There was once a city on a hill in a country far away, and in that city lived a tailor, whose name was Henry Musk.
Every day (except for Sunday), Henry Musk would wake with the sun and dress in his smart spats, his sober black frock coat, his stiff white collar and his pristine white cravat. He would spend exactly two minutes polishing his half moon spectacles, and exactly two minutes buffing his elegant top hat. Every day, Henry Musk took time to trim his full beard, plucking and tucking until, no matter how hard he looked, he could not see a single hair out of place. Every day, Henry Musk would open the little shop downstairs at precisely eight o’clock, beginning a brand new page in his big black ledger for the day to come, and every day the shop would close at precisely five o’clock.
And every night, locked up tight in his starched white nightshirt, Henry Musk would sleep and dream of Raggedyann.
In every single dream, Raggedyann was different. Once, she was a small blonde lady, with an elaborate coiffure and a powdered, china-doll face. Once, she was a heavy-set Mediterranean woman, with dark olive skin and a throaty laugh. Sometimes she looked to Henry Musk like someone he might have known when he was younger, for Henry Musk recalled, with no little embarrassment, that he had been young once. Sometimes, Raggedyann looked like a stranger, distant and unknown and quite, quite fascinating. But whatever she looked like, she was always Raggedyann.
Henry Musk had always known that Raggedyann was his, and his alone. She could not belong to anyone else, for he dreamed her into being each night, and locked each little portrait of her tight within his starched white heart. And he knew, as people will know such things, that one day Raggedyann would walk into his little shop, and that she would never, ever leave. Henry Musk slept and dreamed, woke and dressed, polished and trimmed and waited for Raggedyann.
One day, at almost half past eleven, the bell over the door of Henry Musk’s little shop rang once. Henry Musk looked up as the door closed, and saw Raggedyann. He was not surprised, for he had known for a very long time that she would come. Henry Musk closed his big black ledger, and smiled at her, and said,
“Excuse me, madame. Might I enquire… how much for that splendid coat?”
The customer was surprised at this, for wasn’t she the one to buy things here? But Henry Musk was smiling at Raggedyann, and asked again, and so the customer named a price. It was twice what the coat was truly worth, but Henry Musk handed over every penny without a blink.
That day Henry Musk closed his little shop at twelve o’clock, noon precisely, and took the coat upstairs. He hung it on the hat stand next to his bedroom door and sat on the bed opposite, his hands folded across his lap, just looking. The coat was made of the softest brown leather, with shining steel buckles on the belt : it was ankle-length, with varnished wooden buttons on wide lapels, and a rich scarlet silk lining. But all Henry Musk saw was Raggedyann.
Henry Musk sat and looked at Raggedyann for the longest time, and then he sighed to himself, just once, and took the coat down from the hatstand. He folded it once across his arm, and went downstairs to his little workshop behind the tailor’s shop.
In his workshop, Henry Musk laid the coat out onto the bench and stared at it, deep in thought. And then he began. It was easy, because he had been waiting for a very long time, and so knew all of the details and all of the measurements just so. Henry Musk cut and trimmed the coat until it lay in brown and scarlet pieces along his bench. Then he buffed and polished the scraps of soft leather until they gleamed shyly in the lamplight. Henry Musk stopped for a moment, and would have smiled, ever so slightly, had he remembered how.
And then he bent his head and began to stitch.
As he shaped and moulded the leather with thread and needle, Henry Musk brought out each and every little portrait locked tight in his starched white heart, and sewed a fragment into the leather. A piece here, and a piece there, until there were no more portraits, and until every curve and corner of Raggedyann lay, shining dully, on his workbench.
Then Henry Musk stopped, and lay down the tools of his trade. He looked down at Raggedyann and closed his eyes, as though deep in prayer (but Henry Musk had forgotten how). And then he opened them again, and picked Raggedyann up as though she were a doll, and carried her up the stairs and back into his room. And then he closed and locked the door.
And in his room, Henry Musk took Raggedyann and did terrible things. For all of the portraits of Raggedyann that had been locked up tight within his starched white heart were now stitched and sewn into soft brown leather and scarlet silk, and there was nothing of Raggedyann left there at all.
When he had finished every terrible thing, Henry Musk picked up Raggedyann and hung her in his wardrobe, suspended by her wrists and neck. And then he laughed to himself as though he was happy, and closed the door, and because it was now late, Henry Musk went to bed. And dreamed of Raggedyann.
Before that night, Henry Musk had dreamed of Raggedyann and she had been different each and every time, a patchwork of people and personalities. But the dream he had that night was not the same. Henry Musk stood in his smart spats, his sober frock coat and his pristine white cravat. He wore his half-moon spectacles and his elegant top hat, and not a single hair was out of place in his full beard. And before him was his own bed, and on his bed lay Raggedyann.
Henry Musk stood at the foot of his bed for the longest time, and stared at Raggedyann. He stared at the dull gleam of her skin, and her short, blunted limbs, at the buttons of her eyes and the buckles of her ears, and at the flash of scarlet silk at the base of her belly. Henry Musk stood for the longest time, and thought her hideous beyond hideous. He would have shuddered, but a voice spoke to him, very softly, from just next to his ear, a warm whisper.
“Do you know who I am?” it asked, and Henry Musk shook his head.
“Raggedyann,” the voice breathed out, as though it was happy, tickling his ear.
Henry Musk opened his mouth, but the voice went on whispering warmly in his ear.
“I cannot rise to greet you, for when you made me you made my arms and legs as stumps, and they are useless to me.” Henry Musk was again about to speak, but the voice went on.
“And I cannot speak to greet you, for when you made me you gave me no mouth, and I am mute.”
The voice whispering warmly in Henry Musk’s ear paused. And then,
“But I feel every breath of wind through my tight leather skin. And it is so very tight. Won’t you loosen my skin?”
At this, Henry Musk moved forward and took up a pair of heavy iron scissors, and snipped – first at one stitch, and then at another. And so the stitching began to loosen, and to unravel, until the leather gaped open, and with a rustle of scarlet silk, Raggedyann stepped out.
Henry Musk stared at her, and she was as she always had been. And Raggedyann said to him,
“When you dreamed me before, I danced for you. Why did you make me a skin with no feet to dance with?”
And Henry Musk had no reply. So she said,
“When you dreamed me before, I sang for you. Why did you make me a skin with no lips to sing with?”
And once again Henry Musk had no reply. So Raggedyann reached up, and took off his elegant top hat and his half-moon spectacles, and untied his pristine white cravat. She took off his sober frock coat and his smart spats, and then took up the pair of heavy iron scissors and snipped – first once, then twice. And so the stitching began to loosen, and to unravel, until the leather gaped open, and with a rustle of scarlet silk, Henry Musk stepped out.
And Raggedyann laid down the pair of heavy iron scissors and smiled at him warmly, as though she was happy. And then Henry Musk woke up.
Several days passed before anyone began to be concerned about Henry Musk. His little shop remained closed. Regular customers were forced to go elsewhere, and deliveries were left piled at the back door. Eventually, the police were called, and with no answer to their knocking, broke into Henry Musk’s little shop by a rear window. They found nothing but dust in the little shop, and nothing but tiny scraps of brown leather and scarlet silk in the little workshop. And in the room upstairs was a bed, and on that bed they found a doll about the size of a man, made of brown leather and scarlet silk, with buttons for eyes, and buckles for ears, and sheer unbroken leather where a mouth should be, and stumps for arms and legs. But of Henry Musk there was no sign at all.
When Henry Musk awoke, his room was full of smartly uniformed men, making notes and looking puzzled. He tried to sit up, but he could not move his arms and legs. He tried to speak, but no sound came from his mouth. Helpless, the bedclothes clammy against his back, he watched the uniformed men shake their heads, close their notebooks, and leave, one by one, until at last only one remained.
The smartly uniformed man stared down at Henry Musk, and for some reason looked very familiar to him – perhaps the poise of the head, of the cast of the eyes. Finally, the uniformed man sighed, and smiled an odd smile, as though he had nearly forgotten how. He bent, and gently stroked Henry Musk’s curiously unresponsive arm. The smartly uniformed man’s touch felt like polished leather, and Henry Musk felt a shudder pass through him. But the uniformed man did not seem to feel it. He lifted Henry Musk from the bed and carried him from the room as though he were a doll. And at last light dawned on Henry Musk, and he realised and he knew and he opened his mouth and he screamed. But of course he had no mouth, and so Henry Musk could not scream at all.
Nevertheless, he screamed. For the longest time.