In the clattering crowded mechanical toy factory, the toys had no ears. The tracks and pullies and conveyor belts and cranes lifted and lowered all of the levers and bolts, the brackets and wombas that, once assembled, went out into the heavy air of the city and were placed on the shelves of the city’s toy stores. The toy stores were filled with shrill bamboozling and pounding electric rhetoric, all rhythmic and clashing, and the mechanical toys were lined up, one by one by one, in the aisles with their blinking lights and sale signs. The toys swiveled their mechanical heads on their clockwork necks, side to side. The store was bright and smelled of motor oil and air freshener. The toys could not smell the smells, could not hear the sounds, but could see clearly, with their painted metal eyes, everything and everyone in the store. The swiveling heads of the toys took in the swiveling heads of the people who walked through the stores, rotating their people heads from side to side, withdrawing or advancing toward things randomly, it seemed, to the toys who had no ears. The small people, in particular, ran close up to things with cylinders and bells, pulling on the big people’s hands and moving their mouths in big, open shapes. Sometimes they screwed their eyes shut and liquid squirted out. Sometimes the big people picked up the little people and carried them outside, to sit on a bench until the little one’s face had stopped leaking.

One day, as one might expect, a sort of magic mechanical elf appeared in the biggest toy store. Unlike the round-eyed mechanical toys with their watchful ways, the elf had pointed metal ears, rather large for his head, and he brought ideas to the others that they’d never considered before. At night, the elf went into the supply room, where he found small scraps of metal and a soldering iron and curly metal shards that made lovely hair for the mechanical toys that framed their new ears quite nicely. Quickly he worked through the night and into the next day, which was Sunday and the store was closed. Just as the sun was rising on that Monday, every toy in the store touched their mechanical ears with their cool metal fingers. The storekeeper came in and pulled on the shade that covered the front window.

“Snap!” said the shade. “Twingle-ingle-ingle” said the bell at the top of the door. A row of mechanical toys fell on the floor, writhing with surprise. The storekeeper, who was himself a bit hard of hearing, turned on the radio, the lights, the bamboozlers and the wombas, and set all the cranes and pulleys into motion. The electric trains started up with a shrill squealing sound, and more toys fell off their shelves, rolling in agony from side to side, covering their ears, looking with their eyes for that elf, the elf and his magic tricks, and then the children came in with their crying and laughing and shouting, and then the toys found the elf, found the elf on a shelf under the cash register, near the shop keeper, and he stayed there all day, until the shopkeeper went home and the store was silent once again. The toys with their ears came for him, then, with their mechanical arms raised, metal eyes sparking. Next morning, every toy had simple round heads with round simple eyes, and the elf was never seen in the city any more.


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January 2011
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