If you ever go to Gotham, they say, you should find the toymaker's shop.
It is near there, they say, or maybe closer to there – it doesn’t matter, you’ll find it if you look. If you gaze upon the shelves and see the toys, well then you’ll understand them.
Crafted soldiers, each painted with his own face, all preparing to fire as they line up across the aisle, may catch your eye first, they say, as they face up against the lead clowns with red smiles that oppose them – oh, what a sight to see, how you will laugh when you see those darling figures prepare to fight.
Or perhaps, they say, you will favour the felt mice? Each adorned with clothes, made oh so daintily by the toymaker, no two alike and each scented with lavender. Whole families of mice, sitting down for tea or making their way to the shops, oh how quaint you will find it.
A train or ship may catch your attention, pouring forth steam as they pace their course, and if you press your ear close like so, they say, you may hear the shanties of sailors or call of the conductor as he makes his rounds.
They say they bought their own child a mobile to hang upon her crib – and oh, don’t you see how fine the work? As if the very stars were bought down to stud the basswood, their darling little one can scarcely look away.
Do not stand too close to the fire, they say, lest you see the felt frowns of dolls that did not turn out so well and get a start – but be sure to buy a spinning top, and take a sweet from her bowl as you watch it twirl so merry, oh how your day will be made.
You’re worried about the price? Fear not, they say, her most grand dollhouse is little more than twelve shillings – why, her jumping jacks are a penny each, and such care is put into the design of each little harlequin and columbine.
Besides which, they say, you are young yet – there is one more thing you could do, they know how you young folk like to hoard your coin.
Wait until the shop is to close, they say, wile your day away in delight with the rocking horse and hoops, the toymaker shall raise no objection they can assure you.
When the sun is low in the sky you go to the station where the toymaker works, they say, and ask her – “Miss Quinn,” you ask her, “Miss Quinn, may I have a doll?”
She’ll smile, they say, oh such a sweet smile, and she’ll call you sugar and ask which doll you want and for what price, and this is when you will shake your head and say you haven’t a penny to spare.
The toymaker will laugh and kiss your cheek and comment on how cute you are, how sweet, and she will say you need not worry about your wallet. “Lend me your ear,” they say she will say, “And lend me another. And take a seat, I will weave you a doll and a story if you’ll accept the price.”
Nod, they say, nod twice, don’t hesitate and let her seat you by the flame. Take the stool she places there, notice the smiles carved into the wood – her own work, no doubt. Take the chance to look upon the sunset – Gotham has such marvellous sunsets, black towers framing golden lights, it’s an opportunity you may never get again.
It’ll take a while to gather her supplies and while you sit do not speak but search around once more and see how dusk suits her creations. She won’t mind, and the way the gold catches painted grins and smooth faux fur; it’d be a pity not to drink it all in, they say.
When she returns, look upon her – not the fire, far too bitter – and see how she smiles as she finds the felt she has chosen to perfectly match your skin. She’ll shoot you a wink and tell you just how you’ll love the beads she has chosen for your darling eyes – and oh, darling they are. They see that now the light is better, they say, but your eyes are just perfect, how good the doll will look when complete.
She’ll not take a seat but will rest against the fireplace, eyes on you, and sink to sit upon the stone floor. You may offer her your seat, you may not, but she will not take it, they say. She’s no crone, she will giggle, she can spare a precious thing like you the backache.
She’ll begin with cutting the felt to shape, and her cats will arrive to stretch against her legs – do not pay them your gaze, lest you notice their peculiar shape and size and grow concerned; unnecessary, they say, you will be in no danger from them – and then she will begin her tale.
First, she will ask if you know of Gotham’s Asylum. You will nod, of course, they say. A fine building – what beautiful architecture, and how noble their goal. Why, you once heard ghosts walk its halls – how funny, what balderdash. She will laugh with you, and tell you the Asylum holds no ghosts, and say she should know – she once worked there.
You will think that queer, perhaps, and think she means as a receptionist, or perhaps as a cook while she was young, but, they say, you should not ask; best not interrupt her tale, after all you did promise her your ears.
Before she continues, she will show you the dolls body, already stitched – and oh, how you shall awe, for it shall be so close to yourself that you shall hardly know the difference. She will ask you the scent you want, and you should choose lavender for the sweetness of the flower, if nothing else. She will stuff the doll with wool, plenty of it, and it shall take proportion and quite the sight that is, and she will rub the wool with her lavender oil – keeps the fragrance remarkably well, they say.
She will work on the face next, they say, and she will tell you of a hero she met while working at the marvellous building. The bead eyes are a marvellous colour, you will see, almost identical to your own, and you will marvel as she tells you of the hero. How charming, how glorious a man, you will wish you could have met him, and she will tell you how much he’d love a darling like yourself with that smile upon your pretty face.
She’ll tell you of the heroes woe – oh, how tragic it is, how the course of a good man is always so damned – and of her own act of heroism, so mild in comparison; of how she freed the hero from the bars that kept him entrapped, they say. You will feel your heart wrench, and almost break the grin upon your pretty face, but do not let your mirth fade for freed the hero was, and he had only one more obstacle to that which he was owed.
A monster, she will say, as she shows you the doll’s face – a perfect mirror of your own, no doubt, how delightful that shall be to look upon, they say – a cursed beast who roams the night, bent on the destruction of her darling hero.
She will set the doll aside, they say, and begin to sew clothes. Not your own, far more grandiose than anything you could afford, though far too individual for them to guess as to what they might be. It has been a while since they went, they say, they were a child, they cannot recall what was made for them. Their own child? You must be mistaken, they have no child, they could never have taken them. Where were they?
This is where the story will take a tragic turn, they say, as the hero is felled by that heinous beast and Miss Quinn’s lover lost, stolen far too soon. She may weep, she may not, but do not react – it will be getting late, you may struggle to react anyhow – just let her continue her tale. She is alright; she has her dolls and her cats (they will be closer to you now, light snarls joining the chorus of the toys) and she has no needs not met, bar one.
You will offer her your help, and she will start, and smile oh so pretty. There is one thing, she will say, and that is the dark knight. You could help her to rid the city of him? They say, she will look upon the marvellous doll and press a kiss upon its forehead and you will notice the sun rising.
You will help, they say, of course you will, and you will pity that the doll could not be kept – and oh, do not look upon the fire lest you see it’s spoilt face so sad – and she will press a second sweet kiss atop your head as she cuts loose the last thread from your magnificent new clothes and wishes you her luck in your mission. Mind the cats on the way out, and don’t fear as you see the sun for the first time, they promise you the Gotham sunrise is a chance you’d never want to miss; you may never get to see it again.
So, if you ever go to Gotham, they say, you should find the toymaker's shop.