it”.
“It still doesn’t make sense to me now, grownups; well they’re weird you know? They still argued about all that stuff when they thought that I was asleep. It’s amazing what you can find out when they think you’re asleep; and your little grey surgeon tells you the rest”.
“So yeah, now that the nastiness was all over; I’d decided that I was going to fix dad in his sleep. I looked forward to seeing his happy look when I stuck that knife in his face. When he’s mended, do you think he’ll buy me an Xbox?”