If you’d seen Robert’s Repairs, you’d most likely think of it as a simple, small-town repair shop—the owner, Robert, just another typical grease monkey. In reality, there was much more to the shop and its owner.
The most interesting fact about Robert was that he could fix anything. I don’t remember when it started. One day, the people in my hometown found out that Robert was not a typical mechanic, but more of a jack of all trades. It made no difference to him if it was a car, a toy, household appliances or electronic devices. Good old Robert would fix it all. Something broke or was damaged? You brought it to Robert’s Repairs, and it was as good as new.
As a person too, Robert was fascinating. I remember that the first time I ever talked to him was when I got my bike back. The chain and the gears had all been entangled and damaged, so my parents brought it over to Robert. He told them to be back in a couple of days.
It was fixed entirely when I came back to the shop. He told me to be more careful while handling the gears. I was told to be sure to keep them sufficiently greased and oiled so that it wouldn’t happen again. I thanked him, and before I left, I asked how he was able to fix all the things that people would bring over to him. I had been interested in machines and mechanisms ever since I was little. You could say that, because of all the stories, Robert had become a sort of role model to me.
“It is simple,” he started to explain.
“Every mechanism, machine, or tool is made up of parts like this clock. See?”
He picked up a small clock he had found lying on his workbench.
“It doesn’t matter what it is. The bigger and more complex it is, the more parts there are, sure, but in the end, it is always the same principle.”
“What you do is disassemble it into all its parts.” With that, he opened the back of the clock to reveal the inner workings. He took out the various gears, springs, and other parts.
“Then, you have to find out which of them are broken, damaged, or causing problems. Take this one here.”
He held up a deformed spring.
“Now, you have to fix it or replace it and put it back together.”
Robert replaced the spring with a new one and put the clock back together with care. I stood there, dumbfounded.
For the nine-year-old me, it was as if I had found the Holy Grail. The biggest secret in the whole wide world had been revealed to me. Robert must have noticed because he started to laugh.
I am sure I must have just stood there, mouth agape, not saying anything.
From that day onward, I spent a lot of time at Robert’s shop. My parents knew and were happy about it. I had found a new hobby, and with luck, I’d be able to learn a thing or two.
In time, I grew to like Robert. Soon, I found out that he not only knew a lot about mechanics but also a variety of other topics. When he didn’t have to fix anything, he’d teach me about science, or he’d tell me things from history.
He even gave me a couple of his old books. Most were on math, but there were some on science and electronics, as well. I loved that stuff.
Robert was the smartest guy in the world to me. My opinion of him should get even higher.
One day a little boy with his pet came over to Robert’s shop. He was crying and said his kitty was sick and hurt, and he had no idea what to do or where to go. Robert, the good guy that he was, nodded and told the boy everything would be alright. He’d take care of it, and the boy should come back in a few days. It was precisely what he had told my parents when they had brought over my bike.
“What are you going to do with it?” I asked Robert once the boy was gone.
“Are you going to take it to the hospital or call the animal doctor?”
“No need for that,” he said in his ever happy and euphoric way.
“Nothing I can’t take care of myself.”
“What do you mean, Robert?”
I stared at him wondering what he was talking about.
“Remember what I told you before? That everything is made up of parts?”
“Well, it is the same with animals too. They are just big, organic machines. You find the broken parts, fix them, and they’ll be fine again.”
“But that’s not how animals work!” I said in protest.
“We’ll see about that, shall we?”
With that, he took the hurt little cat in his hands and walked towards a door at the back of the shop. I started to follow him.
“Now, hold on a second, Mark, will you?”
With that, he vanished behind the door. A few moments later, he was back, but without the cat.
“What did you do to it?”
“I put it somewhere safe. Can’t have the little guy in here with all the grease and dirt around, can we?”
“What’s behind the door?” I asked him and went forward to open it and see for myself.
Robert put his arm in front of me. “Sorry, but that’s top secret.”
I pouted and complained for quite a while, but Robert didn’t give in. In the end, I spend the rest of the afternoon helping him repair an old TV set and afterward made my way home. On the way, I was thinking about what he had told me.
That same evening during dinner, I asked my parents how you’d fix animals. They laughed and soon changed the topic to something else.
When I went to Robert’s shop again a few days later, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Right at the front porch was a little kitty, sleeping and purring without a worry in the world.
I recognized it right away as the one that the little boy had brought over the other day. I went closer to the kitty and carefully started to pet it. It opened its eyes, looked at me, and then rubbed its little head against my hand. The kitty was perfectly fine.
Robert saw me playing with it and gave me a thumbs-up.
“Good as new.”
“How did you do it, Robert?”
“Exactly the way I told you: I fixed the broken parts.”
I made a sour face at his simple answer, but Robert ignored it.
When the little boy came over, he cried tears of joy. His little friend was alright. His parents, who’d accompanied him, thanked Robert for saving the cat. Robert smiled and nodded. From that day onward, people would not only bring all sorts of items and appliances to Robert. No, they also started to bring their sick pets.
It seemed Robert really could fix anything. A cat with broken legs? She’d be fine a few days later. A limping dog? Same thing. A dying hamster? He’d be fit and full of life again in no time.
During this time, I was at the store even more often than before. There’d always be animals around to play with. It was only the healthy ones, though, the ones that Robert had already fixed, as he used to say. He kept all the others in what Robert called the top secret room. I had no idea what exactly he did with them in there or how he went about fixing them.
The thought of how Robert was doing all the things he did stayed on my young mind for a long time. Did Robert have a secret medicine that no one else knew about?
More than once did I try to sneak into the room, but either I found the door locked or Robert caught me. In time, I accepted it as the way things were supposed to be. The room was off limits.
My doubts about Robert were reawakened in the middle of the summer break. It was then that Robert did something that even I, as a kid, knew to be completely and utterly impossible.
It was a typical Saturday afternoon, and I spend it at Robert’s shop as usual. I was playing with a cat and waiting for Robert to fix up an old bike. He had promised to teach me a few more things about electronics once he was done.
My attention was drawn from the cat to a car that arrived out of nowhere and came to a stop with squealing tires. A crying woman jumped out of the passenger seat, followed by a man on the driver’s seat.
The woman came running over towards Robert.
“You have to save her!” she cried, tears streaming down her face.
Robert walked towards her, his expression serious in an instant.
The woman continued to talk to him, but I couldn’t make out most of it. I heard the words accident and car and then she was pleading him over and over to save her and to do it again. I didn’t understand what she was talking about. Robert motioned her to be quiet. Then he hurried over to the man who brought out the limp body of a little girl from the backseat.
“She was hit about ten minutes ago,” I heard the man say.
There was so much blood. It was everywhere. I was in shock and looked on wide-eyed. Her arms and legs were dangling from her body. She wasn’t moving at all. For a moment, I saw her face. Her eyes were completely empty.
“Go home for today, Mark. I’ll teach you another day,” he said to me as he motioned for the father to bring the girl inside.
I didn’t understand what was going on. Why did they bring the girl to Robert? I wanted to stay and started to follow them inside.
Robert noticed me after a few moments, and for the first time ever, he seemed to be mad at me.
“I told you to go home, Mark!” he yelled at me. It was the first time I had heard him like that. His voice had changed and was loud and serious, even a little frightening. I left right away.
I didn’t understand how he’d do it, but I already knew what was going to happen. The girl had been hurt, and her parents had brought her over so Robert would fix her.
Then, I told myself that it was stupid. They were there to call a hospital or a doctor. Animals were one thing, but humans are different, right? When I got home, I told my parents what had happened, but they only nodded, not really listening. They most likely didn’t believe me or didn’t understand what I was talking about. I must have been way too agitated.
I later heard the whole story of what had happened that day. The little girl’s name was Margaret Miller, and she was eleven years old. She was out with her parents. While they crossed the main street, she had dropped something. Without watching, she ran to get it. The driver of an oncoming car had no chance to stop in time, and she was run over. The people who saw it said that it was a terrible accident, and everyone was sure that the girl had died instantly.
That was when the parents took her and brought her over to Robert.
My skin started to crawl when I went over to Robert’s shop the next time. At first, I wasn’t sure, but soon, there was no mistaking it—a little girl was sitting on the bench in front of the store, beaming at me as I came closer. I stared at her wide-eyed for a moment.
“Who are you? Are you Robert’s daughter?”
“Hi! My name is Margaret,” she answered with a big smile and held her hand out to me.
While I shook her hand, I remembered the name. It was the same name as that of the little girl that had been hit by the car. What was this? I stammered something, unsure what to say. Before I spoke again, Robert, who had seen me, called me over.
“Mark, this is important. Don’t talk to her about anything you saw the other day, alright?”
“It is too early for her to remember something as scary as the accident.”
I nodded, but I felt as if this wasn’t the real reason.
“What did you do to her? Did you cure her?”
Or fix her, I thought, as he always referred to it for some reason.
“How did you do it?”
Robert smiled, and he gave me the same answer he had given me so many times before:
“You simply have to find the parts that are broken and fix them.”
That’s when I exploded at him. I had enough. Even at my age, I knew things weren’t as easy as he made them out to be.
“But that is not how it works! You can’t bring someone back to life by fixing their parts!”
Robert’s face changed to a soft and somewhat sad smile.
“You are right, Mark. Sometimes, there is no easy way to fix things. Sometimes, you have to replace all the parts that are irreparable.”
I didn’t understand what he was talking about at that time. Was he still talking about humans? Or was he talking about machines again? I was puzzled.
“It is like with this.” He turned away from me to find something to explain things. That’s when I saw my chance. I started to run for the door at the end of the shop. I pressed the handle, and with a loud noise that surprised even me, the door opened.
“Mark, what are you-” I heard Robert call out to me.
I came to a halt right away. I had no idea what I was seeing. To this day, I don’t know what the place I saw back then was exactly.
I saw futuristic machines and test tubes. There were various glass tanks and containers. Cabinets and computers lined the walls. An innumerable amount of cables connected it all together. The room stood in stark contrast to the rest of Robert’s shop. Everything else was dirty, greasy and old. This room here was new and clean, almost sterile.
In the middle of the room was a large table. Something was laying on it, covered by a large sheet of white cloth. I don’t know why, but I went forward and pulled. I saw a small white arm, then a shoulder, and finally a face. A female face.
It was right at that point that Robert reached me, pulled me away, and pushed me out of the room.
He was yelling at me, but I didn’t hear anything. I only saw it for a moment, but I knew whose face I had seen there. Once I had gathered myself, I confronted Robert.
“Why is she back there? She is outside, isn’t she?”
Robert’s expression changed again. The anger went away, and now his face showed a sad expression again.
“What do you do when something is broken beyond repair?”
I didn’t know. I couldn’t even think of an answer.
“In that case,” he said, “you have to replace the whole thing.”
It was this statement that freaked me out more than anything because I knew what he was implying. That little girl outside wasn’t Margaret Miller; she was a replacement. Robert didn’t say anything else or even try to stop me as I walked out.
I saw the little girl again. She was still where she had been when I had arrived. Her friendly but empty smile haunted me for the rest of the summer.
After that day, I never went back to Robert’s Repairs again. The place was wrong—unnatural. I never found out exactly what Robert had done, but I knew it was not normal.
As of this summer, that was more than ten years ago. I heard a lot more about Robert’s ordeals and antics throughout the years. There were other stories about more people he fixed. It was all so weird.
I mean, Robert never did anything wrong to anyone, but somehow, I knew that what he was doing was wrong.
Before you ask, yes, I told my parents about what I had seen, but they shrugged it off. They didn’t believe me and said I shouldn’t make up stories like that. The more I pleaded with them and assured them that what I’d seen was true, the more they ignored me.
It was right after I finished high school that I left town, and with it, Robert’s Repairs, behind. I couldn’t stay there anymore.
I am in a bigger city now, and I am going to college. I am majoring in the STEM field, which, I hate to admit, is due to Robert’s influence on me as a kid.
I recently visited my parents. We talked a lot about old memories and went through a couple of photo albums of my middle and high school years. It made me feel quite nostalgic.
Later that evening, after my parents had already gone to bed, I decided to have a look at a couple of the older albums. I remembered that my parents pretty much had created one for every year of my life. The first thing I noticed was that one of the albums was thinner than the rest. I was eight years old at the time. I looked through it and saw that it went from melting snow and early spring right to pictures of autumn.
The next day, I asked my mother about it and where the pictures of my eighth birthday were. She told me I had been very sick that year and had stayed at the hospital for some time. Her eyes betrayed her. She was never good at lying, and I noticed it right away. Even after calling her out on it, she insisted that it was true.
I tried to think back. Had I ever stayed at a hospital? I couldn’t remember anything like it. I thought back to my school days. I would have been in second grade back then. For some reason, I couldn’t pinpoint much about this time… or anything before it, for that matter. I felt cold all of a sudden.
I had seen the albums filled with pictures of me in kindergarten. I had seen me on my first day of school and during first grade.
Even when I tried my hardest, though, I couldn’t recall anything about it. It was as if all my memories before second grade were missing. Had I suffered a concussion and lost all my memory?
At that moment, something came back to me—the smell of oil and grease… the sound of machines and tools. There it was—the memory of sitting on a bench and my parents running towards me and hugging me. What were those images? Was it at the hospital? If so, why was I outside?
Then it hit me. The grease. The oil. The bench I was sitting on.
It was same as the little girl who had been sitting on the bench in front of Robert’s shop. It was precisely the same image, only that I saw it through my eyes. I had been sitting there too, on the same bench, waiting as well.
I was shaking now because I understood. This must have been when I was in second grade, almost a year before I had been visiting Robert regularly.
Long before Robert had fixed that little girl, he had fixed me too. That’s why her mother had been pleading him to do it again.
I had been fixed by Robert as well. The only question was:
What exactly had he done to me?