Eleven bears, dangling by eleven freshly cleaned ears, dance in perfectly choreographed formation. Twenty one eyes catch the lowering sun, blindly looking for their owner. He’s inside, upstairs in his bedroom, playing with his old collection of Zerby Derby vehicles. One final car chase, before he parks them in the collection box. Just like the bears outside, the cars have remained trapped in time. Henry has outgrown them; they have stayed the same. And his mum, who bought everyone of them, has fertilised that growth in a way that only mothers can. Supporting him as he turned eleven, but sad that he’s no longer ‘her little boy’.
Mum is standing quietly in the hallway, watching him from the shadows. She’s enjoying the memories of them both racing the cars across the carpets. Halcyon days recollected; before the iPhone destroyed the need for her to participate in his games.
Downstairs, she picks up the charity bag and goes outside to gather the bears. They smell fresh, washed clean of all Henry’s past emotions. His friends during nightmares, the doctors healing his bruises and broken heart, at times of sorrow. The soft filling is now ready to soak up the worries of new owners.
As she unclips One Eye’s ear from the plastic washing line, a rye smile creeps across her face. When Henry had to stay in hospital for over a week, One Eye had stayed at home and slept in her spacious bed. One Eye absorbed her streams of fearful tears; suffered squeezes tighter than a child could bear; listened patiently to her prayers. One Eye had certainly been laundered, but the deep stained memories hadn’t all been washed away.
Henry pushes the kitchen door open with his foot, then, with a thud, dramatically drops his box of toys. Pride is oozing from him. ‘Unwanted toys ready for delivery,’ he announces.
‘Good job, Hen. Those refugees will have as much fun with them as you did.’
Smiling, he runs out of the room and pulls a red Zerby Derby car from his pocket.
‘I’m going to keep one,’ he shouts as he charges back upstairs. He’s still a child; and will be for a long time.
Mum looks down at the collection of bears and pulls out One Eye. ‘And I’m going to keep one too,’ she says quietly to herself. She kisses his stitched nose and makes a promise to buy him a new eye. ‘Then we can both watch Henry grow even bigger. And you can help me when the time comes that I am also surplus to requirements.’
She pushes Henry’s box away from the middle of the floor and turns to One Eye. ‘What shall we do for tea?’ she asks.
She’s still a mum; and will be for a long time.


Originally published: Mum’s Life Stories (third place)