The attic was dark as a tomb and thick with dust. The little bear tried to inhale as little of it as possible, but it was no good; the dust was everywhere. It clung to his fur turning the once golden hairs grey. It stuck inside his plastic nose and made him sneeze unless he breathed through his mouth, and then it would cling to his throat and send him into a coughing fit. Instead it was best to just lie there (you don’t have to breathe much when you don’t move) and make tiny inhalations through pursed stitching whenever necessary. The dust also collected on his eyes somehow making the darkness even darker. He would wipe it off from time to time, but the static from his rubbing would just attract more dust and before long he had decided it was futile.
Around the little bear were boxes and boxes of discarded miscellany, they towered over him like ancient ruins. He could see his forgotten kingdom whenever the split in the insulation and the crack in the roof tiles aligned with the sun. The sliver of light cast would pass over the cardboard monoliths, illuminating the attic ever so slightly before disappearing and plunging his domain back into blackness.
The little bear had no idea how long he had been up there in the dusty darkness, but he supposed it had been a very long time. The only form of calendar he had was the light, and that had come and gone so many times that counting had lost all logic.
It didn’t matter anyway; he was broken, worn out beyond repair. Worse still, he was no longer needed. That was why he really up there in the black. There was no space for him downstairs anymore, and no reason for him to be there.
Lying in the dust, his only consolation was thinking of his time with her. He would drift into his memories and relive their life together. As he was unboxed in his dreams, the little girl’s face would light up in exactly the same way every time, so full of excitement and instantaneous love. Of course, it had been love at first sight for him too. He had never imagined he would be so lucky to have such a beautiful and creative for his first owner whilst he was waiting to be bought in the shop. Yet there she was, gently unwrapping him. Before he knew it, she had removed his packaging and was holding him close to her chest; so close he could hear her heart beating.
They had been inseparable during those first years of perpetual sunshine and playtime. When her parents took them on picnics, the little bear would sit on the riverbank and watch as she splashed around in the shallows, trying to catch fish or building dams. Watching her then, so happy and free, sent a feeling of contentment spreading outwards from his cotton heart, warm as the sun that softly baked his fur as he sat beside the gurgling river. It was the kind of sensation so wonderful that when you’re in that moment, you feel like it will never end.
How the little bear had loved playtime too. The little girl was so imaginative and energetic, anything was possible! Hide and seek, tag, cowboys, knights. No matter the job description, he was there as her faithful sidekick; through hell and highwater, through the mud and the rain. After those particularly messy games, she would sit and watch at the porthole as he tumbled over and over inside the washer, whisking him out as soon as the drier dinged and cuddling him tightly in his warm and fluffy new state.
She would take him on walks through the forest near the house and tell him all about her life, her hopes and dreams, where she was headed. He couldn’t wait to be there with her when she became the first woman to walk on Mars, or the first Queen of England not directly descended from the current bloodline. Her future was so bright, and he had basked in it, as certain of his part in it all as he was in her potential to do whatever she wanted.
But the future had come and now there he lay in the dark. As the years had drawn on, she paid him less and less attention. Their playtime dwindled and eventually vanished. She no longer took him on those long walks and he was left at home during the family picnics. Instead, he would spend his days in her room, still in prime position at the head of her bed. For a while after the games stopped, she would still hold him close at night and the darkness became his favourite time. He would lie there in her arms and listen to her breath deepen, feel her warmth, share in her peacefulness.
There was no warmth in the darkness of the attic, no peace to be shared. All had been replaced by permanent solitude and weakness. She had loved him so hard during the height of their time that she had worn his fur thin, made him come loose at the seams. But she had outgrown him, and one day realised that she didn’t need him to sleep anymore. On that revelation he had been relegated to the floor under the bed. Then, during a big clear-out by her mother, he had been placed in the attic to gather dust with all the other things she no longer needed.
The little bear dared not move up there either, for fear that the damage to his stitching and threadbare pelt would worsen, unravel him and leave nothing but rags and fluff. So, he just lay there, dreaming of her and listening to the murmurings of life continuing in the house below him; all the while gathering dust.
One day, around mid-afternoon (he knew it was about that time because the light was cast on the north-west side of the attic), the little bear was startled out of his daydream by a loud noise. A great thud rocked the attic and shook a little dust from the rafters and boxes around him. He sat, paralysed in terror, glass-like eyes freshly cleared and fixed on the spot the thud had come from. A second thud came, louder than the first. Then a third, quickly followed by a loud bang as the attic was flooded with a blinding light. The bear, dazed and terrified, blinked into the light, trying in vain to recover his sight. Through the spotted haze, he saw a box float up through the floor, not a speck of dust on it. The dustless box drifted into the attic and loomed over him. The little bear would have screamed if the dust lining his throat had allowed him to. Through his horror, he noticed two slender hands wrapped around each side of the box. The hands lowered the box to its eternal resting place and behind it she rose, a giantess in his kingdom.
The little bear’s cotton heart fluttered to a stop, he could not believe his eyes. She was taller, her chest fuller and her facial features more defined, but it was her! There wasn’t a doubt in his mind. All the love that had been but a dream for so long came flooding back in, filling him to the brim. He wanted to jump for joy, to sing and laugh and hold her and breathe her in through the dust, to never let her go.
The girl stood before him, in all her newfound beauty, surveying the ruins of his castle with casual curiosity. He begged her to notice him, implored her from the depth of his being, through his dustless beads. But she was already turning to go back the way she had come. The little bear’s heart sank.
Just before her head disappeared through the floor, she stopped, as if something had just occurred to her, some revelation. She pivoted on the step and looked straight at the little bear sat alone in the dust. A glimmer of the love she once had for him flashed across her eyes and she ascended the stairs back into the attic. She stood directly above the bear, a nostalgic smile spreading across her plump lips. Her eyes softened, and she bent down to get a good look at her once most treasured toy.
This was it, the little bear was certain. Now she would pick him up and take him with her back downstairs, back down to the warmth of her bed, back to the picnics and summertime walks and games. Back to the sun. But as she reached out for him, her hand hesitated and stopped. She ran one delicate finger over his fur and brought it up for inspection before blowing a little cloud of dust from the tip. Her face scrunched up a little as she wiped the finger on her jeans. Giving the little bear one last glance, she went back to the trapdoor, thudded down the stairs and slammed the attic back into darkness.
That was it, the little bear was certain now. She had no more love for him beyond the twinkling of memory the sight of him had stirred in her. She did not spend nights wishing he was there in bed with her to cuddle, or dream of the walks and playtime he cherished so much. She had forgotten him, moved on. Whilst she had been growing up and becoming a woman, he had just sat there and become so clogged with dust that she could barely bring herself to touch him, let alone take him back into her life.
His heart shattered, and the bear groaned and shuffled on the spot, sprinkling a little dust from his shoulders. With great discomfort, he took the deepest breath he had taken in a very long time and gave out an almighty cough which sent a mushroom cloud of grey powder exploding from his stitched mouth. He twisted and prepared himself. What did it matter if he fell apart now anyway? With a great tear, the little bear hauled himself from the spot that had been his world for so long and stood up tall. Dust cascaded from his fur like fine winter rain.
In his moment of boldness, the bear forgot his pain, such was his surprise at his new position. Movement had not caused him to fall apart and now he stood gazing in dumbfounded wonder at his surroundings. His wandering eyes landed on the attic’s new addition and he paused, considering the possibilities it held. Tentatively, he reached out a threadbare paw and placed it before the other, doing the same with the other and repeating the process until he was beside the pristine box. With a popping at his sides he reached his front paws up and hoisted himself onto the box.
From his pedestal the bear could see far more of the attic than his space on the floor had allowed. There were not just dusty old boxes up there after all, but all manner of things; old Christmas decorations and plastic plants, an obsolete television, racks of clothes and piles of books, a long mirror propped up in the corner and an impressive model train-set, complete with a little town, a mountain and trees. The bear looked at his newfound grotto in amazement, his imagination set ablaze.
As he shuffled towards the edge of the box, he felt his platform start to buckle. The box was unsealed. Gingerly, the bear bent down and lifted the flap open. Inside were a thousand swatches of coloured fabric held together by little pieces of string. Forgetting himself, the bear dropped down into the box to sift through them; they were marvellous! As he reached the third or fourth layer, the bear heard a quiet tinkling sound coming from below; metal on plastic. He reached down and brought up a miniature sewing kit, complete with needles, multi-coloured thread and a small pair of scissors. It suddenly occurred to the bear, that he did not want to fall apart and turn to nothing. He wanted to live.
Over the next few days, when the light would allow, the bear set about his work. He moved very slowly so as not to further damage himself and had never sewed before, so it was laborious, trial and error work.
First, he stitched his arms and legs back on until they felt firm and strong. Next, he worked on the seams at his sides that had come loose. Once he felt stable enough that he wouldn’t unravel through exertion, he began sorting through the pieces of fabric in the box, setting his favourites to one side. He measured the choice swatches against the parts of himself that had thinned and become bare and started to cut the fabric to size. Finally, he began fixing his new pelt right on top of the old one, using the long mirror in the corner when necessary.
Onto his stomach and chest, he stitched a vibrant blue and red tartan. On his left arm, a smooth purple velvet, fluffy pink on the right. His legs became a patchwork of denim and corduroy, all different shades of blue and mustard. And onto his back (which had proved tricky indeed!), black faux-leather with little studs across the shoulder-blades. For the top of his head, the bear found a piece of soft, daffodil-yellow silk, reminiscent of his old pelt; he stitched it down between his ears with a little widow’s peak at the front.
As the bear dug through the samples, more and more caught his eye; he had to have them. So, he cut and stitched, measured and fit, until his entire body was covered, from the tops of his ears to the tips of his paws.
After many days had past, the bear stood before the mirror, admiring his handiwork. He was resplendent, a whole new bear! No longer was he sad and dull with dust; he was vivacious, utterly unique. He turned to look at the back and flexed to test the strength of the stitching. It was fine work, particularly on the later sections. Behind himself in the mirror, the bear noticed the dusty boxes of his forgotten kingdom. With a newfound confidence and peaking curiosity, he strode towards them. He nimbly swung himself onto the nearest box and, using the fabric scissors, sliced open the decrepit parcel tape which cracked apart as the scissors slid through it.
When he looked inside, the bear felt like his cotton heart might explode from his chest with excitement; the box was full of toys! They were all shapes and sizes, makes and types. Little plastic cars spun their long dormant wheels, a pair of cloth dolls peered up at him through dusty button eyes. There was Malibu Barbie, Sunset Barbie, even a Ken! There were little musical instruments, sketchpads and paints, games and puzzles and so many new friends for the bear to share it all with.
The bear helped hoist the long-boxed toys out and into his attic and they stood embracing in disbelief, relieved to be free. Where the dolls were a little threadbare themselves, the little bear patched them up with their choice of fabric. He made new clothes for the Barbies and Ken and went about bending the little cars’ wheels back into place and used WD-40 from another box to stop them creaking.
Fixed and free, the toys set their sights on the attic itself. Using some cleaning supplies, they had found in another of the dusty boxes, they cleaned the attic from floor to ceiling until there was barely a speck of dust to be found. They widened the hole in the insulation to allow more light in and, for the first time in years, felt the sun. The toys adorned the rafters with Christmas decorations, wrapping tinsel around them and hanging baubles from the tinsel. They moved the plastic plants into prime position to give a sense of nature. At one side of the attic, they set out the trainset for the cars to drive around; they were the perfect size to speed around the little town and rush through the tunnel. Finally, out of the old clothes and a few boxes, the toys made a big bed where they could all sleep cuddled up together when the night extinguished their light.
From then on in the attic, it was playtime all the time for the toys. They loved each other and took care of their space, blocking off the trapdoor with the heavy television so no one could take it from them. The little bear still sometimes thought of the girl, though it no longer broke his heart to do so. Whenever she slipped back into his mind, he felt a fondness for her, like the sweet smell of autumn drifting past your window. He hoped that wherever she was, and whoever she was playing with, she was happy and fulfilling the potential he was so certain of when they had been together. But now, just as she no longer needed him to sleep, so he no longer needed her to feel alive.
The discarded toys lived happily in the attic for the rest of their days, until the house was sold in 2005 and bulldozed to make way for a new car-park.