Our new Short Story of the Month is ‘Dolls’ Hospital’ by Christopher Morley.
A young boy’s persistent curiosity sets him on an adventure to the mysterious Doll’s Hospital, in which he learns that not only dolls need mending.
Christopher Morley was born in Nottingham in 1946.
He is a retired primary school teacher, a fine artist and short story writer.
This is an extract. Read the full short story for free on the Seren website.
The Dolls’ Hospital was at the top of Alfreton Road near to Canning Circus. I had been aware of it ever since we had taken to visiting friends at Bobber’s Mill. It was necessary to catch a trolley bus, and the stop was almost outside the Dolls’ Hospital. Waiting for the trolley bus gave me enough time to gaze at the window display. The Hospital was a shop front of one large window, a recessed entrance and a much smaller window. Boards obscured the interior of the premises but afforded shallow display areas. On display were mostly dolls and teddy bears. Some were bandaged or had an arm in a sling. One teddy with a leg in plaster was propped up on a crutch. Some dolls wore old fashioned nurses’ outfits and tended patients in shoe-box beds. The main fascination for me was the small group of lead soldiers that represented the Army Medical Service. A wounded redcoat was being carried by blue tunic stretcher bearers towards a Florence Nightingale figure waiting at the entrance to a white medical tent. I wondered if there were more soldiers to be seen inside, but the Hospital was never open when I was there. There was a notice on the drawn down door blind that said that the hours were 9:30am to 5pm, with a lunch break between 12:30 and 1:30. Also the Hospital was open only Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We visited our family friends on Saturdays. Anyway I didn’t have an excuse to go inside because I had no dolls that needed treatment, and I would never dare just go in for a look.
Mrs Hilton said that it would be nice to hear some diary entries read out. I shrank down hoping I wasn’t chosen, not because I couldn’t write or because I was nervous of reading aloud. I never seemed to have anything suitable to write about. Playing at soldiers and going to the cinema with my parents seemed so commonplace. Julia Billington was eager to read her diary. It was a sad account of her pet Chow-Chow who chewed off an arm belonging to her favourite doll. I sat up. I resolved to speak with her on the way home.
I caught up with Julia and Lorraine. Lorraine glared at me when I broke the rules and spoke to Julia. Julia beamed and listened.
‘You can get your doll’s arm mended at the Doll’s Hospital.’
When I told her where it was her ready smile faded. She had no idea where Alfreton Road was, and her parents wouldn’t let her go far without a suitable escort.
‘I could take you next week, it’s the holiday.’
Lorraine’s eyes bored into me. Julia resumed her smile and agreed to meet me at the bus terminus opposite her house on Tuesday to catch the 9:40 into town.
I fretted about this adventure all weekend, but was reassured when I saw Julia waiting beside the Number 19 with a parcel under arm. We sat downstairs on the left so as to be ready to get off. She peeled back the brown paper enough to show where the missing arm should be.
‘I told my Mother I was going to play with Mickey Hazeldine. What did you say?’
‘Oh, I said I was going to look at new dolls in Beeston with Lorraine. I’m allowed to go to Beeston if I’m with a friend. Lorraine’s really gone to her cousin’s.’
The conductor was looming with his ticket machine. It was the one that my Mother said was lairy. He certainly was full of himself.
‘Two halves to Canning Circus, please.’
He grinned as he wound out the tickets, ‘Family outing is it?’
‘Yes,’ replied Julia, ‘We are taking baby to the hospital. She’s got polio.’
The conductor backed off. Julia was quick. Being a redhead she had had plenty of practice batting off silly remarks.
We got off just after the Drill Hall where the Territorial Soldiers met. It was only a couple of minutes’ walk around Canning Circus to get onto Alfreton Road. As soon as we turned the corner we could see the sign for the Dolls’ Hospital standing out from the wall. It was just about ten o’clock. There was a light on in the Hospital, much to my relief. The door pinged when I pushed it open.
Continue reading ‘Dolls’ Hospital’ for free here.