Clink. Clink. Rustle. Clink.
Donny held the puppet gently between his claws and turned it toward the lamplight. The newly-repaired blue Mynci puppet seemed to smile. Its velvet limbs were connected again, its wooden face polished, and its button-eyes replaced. Donny lifted it slowly from the table to make sure its dangling posture looked right. Yup—the little fellow was perfectly balanced. Donny tugged on a string and the puppet waved; another tug, and it bobbed its head.
The aged Bori allowed himself a grin.
He glanced at the red apple clock on his wall. Mary had picked it up at the Igloo Garage Sale seventeen years ago. "Look, look, Donny!" she'd exclaimed, her face still bright from the icy air, "isn't it a bargain? Such a pretty shape—just look at that leaf! Isn't it exquisite?"
"Yes, Mary, exquisite," he'd replied, tasting the crispness of that word on his tongue; but he was gazing at the cloud Eyrie, not at the clock. He didn't protest when she took down his old Sticks N Stones poster. He even hammered a fresh nail into the wall to help position the new clock.
It was at the apple clock he'd stared when she was at the Hatchery, bringing Terry into the world. And it was under the apple clock that Terry had grown, from a puffy-faced baby pecking sulkily at his food, to a toddling young Eyrie just beginning to try his wings.
The clock had stopped working the day Mary departed. Donny worked patiently on it for hours at a stretch, a "Closed" sign posted on the door of his mechanics shop. Day after day he worked, cutting new gears, fitting them into the clock's exquisite core.
Neighbours and customers dropped by with words, cards, flowers, food; he answered at first, but finally decided that they took too much time away from his work on the clock.
Five-year-old Terry seemed to understand somehow. No longer the buoyant, naughty child always dancing out of Mary's reach, he mostly played by himself in a corner of Donny's workroom. Sometimes he came over, straining his tiny wings to get onto the bench, where he would peer over Donny's shoulder. "When is Mommy coming back?"
"Daddy is busy, Terry. Go play with that new toy I gave you."
"Mommy isn't coming back."
"Shhhh, go play."
What seemed like a few moments later, Terry would come tugging at his arm again. "I'm hungry," Terry would say, in a child's voice rendered harsh by crying.
Terry's hunger was a problem that Donny could fix; he would get up from his workbench, put together some oatmeal, feed Terry and himself, and go back to the red apple wall clock.
After a week of almost non-stop tinkering, the clock was working again. Donny remembered the swell of emotions he'd experienced, holding the result of his efforts at the end of that week. The clock would continue to tick for many years to come.
Donny placed the Mynci puppet on a side-table, pulled a torn fuzzie bear toward him, and then, remembering how Mary used to chide him to look after himself, got up and made himself a cup of Borovan. He stood by the window, swilling the hot sweet liquid around in the cup. Snow was falling over the hills.
In a few hours Terry would be home.
"Is Mr. Bear mended now?" A child's voice from the doorway.
The Bori blinked. For a moment he thought the voice belonged to Terry; then the interior of the Toy Repair Shop came into focus, and he sat up on his workbench. For some reason he had been snoozing face-down on the worktable. No—he must have drifted off for only a second. He wasn't that old. His eyes were as sharp and his claws as sure as ever.
"Is Mr. Bear mended now?" the small Kacheek repeated, bouncing in. A little way behind, her mother and father were stamping through the snow. The mother was carrying their packed lunches and other supplies, and the father was carrying ski equipment.
"Ah, yes, yes, Mina," said Donny, fully awake now. He got up with a barely perceptible creak and went to his side-table of finished toys. For a second, a wave of panic coursed through his veins as he tried to remember if he'd sewn up the bear before dozing off—but his heart calmed when he saw the familiar white fur poking out from behind the Mynci puppet. "Here you are!" he said, lifting the good-as-new fuzzie bear from the table and putting it into Mina's arms.
The Kacheek let out a delighted squeal. Donny chuckled as she spun around and barrelled into her mother's stomach. "Mr. Bear is mended! Mr. Bear is mended!"
"I see that, dear," said the mother, laughing.
The father bobbed courteously, presenting a bag of Neopoints with both hands. The Kacheek family was new in town, recently moved from Shenkuu to enable their daughter to take advanced ski lessons. Well, not that recently. More like two months—but it seemed to Donny that time was moving at strange speeds these days. One moment he'd be back in the days before his son was even born, and another moment he'd be remembering just how many years it'd been since he'd moved to Terror Mountain after his son turned six.
Donny bowed back. "Thank you," he said, accepting the Neopoints.
"Now Mr. Bear can be with Mrs. Bear again!" The child was still hopping at her mother's side.
Donny smiled as he watched them go. They reminded him of the way he, Mary, and Terry used to be.
He turned back to his worktable. He remembered the warm weight he'd felt, years ago, walking toward the cabin that he would turn into his Toy Repair Shop. Terry had been asleep upon his back, breathing soundly in the way that only a child could. Donny had felt such a sense of responsibility then, such fear and yet such pride to know that this little being depended on him. He hadn't been sure if he deserved to be carrying that warm weight. If he could shoulder it alone.
Mina's full and utter belief in his ability to fix her toy was just like Terry's trust in him, years ago, that he would be able to make everything all right. He knew he was not in truth as powerful as how children perceived him to be. He knew himself to be vulnerable deep inside.
But how he wished to not have to disappoint them. How he wished that every child could be as fortunate as Mina.
Sometimes a toy could be fixed; when that was the case, he shared in the child's great joy.
Sometimes, a toy could not be fixed. Toy-fixing was a practical matter. Donny didn't trouble himself too much with the why of it. He tried his best with each toy, of course, threading with care between the flaps of torn cloth, teasing a new part into place, frowning with concentration as he brought down the hammer in steady, precise clinks.
But when something was beyond his repair, he knew when to put down his tools and say to the customer, "I couldn't fix it."
Knowing his duty still didn't make it any easier, when he had to say those words to a child.
Night was deep around the cabin when Donny finally saw a familiar shape come up the slope.
"Hi, Dad!" Terry boomed in his rich, adolescent voice. "Sorry I'm late. The wind conditions were pretty bad today."
Donny put his arms around Terry's downy neck. "I'm just glad you're back," he said.
"Dad, next week at the Training School, I'm going to be moving up to the Intermediate level. The Techo Master says I need to work on my defence and endurance." Terry placed his schoolbag by the fireplace and settled down to dry his feathers. "He's going to be organizing a field trip to the jungles of Tyrannia, to teach us how to endure. We're going to be working in groups. There's a new kid who just came, a Chomby named Egg—what kind of a name is that?—but he seems nice..."
Donny moved his ears good-humouredly. "And Gina? Are you still friends with her?"
"Yeah. She's going to be in my group, too. Oh, Dad—you didn't have to," Terry protested, as his father put a large bowl of Carnapepper soup into his claws.
"It was a long flight through this snow," Donny said. "You need it, son."
"I'm strong; the Techo Master said so." But Terry was already guzzling the soup.
Donny grinned. "I have something else for you. Picked it up at the Igloo Garage Sale the other day. Uh." He lifted the Mynci puppet from the table and worked the strings. "Hey there, Terry! Gettin' to be a fine li'l warrior now, aren't ya?"
"Dad!" said Terry, laughing.
"It isn't much," said Donny, "but it looks sorta like the old puppet you used to have. When we lived in Happy Valley."
Terry dangled the puppet over his bowl. "Aaahhh! I'm going to fall in!" Then he laughed embarrassedly and reached over to place the puppet next to his schoolbag. "Dad, I'm not a little kid anymore."
"I know, I know. But you still have to give him a name, right?"
"I guess so. I'll call him Loony and hide him in my dorm-room so none of my friends can see what my loony dad gave to me."
Donny watched him with a smile. "You're so much like your mother," he said.
Terry paused in his eating, without looking up. "Why do you say that?" he responded finally.
"Oh, I don't know, Terry." Donny moved his eyes to the wall. "You just remind me of her, is all. You have her way of talking. It comes easy to you, talking."
"I don't remember much of her at all, Dad. I was only a kid."
"I know, Terry."
"I wish you didn't have to refer to her so often."
The edges of Donny's eyes creased. "I'm sorry, Terry."
"But what do you have to be sorry about?" said Terry, looking up from the bowl. "It wasn't your fault. You've done all right by her."
"I'm glad you feel that way, Terry. I... ah, I've always worried about not being able to give you what you needed."
"But I've turned out all right, haven't I?" Terry's brow arched in exactly the quick, proud manner that was once so characteristic of Mary.
"I'm very proud of you, Terry."
Terry still looked troubled. "Dad," he said, slowly, "I wish sometimes you wouldn't keep dwelling in the past."
Donny was quiet.
"There are so many things I look forward to," Terry continued. "The field trip, my friends, my martial arts... But sometimes I think of you, all alone up here on this mountain, doing the same thing day after day, and... I don't know. I mean, I only come home once a month now."
"Ah, you mustn't worry about me, Terry. I'm happy with my simple life."
"I know, Dad. I just-- I wish you would allow yourself to have a little more fun." Then Terry's eyes changed. "I don't mean to sound judgmental, Dad. I care about you, that's all."
Donny nodded. "You really have grown, Terry." He swallowed. "You've grown so much."
The apple clock ticked on the wall, as steadily as ever. It was barely audible beneath the sounds of the fireplace, of talking, of dishes clinking. But it was there, like a soft heartbeat that never went away.
The snow was coming down more slowly now. All across the mountain, lights were flickering. From a distance, the light in the Toy Repair Shop was just another one of the stars on earth, another proud little flame, small but sturdy against the darkness.