Jeremiah Bennington looked up from his workbench when the bells above the door rang. Each one was a different size and made a distinct little tinkling sound when jingled by the door. As the door opened, the smells from the city rushed in, greedy to invade the cozy atmosphere of Jeremiah Bennington’s Shop. The inside of the shop always smelled warm and safe, and vaguely of pipe tobacco. There was a hint of cinnamon in the air, and underneath that, a quiet trace of oil. The scent invoked the sense of comfort, and perhaps memories of a kind, loving grandfather, even if one had never had a kind, loving grandfather.
Jeremiah Bennington put down the tiny tools he had been working with, and straightened up from his bench, wiping away a bit of nonexistent dust from his white cloth apron. No matter what task Jeremiah Bennington set about doing, his apron was always clean, and the clothes he wore underneath were always pristine.
He was a tall, slender man, and although he was what one might call an old man, he was in fine shape. True, there were laugh lines on his face, and a few wrinkles on his brow from years of being furrowed in concentration, and his hair was the same silver color of a worn quarter. But there were firm muscles under his time-loosened skin, and a sharp mind under the silver hair.
Jeremiah Bennington always wore the same thing while he was at work: a pressed white button-up shirt with long sleeves and black slacks. His shoes were of shiny black leather, but no one ever saw his shoes, for he was ever behind the waist-high counter that separated him and his work area from the rest of his shop.
Behind the counter were various tools, ranging from the ordinary: hammers, screwdrivers, pliers, and such—to the extraordinary: miniature tools so small that one could barely see them without looking through a magnifying glass, strange jointed tools that seemed to move by their own accord once they were picked up, and ancient-looking tools that seemed comprised of nothing more than points and gripping handles. Aside from the tools, there was his workbench, and a long dark hallway that led to the back door.
In front of the counter was the rest of the shop: shelves full of toys and oddities. Dolls, small soldiers, wooden cars, and stuffed animals lined the shelves low enough to the floor for children to see. At adult level were a myriad of trinkets and collectibles, too numerous and variable to describe. If one was looking for the perfect gift, it could be found in Jeremiah Bennington’s Shop, but selling wasn’t his primary interest.
Jeremiah Bennington was mainly involved in repairing. Although not many people knew of his shop, and although even less people spoke of it, those who were of aware of it knew that Jeremiah Bennington could fix anything. Anything.
When the door first opened, it looked as if it had been opened by nothing more than a gust of wind, or perhaps an interested poltergeist. But just below adult eye level came walking a little girl. She was not nearly old enough to be entering shops without an adult to supervise, and by no means should she have been walking the city streets by herself, but Jeremiah Bennington was neither concerned nor worried.
Children made up over half of his clientele, and they always found their way safely to his shop and safely home again.
She was wearing a pink dress, patent leather shoes, and there was a little pink bow affixed crookedly on the top of her head. Tears streaked her face. She walked slowly to the counter, looking from side to side, the wonder of Jeremiah Bennington’s Shop drifting through her veil of misery, softening her sobs, slowing her tears. She was carrying a shoebox, and she handled it gingerly, as if it contained the most precious treasure ever discovered, and the most fragile.
Jeremiah Bennington watched her with interest as she approached, a small, but warm smile on his face. “How may I help you today, young miss?” He asked her.
“My friend told me you can fix things.”
“And which friend might that be?” Jeremiah Bennington asked.
“Toby. He’s in my class, you fixed his train.”
“Ah, yes, I remember Toby quite well. His father stepped on the train early one Saturday morning, as I recall. Smashed it to bits.”
“He told me you fixed it up good as new.”
“I’m pleased to hear that he was satisfied with my work. So we know what I was able to do to help Toby, but I have yet to hear what has brought you to my shop this morning. Or learn your name, for that matter.”
“My name’s Jess. Jessica, really. Jessica Erickson.”
“Pleased to meet you, Jessica Erickson. My name is Jeremiah Bennington.”
“My…” Jessica held the box out to Jeremiah Bennington. “It’s Socks. My dad was in a hurry to get to work this morning, and he broke her.”
He took the box from her, handling it with the same care she had demonstrated, and lifted the lid. “Yes,” he said. “Socks seems to be very broken indeed.”
Fresh tears started dripping from Jessica’s eyes. “Can you fix her, Mr. Bennington? Can you fix Socks up so that she isn’t all leaky and tired?”
“No need to cry, Miss Erickson. Let us not shed tears until we have inspected the extent of the damage, yes?”
“She won’t wake up.”
“Allow me to take a look, all right? It should only take a few minutes, and in the meantime, perhaps you could busy yourself looking at my collection of dolls.”
“I don’t like dolls, really,” Jessica said, looking a little uncomfortable.
“Although I see nothing wrong with a young lady who doesn’t enjoy playing with dolls, I must admit I’m surprised to hear it coming from one who is dressed so extravagantly.”
“Does extravagantly mean like with a dress and a bow in my hair, and these ugly shoes?”
“Something like that, yes.”
“My mom makes me dress like this when we go visit my aunt each weekend. I hate it.”
“I see. Perhaps you might be interested in the soldiers, then, on the shelf behind you.”
She smiled, and turned to look at the soldiers. She took a step, and then stopped. She turned back around to face Jeremiah Bennington, and her smile was gone. “My daddy says that repairmen cost an arm and a leg. I know he doesn’t mean they really take your arm and your leg, but he means they’re really expensive. I don’t…I don’t have any money.”
“I appreciate your upfront honesty. Let me examine the extent of the damage, and we’ll discuss payment later.”
“Will it cost an arm and a leg?”
“No, Miss Erickson. I never charge more than a patron can afford.”
“Okay. I’ll be over here at the soldiers, then.”
Jeremiah Bennington lifted the shoe box from the counter and carried it over to his workbench. He cleared away his earlier project and then spread out a large sheet of wax paper that covered the entire table top. He dumped out the contents of the shoe box.
It was a squishy, clumpy, red mess, and he admired the courage it must have taken for Jessica to pick up the remains of the kitten and place them into the box. He took a tool from the wall and began moving things around, investigating the damage.
After a few minutes, he straightened up from the table and lightly covered the mess with a dark cloth. Although Jessica had seemed completely absorbed in her perusal of toy soldiers, as soon as she saw him stand straight, she walked back to the counter.
“Little Socks can be fixed,” Jeremiah Bennington said, and Jessica beamed so brightly that the store seemed lit by the sun. “But I’m afraid there will be a fee,” he continued.
The smile fell from her face, and was immediately replaced by a look of hopelessness and loss. “I don’t have any money,” Jessica said.
“I don’t suppose your friend Toby mentioned how he paid for his repairs?”
“Anyone can pay with money, Miss Erickson. But as much fuss as everyone gets in about it, the truth is, it’s worthless. It’s impersonal, it’s cold, and it’s useless. I have no need of money.”
“What do you want, then?”
“Two things. First of all, you must promise me that if I repair Socks, you will love her forever.”
“I will. I do love her forever!”
“The other is a bit more materialistic, I’m afraid.” He reached underneath the counter and brought out a stuffed bear. It was dressed in a pink dress and patent leather shoes. “I’ve been working on her, but something’s missing.”
“She looks very pretty,” Jessica said.
“She does, doesn’t she? But something’s missing.”
Jessica looked the bear over, her inspection intense, and then a smile lit up her face. “She’s missing a bow!”
“That’s right!” Jeremiah Bennington said, smiling. “But now that we’ve discovered what’s missing, how can we fix it?”
“You can have mine!”
“Let’s not be hasty, Miss Erickson. Although your bow would be a fair payment, perhaps you shouldn’t rush into this business transaction.”
“But you can fix Socks?”
“That’s all I want.”
“It’s settled, then. I’ll need a few minutes to make the repairs, so if you would be so kind as to occupy yourself?”
“I’ll be over here at the soldiers, again.”
Jeremiah Bennington removed the black cloth and set about his work. It was delicate work, but he had been doing it for years, and although it took amazing steadiness and concentration, this was his life’s work. He bent over and began his work…
Jessica jerked her head towards the sound, a smile covering her face. This was Jeremiah Bennington’s favorite part. If they were old enough to find their way here, there were outside forces already convincing them that magic wasn’t real. It was this moment that warmed his heart, when they got to see that the magic was real, and that everything they had been taught and told wasn’t necessarily the truth.
She ran to the counter, standing on her tip-toes to look over. “Socks?”
He picked up the animal and placed it on the counter. She was an adorable kitten, black, with the exception of a white splotch on her face and her four white paws. He had cleaned up most of the blood, but there was still a spot or two on one of the kitten’s “socks.” Socks looked down at the spots and there was a blatant look of disapproval when she glanced back up at Jeremiah Bennington.
“I apologize for the shabbiness,” he said, “But I was working under a time constraint.”
“Oh, Socks,” Jessica cried, scooping the kitten from the counter. “You’re better!”
Jeremiah Bennington watched as the little girl hugged her kitten, basking in her happiness and her renewed belief in the fantastic. When she finally remembered the balance due, the transaction was conducted over the happy purring of Socks.
Jeremiah Bennington took the crooked bow from Jessica’s head and placed it on the bear. “Perfect,” he said. He placed the bear on the counter and looked at it, his hand cupping his chin.
“It is,” Jessica replied. “Everything is,” She said, giving the kitten a squeeze.
“I’m glad you think so, young Miss Erickson. Now perhaps you should get home before your parents begin to worry.”
“Thank you so much,” she said, and she reached up and kissed him on the cheek.
“Why, you’re very welcome.”
“Socks says thanks, too,” Jessica said, holding the kitten up to Jeremiah Bennington’s face. The kitten leaned forward and touched his cheek with her nose, the perfect kitten kiss.
“You’re very welcome, Miss Socks. Now the two of you get along—I’m sure you have more to catch up on than I do.”
Jessica giggled and the two of them left.
Jeremiah Bennington cleaned the wax paper off of his work bench and went back to the repair he had been working on before Jessica and Socks had come to visit.