Wednesday’s Toymaker
by Lawrence Dagstine

It’s a living—or is that quite the fact?

     “Gadget’s dead,” John Derson said to his wife.

     Both words took enough space for full sentences.

     “Thinking he was alive made me the biggest fool I’ve ever been. I hurt people because of that robot, Kelly. I ignored the principles of my superior engineering, ignored my own daughter, ignored our home-based business, which is the only thing that puts food on the table. Kelly, I feel real strong about this. It bothers me. After that business out in California,  I took a good look at myself and I didn’t like much what I saw. I’d come to value that automaton too much, and it wasn’t the automaton I was valuing so much as my own pride. Gadget was surely going to make me a big man. Two in a row at the convention center, first place at the engineering conference—first with Bolts and then, one year later, Gadget. Oh, I was so full of myself, I was. I was wrong, Kelly. Now you can see why I want to get drunk.” He swirled a beer around in his hand and put it down without drinking. It was going flat.

     In a voice young for her years, Kelly asked, “How about me?”

     “If Gears wants to be exhibited at the Engineering Nationals, that’s fine, but I want you to write them and tell them that Gadget is on the scrap heap, that he’s gone.” He went and got himself another beer. “Also, tell them I won’t be building similar models or duplicates any time soon, so he won’t be exhibited in the Nationals and any other place.”

     “John, it’s always been about your creations, your silicon robots. We haven’t been together as man and wife since you came back from California.”

     John Derson put his head down. He was disappointed.  She didn’t understand him, didn’t understand the big lesson he’d learned, either. Once more he made his confessions, watching her face, hoping to catch himself when he started to say things he felt were wrong. He concluded, “Sometimes I think the best thing in this world that ever happened to me was losing Gadget. Losing one robot was a whole lot better than losing you or Hannah. You know what my apprentice, Bob, said to me the other day? He said he was real happy at the shop, tinkering around in all that cobwebbed basement of mine, and he wished his brother, Todd, could see it once. All of it. The spare parts, the nuts and bolts, the microchips. I told you about his brother, didn’t I?”

     “Yes, John. John, when was the last time we went out to dinner or dancing?”

     “Oh, it wasn’t so very long ago. Not so long ago.”

     Kelly, standing beside the kitchen entrance, looked at him. “Isn’t it time you went to the shop, John?”

     “By gosh, it is.” Proud as a schoolboy, he looked up at the clock and snatched his jacket, marched out to his Range Rover and roared off, and all four wheels left the ground for a moment at the rough spot near the culvert.

     When not at home and at the shop, John kept the community’s septic problems, using the same technology he used with Gears and Gadgets, in check. He lived in a small village-like community, almost was known quite well there, and he kept people at it—mostly those who needed the work—until they had the tanks scraped down, sanded, though it took until well past ten o’clock, about an hour later than people wanted to work or be out.

     “That’s got it,” John said, leaving Bob to close up the toyshop. Every day he’d telephone the mayor, tell him things were under control. The mayor thanked him repeatedly for taking his time to put his engineering skills to other uses, and, eight o’clock sharp, he jumped into his vehicle and roared home as fast as he could.

     He enjoyed being a toymaker, a septic engineer, a silicon chip provider, an at-home on-call father of a bright young teenager and, most of all, his robots. There were a few things he had to say, and often, but upon his return Kelly’s pillow was gone from the bedroom, and her reading spectacles and glass of water too. There were her belongings, but not her. He went into the front room. He found Kelly all wrapped up on the couch. He put his hands on her hips and turned away.  She didn’t want to sleep in the same bed as him, that much was evident, yet there was a ton of things he could have said about it, but he knew not to.

     He slept badly. When the sun came up, he rose, put on his favorite jacket and shoes and started down the winding lane that ended at the center of town. He left dark green tracks along the grassy parking lot lawn. He saw a red-winged bird flying up in a flurry, and he paused to see if he could spot her nest. He wanted ideas for creating a new model of mechanical bird, something children would enjoy.

     One of his robots came out of the shop and chased after him. Bob must have let him out.  Gears still walked funny, clunking here and there—like it hurt him or he was in need of a good oiling or re-programming.

     “Gears! Go inside! Get back, darn you! Go inside the shop this instant!”

     “BLEEP, nature,” the robot muttered electronically. “Outdoors. BLEEP, fun.”

     “Bob! Get out here now!” John shouted angrily.

     He had to shout again each time the five foot tall machine paused for another backward glance—seeing that Bob was nowhere around—but Gears finally obeyed and John was alone again. Just like he liked it. Having a faulty machine behind him ruined his walk.

     The smoke column from the toyshop chimney, which led down into the cellar, was straight and strong. He hesitated, but said the heck with getting fresh air, and went inside.

     When he finally went downstairs, his apprentice was at the work table and the robots, some with human-like limbs and facial features, measuring four to five feet in height, were scurrying about bleeping frantically.

     “I don’t believe this. The robots are out of their recharging cylinders. Bob, I leave you for one day in charge of the shop and I come to this! What’s going on? Plus Kelly and Hannah are gone. Where’d they go?”

     “Huh? Oh, sorry, boss,” Bob said, glancing up through his bifocals. Soldiering wires and silicon conductor chips with iron parts together, he put down several of the device drivers he’d been working on and replied, “They went into Cherry.”

     “Two days in a row?”

     “John, they told me to tell you they were going. They went to the outlets for a little shopping and an afternoon matinee.”

     Heavily he sat at the metallic items-littered worktable. He twirled his cap sideways. “Got a pretty good price for the silicon iguanas, and a few other robo-reptiles,” he remarked. “I’ve gone and secured a safety patent where they can be distributed as pets. Kids will love ‘em.”

     Bob was at one of the recharging cylinders, his back to him. “Some odd fellow kept calling for you today. He said he mailed you some kind of invite or letter?”

     “Huh?” John’s attention was elsewhere. His apprentice nodded somewhat knowingly.

     “Marriage, eh?”

     “Yeah, you could say that.”

     “Dude, go home. Take the day off. You’ve been working crazy hours between jobs, especially trying to make another Gadget. You and I both know there’ll only be one Gadget.”

     “Yeah, the perfect robot.” He got up and straightened his cap. “Bob, put gears away, will you? He’s acting up again.” Then he turned for the stairs, getting out of the way of the other robots. “I’ll try and patch things up tonight.”

     Bob waved to him from the foot of the stairs. “Hey, good luck.”

     Than night, John tried to straighten things out with his wife, promising to spend more time with her, though his many attempts failed miserably. “Oh, come on…Hey! Don’t cry, Kelly.” He put his hands on her shoulders, just as if he had any right to comfort her.

     “John, I’ve missed you. What’s to become of us?”

     “I’ve been right here, honey.”

     She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. Her smile trembled before him.  “I’ll be fine,” she said. “Just fine.”

     John stepped back and hitched an awkward shoulder. “I’m sorry, Kelly.  I just keep going back to those robots and my shop, and I know I shouldn’t run off like I do. Or at least the way I did. My family should come before my creations.”

     “Oh, it wasn’t that. I just hate to see you give up hope.”

     “I haven’t given up hope for us.” He kissed away her tears. “Hey, it’s our day.” He took her cheek in his hand and smiled down at her. “Wednesdays. Date night.”

     She accepted his apology and was the one to lead the way into their bedroom. And once more they became man and wife. They had a scandalous good time the whole evening, and when Hannah came home—oh, it must have been past eleven o’clock—she listened against the door, heard the giggling, and just pretended they were already asleep.