The Doll Hospital
Hospital & A Single Shoe
“Did I mention dolls make me feel uneasy?” I ask into my phone, looking up at the sign with the words “Doll Hospital” emblazoned in red.
“Yes, I’m aware, but neither one of us wants to face Mom’s wrath. Now get in there, find a match or at least a pair that looks similar!”
“It’s your rambunctious toddler that got us into this mess,” I whine. “Felicity, you are her godmother and are obligated to protect her.”
“Fine!” I toss my phone into my purse. Regardless of the fact that I’m in my thirties, I’m still the baby sister doing the bidding of the older ones.
As I open the door, a keeper's bell chimes and I’m greeted by the redolent scent of high school art class. Where paint, the earthiness of clay and wood mingle into the distinct aroma of creativity.
“I’ll be right with you.” A male voice calls from behind the counter.
I scan the walls and find beady eyes, some over pinked cheeks painted on porcelain, all staring back at me. I resist the urge to turn right back around and declare to my sister that I’m changing my name, moving to Canada and she alone can deal with our mother.
I grimace as a groan escapes.
The tall man behind the counter is standing in front of a pair of intricately detailed Victorian dollhouses.
“Sorry. I’m just really freaked out by…” I trail off and point around the store.
“Especially the ones with the tiny teeth,” I bare mine and point for effect.
He places a doll head down on the counter facing me. It’s expression is sinister.
“That one looks particularly maniacal.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I have a list of things that creep me out and this place houses my top three.”
“You’ve made a list?”
I begin to count them off, “Dolls, ventriloquist dummies, stuffed animals-”
“Wait, stuffed animals?”
“They collect dust and their fur gets matted.” I shudder. “You’ve got a problem.”
“I know,” I sigh.
“How can I help you?”
I slide one single shoe across the counter. A small, black Mary Jane with a silver buckle. “I need to find something similar to this.”
“I see.” He examines the shoe closely. “Are you always this neurotic?” “I prefer the term quirky.” I smile.
That garners a chuckle. “OK, Quirky, follow me. Let’s see what we can find in the back. I have several aisles of shoes, this will go quicker if we are both looking.” He motions behind him to an opened door marked “Surgery.”
I look past him and see several people hunched over tables at work under bright lights.
“This is where the inventory is kept and where the artists work.”
I blow out my cheeks and feel my chest begin to tighten. “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” I ask out loud but then freeze.
“I’ve begun to imagine scenarios.”
He throws his head back and laughs. “You’re funny. C’mon, I won’t let anything hurt you.”
“That’s comforting, which is weird as I don’t know you from Pete.”
“The name is Thomas, but if it allays your fears, you can call me Pete. What’s yours?”
“Felicity. Tell me Pete, are you familiar with the film Chucky?” I ask as I follow him past the tables, alongside a bank of sewing machines where various fabrics are being fed through.
“We aren’t just a doll hospital. We also design and manufacture custom doll houses and accessories.”
We come to a long section of aisles that run floor to ceiling and turn down the first of several marked “Shoes.”
“You weren’t kidding,” I say looking at the sheer number of bins in just this aisle alone.
He points to a section for me to begin looking and I set to work rummaging through miniature shoes of varying types and sizes.
“The doll hospital was my grandfather's. It’s been here since the forties. But when it became apparent that less people were inclined to repair dolls and instead buy new ones, I helped him to diversify and we got into design and manufacturing as well.
He left me his portion of the business when he passed.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you, he was a good man. That’s a very specific shoe you brought in today, are you familiar with its origin?”
“I am,” I respond as I hold up a pair of shoes that look similar. I hand them to him and he compares it to the one in his hand. No luck. “My grandfather purchased this
doll for my Mother just before he deployed to Vietnam.”
“Did he return safely?”
“No, he was captured and never heard from again.” I point to the bracelet I wear around my wrist with his name, rank and date missing engraved on it.
A crease forms between his kind eyes. “We’ll find something.”
We move to the next aisle and continue our search. We fall into effortless conversation and learn that we both are New York natives, unmarried, come from large families and like sci-fi.
“Found it! It appears to be an exact match!”
He climbs down from a ladder and hands me the shoes. “What do you think?”
I inspect them closely. “They’re identical!”
“What’s interesting is that these shoes were handcrafted by my grandfather.” He points to tiny initials stitched into the inside of each shoe. “Thomas McIntosh.”
“You’re named after your grandfather! Perhaps he sold the doll to mine. What a small world!”
“It is. Let’s get you squared away.” He smiles.
I follow him back out to the front of the store and reach into my purse for my wallet.
He places the shoes in a bag and hands it to me along with his card. “No charge.”
“Thank you very much!”
“My pleasure,” he says as he disappears back through the door. I look down at the card. “Quirky, call me sometime, Pete.”