Yesterday morning I found out that I could never again do the job I loved, the occupation that had always been my greatest pleasure and my sole obsession. It had not once occurred to me that working with miniature instruments to make tiny furniture for dolls houses requires rock-solid had movements and near perfect eyesight, and those are gifts that disappear as you get older.
I’d had ‘a good run’, as they say. Up until my seventieth birthday everything had been fine, but then suddenly, my hands couldn’t maintain precise movement, for now they trembled. And even though I had the most powerful eyeglasses possible, my vision was changing all the time, so that I realised yesterday morning that shaving microscopic slivers of timber from a tiny block of wood in order to make a drawer for a chest of drawers that was three inches high just was not possible for me anymore.
It was doubly ironic that here I was in the lovely town of York, sitting on a bench near the town centre, having just received my prize from the National Society of Miniaturists, as ‘Timothy Ebbennwold, Miniaturist of the year’. The pinnacle of my career.
And the end of my life as I knew it.
I was alone, naturally. I had spent most of my life alone, had grown used to people staring at me. Most dwarves get stared at I suppose, but my facial deformities – huge forehead, sideways twisting mouth with crooked teeth and pockmarked skin – makes people recoil in horror when they first see me.
In the trade I’m known as the ‘Ugly Dwarf’, I’ve even adopted the UD name as my brand, and Ugly Dwarf dolls’-house furniture is prized around the world. I suppose I’m regarded as some kind of curiosity, like a monster in a cave, who has a special skill. People have always been nice to me, but because of my appearance I’ve always been someone who no one really wants to know.
In business terms my peculiarity is my ‘Unique Selling Point’ you might say, and there’ve been lots of interest from the telly and print media about Ugly Dwarf products, and I’m cool with that, and I’ve done plenty of interviews in my time.
My life had been hell as a child, until, at fifteen years old, I was taken to my grandfather’s house and shown the tiny dolls house furniture he had made. Ever after that I had taught myself everything I could about fine woodworking and model making, so that when I was nineteen I was earning a living making furniture for dolls houses in the garden shed of my parents’ home. Soon afterwards I bought a place of my own, with a state-of-the-art workshop, and continued honing my craft and expanding my sales around the world.
The only other thing in my life was my love for all animals, and I had filled my home with dogs and cats. But they had all aged and died over the years, and my last dog, Wolfie, a wonderful golden Labrador, had passed away a month ago, and my heartbreak had been such that I couldn’t bear to get another pet, and ultimately have to face another loss.
I was getting old, and I had no one who cared if I lived or died. Maybe death was my best option?
I had my savings and the pension, so at least money wasn’t a worry. But how would I even pass the time? My work had been my life, and without my work, was life really worth living?
Suddenly I realised that a seagull had landed beside me on the bench. Looking closer, I noticed that its wing seemed to be injured and it seemed to be in discomfort, hardly able to move.
I’ve always had an instinctive feeling or rapport when any animal was suffering and if I had had the brains I would have loved to have trained to be a vet.
I picked up my smart phone, googled, couldn’t find a vet, but managed to find an animal sanctuary that was nearby. I phoned them, gave them directions, and waited, hating to see the poor animal suffering, stroking his poor little head with my fingertip. What was a seagull doing so far inland, I wondered? And why had he chosen me to sit beside?
But it had happened before – sick animals gravitated towards me, perhaps sensing a fellow suffering soul. I closed my eyes and leaned back.
A woman arrived and sat down next to the injured bird, hardly even noticing it.
“Are you Timothy Ebbennwold?” she demanded bluntly, setting down a camcorder, and turning it towards me. “The man who’s just won the ‘Miniaturist of the Year Award’ at the conference at the Town Hall not long ago? The Ugly Dwarf?”
“The Ugly Dwarf, yes.” I nodded. “That’s me.”
“I’m Kate Scimitar,” she went on, hardly noticing the hurt in my features as she said the words ‘Ugly Dwarf’… “I’m a reporter, you may have seen me on TV. I’d like to interview you if you have time. I’m filming us now.”
The name was familiar, as was her face. I had indeed seen her many times on TV, reporting from war-torn communities, and other hell holes from all over the world. She was middle aged now, but she was still as beautiful as she had been in her twenties, with her faultless skin, striking features, beautifully enunciated voice and lovely trim figure.
“I’ve been at the dolls’ house makers’ conference in town, and heard your acceptance speech, and your news about your health issues. How does it feel now that you can never do your work again?” she asked relentlessly, relishing my discomfort. “I’ve read that your work isn’t just your occupation, it means everything to you. Life must be hardly worth living now. How can you face the future?”
“I don’t know,” I told her, fighting back the tears. “I really don’t know.”
“And you’re completely alone, aren’t you?” she went on, twisting the knife. “You’ve never been married, and you’ve lived alone all of your life.”
She was about to push the seagull off the seat.
“Don’t do that, can’t you see he’s injured!” I jumped up and yelled at her, so loudly that she sat back in surprise. “I’ve called the animal rescue centre, and they’re on their way. I think his wing is injured.”
“But seagulls are just a nuisance, aren’t they?” she went on. “Why do you care?”
And then I saw something that I had never realised before in the countless interviews I’d seen her do on television.
I knew that I was ugly and revolting on the outside. But she was repellent on the inside. She was cold as ice, totally and utterly heartless.
And in a strange flash of insight I realised that she wasn’t simply being tactless with her questions, she was deliberately goading me, hoping I would burst into tears, since that would make good TV.
Then I remembered her news reports, how lifeless they had seemed when she reported on people’s deaths and suffering, how cold and robot-like her reporting had always been. Now I knew that her cold hard detachment from others, the very thing that had made her a top-notch reporter, was what made her an appalling human being.
“Do you know, Timothy, when I first saw you here, sitting with your eyes closed, my first thought was that you had died,” she went on, oblivious to my mood. “You really looked as if you were dead.”
“And that would have made a good story for you, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes,” she agreed without even hesitating. “It certainly would have done.”
“Sorry I can’t oblige.”
A couple of men arrived from the animal rescue centre, and we ignored Kate as we carefully lifted the poor chubby seagull into a special plastic box, and he hardly protested. They assured me that as soon as they got him back to their centre their vet would take a look at him, and they’d try to get him to eat.
I was delighted when they agreed to let me go with them in the van, and they told me as we chatted that they always needed volunteers. ..
And I suddenly realised that there had to be animal rescue centres all around the country, and most of them were bound to need volunteer help.
As we drove off, I watched Kate Scimitar, talking into her camcorder, no doubt rambling on about my concern for the seagull and what a tragedy it was that I would never again be able to do the work I loved. She would probably entitle her interview as: The Ugly Dwarf saves a seagull
And suddenly, absurdly, I felt sorry for her.
Because in that moment she looked even more solitary than I did.
My faults were on the outside, right there in your face, for everyone to see.
Whereas Kate’s emotional vacuum was concealed by her beauty, and her hidden disability was every bit as debilitating as mine was, sealing her in a lonely bubble forever.
The seagull in his box looked up at me and in his stare I had a strange feeling, as if I could share his pain, was melting into his mind, and that he was aware that I wanted to help him. . .
I had the feeling he was going to make a full recovery.
And so was I.