Byron saw the family hurrying to the car. The driver was calling, “quick you mob! We gotta leave now. That shop will close for lunch.”
He watched as the car pulled away. He spluttered as the dust swept over him. It was hot lying out there in the desert sun. If only he could reach that blanket that the family had left lying on the ground. He might be able to hook up some shelter. But Byron realised, with a sigh, that he could only move if someone helped him.
Byron lay there all day waiting for the little boy to come back and pick him up.
He lay there as the sun climbed high overhead. He wished he could close his little black almond eyes. The hot sun was relentless.
He was still there when the sun began to set low in the western sky. He could just see his hands washing over with yellow, then pink then a deep, deep red. The sky above him turned purple, dark blue then indigo. Byron began to feel very, very lonely.
As the night grew black and quiet Byron began feeling a little bit frightened. He had never been by himself before, not since he’d been placed in a box and put on the shelf in the toy section of the big store. He thought about the day the family had taken him off the shelf, the little boy roughly pulling at the cardboard to get him out of the box. Byron had felt very happy to be swinging by his arm in the little boy’s hand. He liked the little boy.
It had been a long drive to his new home. There were lots of people in the car. Kids were yelling and grown-ups were talking and Byron was so happy, even when the little boy’s big sister had sat right on top of him.
Sometimes the family lived in a house. Sometimes they took a mattress and some blankets and got some food from the store in a big brown paper bag. Then they sat down out in the bush, away from the other people, and they stayed there all night.
The kids played in the dark laughing and sometimes fighting while the grown-ups found wood and lit a fire. The dogs sniffed and growled and yowled and howled, sometimes ripping at each other with their big, yellow teeth. But they didn’t bother Byron. He liked watching all this.
But now, he was out here on his own under the big, star-filled sky. It was getting cooler and he could hear something moving in the dark. Byron was pleased that he could only lie very still because that way, he hoped that whatever it was would just go away.
Byron lay there for many days and nights. He realised that the family were not coming back for him. The blanket had been lifted by the wind many days ago. Byron could just see part of it, covered in red sand and the dead leaves that had blown from the tree under which the family had sat during those happy days and nights.
Ants in wide black lines hurried over him throughout the day and into the night. Sometimes they got inside his clothes, biting at him before finding a way back out where they joined the busy colony. Byron wished with all his heart that he could move.
Just as the sun was coming up one morning he heard pat, pat, pat, pat, and puff, puff, puff, puff. Coming behind this sound Byron heard an uneven scritch, scritch, scritch, scritch and a hahh, hahh, hahh, hahh. Angling his little black eyes as far as he could, he saw that there was a man, running down the track that the family had driven away on. Trailing behind him was a blue dog with a long, wet, pink tongue lolling out one side of his mouth. The man ran right past Byron without seeing him. The dog saw everything but he only cared to follow the man.
Another day he saw some boys and girls walking past. The boys were kicking and running with a football. The girls were laughing and chasing the boys, trying to get the ball from them.
One of the kids saw the discarded camp and ran right up to where Byron lay staring up at the sky. Reaching across Byron the girl picked up a hair brush that had been left behind. She called to her friends, laughing, then tossed the hairbrush across the road before running after the other kids. Byron sighed and waited for the day to cool into night once more.
One day, as Byron gazed up at the sky, he saw the mail plane flying lower and lower until he heard it land at the airstrip a long way back down the road. He wondered if the little boy was somewhere watching the same plane.
One night he saw the flying doctor plane all lit up like a spacecraft. He hoped the little boy wasn’t being flown away to Alice Springs hospital.
Byron did not know how long he had been there the day all the clouds began gathering in the sky. Byron loved the big sky. He loved those days when some clouds blocked out the sun from his sore eyes. But this day the clouds were huge and grey and black. Byron saw the lightning before the thunder rolled across the sky, like a thousand drums being beaten at the same time.
Byron waited for the rain to fall. First one big drop fell right into one eye. Then another hit him on the nose. Then it was like someone throwing buckets of water over him. It rained and it rained and Byron thought he might be washed right out onto the track. But instead, he just sank further and further into the sodden red dirt.
The next day the sun came out hot and bright again. Byron’s arms and legs had been covered in wet sand and red earth but now the sand began drying into red/brown clumps that sat hard all over his little body. He wished he could move, even just a little, and brush off his clothes which were now the same colour as his dirt stained face and hands. But Byron could only lie back and gaze at the sky.
Then one early morning Byron realised there was a woman staring at him and smiling. “Look at you,” she said, taking out her phone camera. “They left you behind, little bear.” Byron realised then that he must be so dirty and stained that the woman mistook him for a teddy bear. He wanted to say, “I’m not a bear! I’m a mouse! My name is Byron! And I need someone to get me out of here!” But the woman heard nothing. She took photos of him, lying there in the dirt. Then singing a little song to herself she walked on down the track. “It’s a lovely day today…” she sang, her voice getting fainter and fainter. Byron sighed and a very small salty tear ran from the corner of his hot, dry almond eye.
Byron thought he might just fade away and become part of the earth. In fact, the day the camp dogs came in a pack he worried that fading into the earth might have been better for him. They sniffed around the old campsite, picking up bits of rubbish in their broken teeth before discarding anything that couldn’t be eaten. One skinny dog came right up to Byron with his long tongue hanging out, dripping spit right onto Byron’s nose. He could see the dog’s big, brown stained teeth as the dog nuzzled at Byron, trying to smell if Byron was something he might eat.
Byron was never so happy to be alone as when the dogs all moved off down the track again. He let out a sigh of relief and looked forward to the night so he could just gaze up at the stars and imagine himself floating through space. He didn’t mind being alone when he was using his imagination. It was like living two lives; one in the dirt and one anywhere he chose to imagine. Byron was very good at imagining.
He didn’t know how many weeks had passed when one early morning, once again, the woman was standing next to him. She leaned down and smiled at him and then, taking one very dirty little ear, she pulled him up out of the sandy cocoon that had formed about his little body. “Oh,” she said. “You’re a mouse, not a bear.”
She brushed him down as best she could and carried him all the way along the track, back to her little house by the school. Byron realised she was a school teacher.
The teacher put Byron into a big basin of water. “Oh,” she said, surprised. “You have clothes on!” Byron’s clothes were as dirty as Byron was. He and his clothes were all the same red brown dirt colour. The teacher took off his little jumper and his little pants. She washed as much dirt off as she could. Then she put Byron and his clothes into the washing machine and turned the dial to the delicate setting.
Byron and his clothes were hung out onto the line. Byron felt so fresh and clean that he didn’t even care that his ears were pinned to the line by bright pink, springy clothes pegs. The warm breeze moved him gently and he felt sure he must be smiling. It was so good to move again.
These days Byron lives with the teacher who came back and took him home. She moves him to a new place in different rooms every day so that Byron always has something interesting to look at.
Yesterday, after the teacher had left for school, Byron heard someone quietly call his name. At first he felt somewhat afraid. He had thought that he was alone in the house. He focused his eyes across the room. A smiley doll was sitting on a small chest of drawers amongst the teacher’s perfume, hand cream and necklaces. “Byron, pssst!” The voice sounded both friendly and a little bit mischievous. “Would you like to hear my story? Let me tell you about the day she found me…”
"Alright” said Byron, picking up on what the doll had said several days earlier, “tell me your story.”
It had taken Byron some time from when he was first brought to the teacher’s house, before he was brave enough to speak to the doll. He wasn’t too sure about her face and the way she looked at him. She had not shifted from where he first saw her, sitting over there among the teacher’s perfumes and jewelry. Byron had been shifted to many different places around the teacher’s house, but the doll always stayed right there, where she had been from that first day.
“What’s she calling you?” said the doll. “Does she call you Brian?” Byron felt that the doll had even managed a sneer on that crazy face.
“Byron.” he said, trying not to let her bossy voice worry him. “She calls me Byron. Byron Badgery.”
“What a stupid name!” said the doll. “Byron. Byyy-rooon.” This time Byron swore he saw her face wrinkle with distaste, just for a moment, before she settled it back into her wide-eyed look of pretend amusement.
“Anyway, what does she call you?” asked Byron. He thought he might have heard the teacher speak a name but as he was shifted around the house to ease his boredom he wasn’t always near the doll. “And why don’t you move from there?”
“What do you mean?” said the doll, her voice full of menace. “It’s not like you’re up and running, moving yourself around the place!” They were both silent for a moment before the doll began again, very sarcastically. “Oh Byyy-rooon,” she called in a high voice full of sugar, “Come over here and sit with me. Maybe you could help me try on this ring!”
Byron could see her pudgy, stunted little hand, as still and open as her stupid big eyes. He started to wish he was back out at the old camp. Things might have been scary out there but even the dogs weren’t this mean.
“Oh,” she continued, her voice again sounding as if she had been eating lemons all day. “That’s right, you can’t move by yourself, can you? You need the teacher to move you, don’t you? Teacher’s pet!”
The way she said, “the teacher,” made Byron feel sad. The teacher was kind to Byron. And to the doll. He didn’t understand why she was being so mean. And to call him teacher’s pet, well, that was just very mean. It wasn’t as if had a say in anything.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked, trying not to sound as unkind as she was being to him. “Don’t you like the teacher? Aren’t you happy to be here? Better being here than out in the sun in that old camp where she found me.” Byron recalled his loneliness, all those days and nights, out there on his own.
“Oh, I suppose,” she said in a sulky voice, “but now I can’t see the sky. I can’t see the stars at night. I just sit on this set of drawers with that stinking perfume getting up my nose. And she left me sitting on a sharp ring!” The doll wished she could reach down and throw the ring out onto the floor. She was sure her little bottom was getting bruised.
If the doll had been honest, she might have mentioned that she had actually been found face down in the dirt where she had lain for a very long time. It wasn’t like she had been out there happily star gazing. In fact, it was a miracle that a car had not driven right over top of her, long before the teacher had come along. But as time went on, Byron would realize that the doll did not always quite tell the truth.
Byron looked across at where she sat among the lovely fragrances. He looked at her flat little nose and did not believe she could really smell anything.
“Maybe you could get her to move you?”
“Oh yes, Byyy-rooon.” Did those spooky big eyes actually flash? “I will just ask her, will I? Oh, please miss, I would like you to put me in different places, like you do for that little rat!”
Byron took exception to being called a little rat. A rat of any kind, for that matter. He wondered if he should point out that he is a mouse, but instead he just sighed. The doll was right. It wasn’t as if the teacher could hear her voice like he could. He did wonder why she had never been moved. He hadn’t thought about the doll’s problems. His problem was that today was the second day that he was stuck looking across the room at her. He would have to find ways to deal with her grumpiness since there was no getting away from her.
“Anyway, you still haven’t told me your name. What does she call you?”
The doll remained quiet for a moment then mumbled, “Dolly.”
“Sorry?” Byron tried to lean forward to better hear but nothing moved.
“Dolly,” she mumbled again.
“What? I can’t hear you!” Byron’s normally sweet voice had taken on a note of irritation.
“DOLLY!” she yelled. “Just because you’ve got a flash name - Byyy-rooon!”
Oh, thought Byron becoming somewhat grumpy himself. It’s going to keep being like this, is it? He remained silent for a moment, then taking a big breath decided to try again to get her into a better mood.
“I think Dolly is a lovely name,” he said, as kindly as he could manage, considering how much he felt under attack. “And it suits you,” he added. He meant it. It did suit her. Byron liked that name.
They both remained quiet, with their thoughts, before Byron spoke again.
“Anyway, the teacher didn’t name me. Her daughter did.”
“What?” snapped Dolly, with renewed interest. “She has a daughter? Where? I haven’t seen any daughter.” Then somewhat sadly, “I haven’t seen anyone…” before adding, unkindly, “Well, apart from you. And you’re no fun.”
Her big head began to droop. Byron wasn’t sure if she was falling asleep or just trying to turn away from where he looked across at her. He wished she could shut those big scary eyes! Last night, when
he had been left facing her, he swore he could see those eyes glinting across the dark room. He wished the teacher had put him in another room so he wasn’t left wondering if the doll might actually come after him. But the teacher had remained sound asleep, even snoring sometimes, which got pretty scary as he stared out into the dark. He really wished the teacher wouldn’t leave them uncomfortably facing each other across the room. Perhaps she had thought about it and believed they might want to look across at each other? He felt a slight shudder although if anyone was to look at him they would not see any movement in his little body.
“Her daughter lives somewhere else. They’re always on the phone with each other. I thought you would have heard her because the phone is always on speaker.”
“Well, pardon me if I don’t hear so well!” she snapped.
He looked at her little pink ears, sticking out from her head and thought, bet they catch everything they want to hear. Byron was getting sick of her being so mean. “Maybe she should have called you Snappy,” he muttered, beginning to feel almost as grumpy and the stupid doll.
He imagined her eyes had gotten even brighter.
“Nothing,” he lied. “Just that you were going to tell me your story.” He waited but she did not reply. “Your story?” he said, a little louder, deciding that maybe she really did have a hearing problem.
“Alright, I said I would tell you. Give me a minute!” Even though she said it impatiently, she didn’t sound so scary now because she was no longer looking at him. Her head had dropped forward so that she was looking at the floor. Now her eyes did not look so big because Byron could only see part of them. And her voice was a little muffled so that she no longer sounded so impatient with him. Byron was happy not to have to look right at her face.
“So where did you come from?” he asked, making sure his voice came out loud and clear.
“Kmart,” she replied, as if where else could she have come from?
“In Alice Springs?” he asked.
Did she just spit? He wanted to tell her that she didn’t have to be so grumpy with him but figured that would surely just make her worse.
“Is there anywhere else?” She said it like a question, but Byron was becoming used to her sarcasm, so he chose to ignore it. Instead, he pondered the question. Could there be other places?
Byron had only been to Alice Springs and now out here to Arlparra. He did remember being in his own little box inside a very large carton. Beneath him and on top of him and all around him were the same little boxes full of other toy mice that looked exactly like him. Were they his family? He also had a slight memory of being moved from a truck to a plane. Mmm, he pondered, maybe it had all been a dream? Or something he imagined when he was stuck out there under that hot sun. That huge, bright sun could make a mouse imagine all kinds of things.
“Hello?” her annoyance came through even in that one word. “Do you want to hear my story or not?”
“I do.” he quickly said. “I only asked that because I came from Kmart too.”
“Well, I didn’t see you there,” she replied, dismissively.
Byron decided not to respond. He considered that even speaking to her had been a mistake; grumpy, big, flat faced doll, he thought.
Byron was kind and gentle by nature, and up until this conversation, was normally very agreeable. But he was fast becoming aware that his agreeable nature was not working well on this snappy, big-headed doll with her flat, sarcastic face. But, he knew it could be a long time before the teacher got home to move him so decided to keep trying. At least now there was someone who could hear him, even if she didn’t care for anything he said.
“So, you came from Kmart?”
“Hang on. It’s hard to talk when my head is facing down.”
Byron realized he needed to be kinder to her, even if she wasn’t very nice to him. His little head never drooped like that. He was able to always look straight out at the world.
“A little boy found me in Kmart,” she said. “He ripped me out of the box before we even got out the door.” A smile actually came into her voice. “I took the biggest breath because not much air got into that box!”
Byron remembered that same feeling when he was taken out of his box. But he thought he probably shouldn’t interrupt her now that she was finally telling her story.
“Outside of the store there were people everywhere,” she said. “And cars.”
“Was the little boy by himself?” asked Byron.
“No. He was with a lot of kids and some grown-ups. They were walking long way, down Larapinta Drive.”
Byron noticed that she said ‘long way’ just the way the people who had taken him in the car to Arlparra always said it. He could imagine the people who she was with. They would be speaking in their language, kids laughing and chasing one another; the grown-ups sometimes growling those kids when they forgot and ran out onto the road.
“One of the bigger girls grabbed me by my sneaker, snatching me away from the little boy. I worried that my sneaker would come off when she ran so fast down the footpath, swinging me around. It was fun at the start.” Byron could imagine that. Sometimes one of the kids in camp would pick him up and run with him. He liked that very much.
“But then she threw me, right out onto the road.” Her voice got quieter. “I landed right on top of a car before I hit the road.”
Byron didn’t know what to say. They both stayed silent for a moment as Dolly remembered that day.
“The car tooted very loudly. The sound hurt my ears. It almost stopped, then took off, really fast. One of the men with the children yelled at the girl, then grabbed the little boy by the arm to stop him running out onto the road. “’Leave it!’ he said, and they all just kept walking.”
“What? They left you on the road?” asked Byron, horrified.
“Yes. There were too many cars, so the kids weren’t allowed to get me.”
“What happened to you after that?” Byron shuddered, picturing poor Dolly lying on the road with cars racing past.
“I lay right in the middle of the road, right on top of a white line with my legs sticking out. I lay there staring up at the sky, hoping a car didn’t run over me and wreck my sneakers. I love my sneakers,” said Dolly, quietly, remembering how very long she had lain there. “I lay there all day until the streetlights came on and the night became darker and quieter.” Dolly had lain there until the night became cool and only an occasional car came past. “Then some big boys were crossing the road and one saw me. He picked me up by my arm and chased another boy, throwing me at him. That boy picked me up, threw me into the air and as I came down, he kicked me, as hard as he could. I went so high into the air I could see right over Araluen Art Centre. But then I crashed down onto the footpath.” Dolly’s voice was no longer pesky. It had become small and sad. Byron felt a lump in his little brown throat.
“How awful,” he said, feeling so sad for Dolly. But she quickly toughened up again.
“Nah,” she said. “I didn’t care.” But her long silence told Byron that she really had cared.
“So how did you get out to Arlparra?” he asked. He was pretty sure she would want to get past that part of her story.
“Just wait,” she said, letting Byron know she was still in charge. “I’m telling you, aren’t I?”
Byron said nothing, although he felt very annoyed because he was waiting. He had been waiting for days for her to tell the story. It was her, after all, who had suggested she would like to tell her story.
“So, after that I just lay there… long time. The sun came up and I was still lying there. It got hotter and hotter and cars started going past again. Sometimes someone on a bike would be racing down the road and pretend they were about to run over me before swerving away again. Then a woman running past saw me lying out there. She ran out onto the road and picked me up. She was a teacher too. Jenny. I remember Jenny. She liked my little sneakers.” Byron could hear a softening in Dolly’s voice as she remembered Jenny.
Byron had only ever known one teacher and he didn’t know if she even had a name. It wasn’t something he thought about. He could see that Dolly took an interest in these things though.
“It was good after Jenny picked me up.”
She went on to tell Byron how Jenny ran a class in at Sadadeen School over the other side of town. Jenny had a little bus and drove all over Alice Springs, picking up kids who had come into town from lots of different communities out in the desert. When Jenny picked up Dolly, she was on her way back home after exercising. Jenny ran all over town. Sometimes she biked for many kilometres with her father. Jenny loved exercising.
Jenny had thrown Dolly into her little bus before showering and getting ready for school. Then when Jenny had collected all the kids, she drove them to her school. One of the little girls who had been sitting in front had picked up Dolly off the dashboard and Jenny said she could have her.
“I spent all that day in the classroom. The kids were really noisy. The little girl dragged me around all day until Jenny put all the kids back in the bus and drove all around town again, dropping off kids to all the different camps. The little girl got off at Warlpiri camp.”
“Where’s that?” asked Byron, trying to remember if he saw anything at all after he was put in the car outside Kmart.
“Oh, you won’t know,” said Dolly, showing how superior her knowledge was. “It’s a town camp on the way out of Alice.”
Byron said nothing.
“When the little girl got off the bus, she dropped me on the ground and forgot about me. So now I was just lying in a different place. I wanted Jenny to come back and get me, but she had driven away. I don’t know how long I lay there. But then a boy saw me and started throwing me up and catching me. That was fun – until he dropped me and ran away again.”
Dolly lay at the edge of the camp for many days, forgotten by all the kids who lived there in the Warlpiri houses. Then one day as Jenny was driving out with the kids in the bus, she saw Dolly, lying there staring up at the sky. She stopped the bus and looking out that no cheeky dogs were going to chase after her, she dashed out and grabbed Dolly, bringing her into the bus.
“I thought you wanted her,” said Jenny, to the little girl who had taken her home.
“Nah,” said the little girl, picking at a scab on her knee.
So, Dolly, once again went to school in Jenny’s classroom.
“I liked being with Jenny,” said Dolly, for a moment, her voice light and happy. “I used to sit up on Jenny’s desk and watch all the kids learning and making lunches and playing and fighting. Jenny really, really loved me.” Dolly tried to remember Jenny’s face and if it was actually true that Jenny had loved her. She knew it was true that Jenny really liked her little pink sneakers. “I liked those kids.”
“Yes,” said Byron, remembering the little boy who had brought him to Arlparra. “I liked the kids in my camp, too.”
“Then one day,” said Dolly, taking up the story again, “a little girl who was only with Jenny for half a day, hid me inside her jacket. Her family came in to take her away with them. I don’t think Jenny knew that the little girl had stolen me. Jenny wouldn’t have wanted to lose me again.” Dolly’s voice had become very sad. Byron said nothing. “And so I found myself in a car with a lot of people and buckets of chicken and chips and drinks being spilt and chocolate getting stuck to the car seat. We drove long way out of town. Then the car stopped for a fat lady, who had been sitting under a tree out on an empty road. She waved the car down and got in, bringing a lot of dust in with her.” Dolly thought about that time and began to smile. “The fat lady sat right on top of a chocolate bar that one of the kids had dropped.” She chuckled as she remembered how the chocolate bar was still stuck to the woman’s bum when she finally got out of the car.
“Someone sat right on top of me,” said Byron, remembering his car ride out from Alice Springs. He remembered how crowded the car was and how hot and noisy it was that day. He loved that day.
“Yeah, well we’re not talking about you now.” The meanness was back in her voice. Byron thought that had she been able to move she would have waved a dismissive, munted hand at him. He was glad this grumpy doll couldn’t move and add to her meanness. “So, I was brought out to Arlparra. Well, not really Arlparra. Not then. We drove right through. I was taken right out to another community. Irrultja. But I wasn’t there for long, either.” She thought for a moment before adding, “which was a shame because I liked those kids.” Dolly was thoughtful for a moment before she continued. “That little girl looked after me all that night and day. But two days later I was in the car
again. I heard the family say they were going back to Alice Springs. But they stopped at the store in Arlparra and I was accidently knocked out of the car when everyone got out. No one noticed. When they all came out and got back in the car, they still didn’t notice that I was lying on the ground. One big boy even stood on me. He never even looked down.”
Byron realized that his life had been fairly easy until he was left behind at the old camp. The days and nights after that had not been easy but he felt sorry for Dolly, hearing all that she had been through.
“So, what happened then?” He asked, before thinking he probably should not have spoken. He had become quite nervous around Dolly. But Dolly just continued her story.
“Then I just lay outside the store. A hundred cars just drove right over top of me.”
Byron had been to that store. He knew that it would be weeks and weeks and weeks before anything like a hundred cars would pull up. But he guessed that it felt like that to Dolly. Although looking at her, it didn’t seem she had ever actually been under the wheels of a car.
“What?” he decided to be daring. “The cars drove right on top of you?” He was beginning to realize that not everything Dolly said might be true. But she did know a lot. She had been to far more places than he had ever been to.
“Yes!” she snapped. “Right on top of me!” She sat quiet for a moment. “Well, nearly on top of me.”
Byron smiled to himself, pleased he had gotten her to tell the truth. But he did understand that she really had been through some very terrible times.
“Then a pack of dogs came sniffing around.” Byron remembered the dogs. He shuddered thinking of poor little Dolly, lying there among a pack of skinny, snarling dogs. He remembered their sharp teeth and how their tongues lolled out when they were hot with spit dribbling and dripping onto everything.
“One of them picked me up in his broken, pointy teeth and ran away around the other side of the shop with me. The other dogs chased him. Then an old man sitting outside of the shop eating chicken, threw all the bones, and the fatty, brown paper bag, right out across the dirt. All the dogs raced for the food. The dog that had me in his mouth dropped me right amongst all the bits of greasy chicken bones. I was right there as they snarled and growled, ferociously attacking one another.” It was Dolly’s turn to shudder as she remembered that terrifying day. “They snatched up bones and bits of skin and even gulped down bits of paper. They were all running in different directions with whatever chicken bones they had managed to grab, trying to eat them quickly before another dog could knock them to the ground and take the bone for themself. It was really, really scary!”
Byron knew this would be a true story. He had seen the camp dogs when food was thrown out to them. He could imagine poor Dolly, lying there among all the fighting dogs, her big eyes staring up at the mass of fur and spit and chicken grease flying out of their mouths. He knew that even though she would have been so afraid, her naughty smile would not have changed.
“I was just getting over this, my heart almost beating right out of my chest, when some kids saw me. A big boy chased the dogs away and grabbed me. He gave me to his little sister. He was a very nice boy.” Dolly stopped speaking for a moment as she remembered the big boy. He had put an arm around his little sister, bent down to see that she was okay, then he ran off with some of the bigger kids. “Some girls called out to the little girl and they all walked off, around the road past the school and onto that sienna track. The girls all sat down for a while in the red dirt, telling stories in the sand with their fingers.”
Dolly had liked being with the girls. They had all talked about her little pink sneakers. They thought they were so pretty and wanted some, just like hers. Dolly could not have been happier. She liked hearing them laugh, sometimes so much that one of them would fall backwards from where they sat in a little circle, laughing until someone threw a handful of sand at her to make her sit up again. The girls were funny and Dolly felt like she was smiling and laughing inside, just as their beautiful faces were laughing on the outside. Dolly stayed with the girls all day, until they headed home as the sun began to set.
The little girl who had held Dolly’s hand ever since her brother had given the doll to her had become very sleepy. One of the bigger girls, probably her sister, picked up the tired little one and holding her against her chest, let the little girl sleep against her shoulder. As the little girl slept, her arms that were wound around the big girl’s neck loosened and the hand that had held Dolly for all that time fell open. Dolly dropped to the ground.
“So,” she said in a small voice, “I was on my own again. This time lying out on the warm dirt on the sienna track.”
“That’s where I was found,” said Byron. “Out in an old camp right beside that track. Maybe you were lying out there when I was stuck in the old camp?” He immediately worried that Dolly would snap at him for that but instead, she just quietly agreed. “Maybe.”
“How long were you out there? Is that where the teacher found you?”
“About a year,” said Dolly. “I lay out there for about a year. Maybe ten years.”
Byron knew this couldn’t possibly be true. Dolly looked pretty fresh for someone that old and left outside for years.
“Maybe a day or two or ten,” added Dolly, and Byron knew that Dolly had no idea of time. “And then the teacher found me, lying there, the sun burning into my face. Or maybe the back of my head.”
“Well, which was it?” asked Byron, for he was a mouse that appreciated detail.
“Oh, I don’t know!” He thought her impatience with him might actually have moved her head. “All I remember is that it was very hot and I was once again on some sort of rough road that cars sometimes drove down. And one probably drove right over top of me! Not that you would know what that feels like,” she peevishly added.
Byron just smiled. He was beginning to understand this tough little doll. No wonder she was so snappy after all that she had been through. Byron had a very gentle little heart. He found himself feeling very sorry for Dolly. She didn’t even look so scary now. Instead, she was just a little doll that had been through a lot of scary stuff. And although she was safe now, there still hadn’t been very much to make her feel happy and loved. She was stuck among the perfume she didn’t like with a ring poking out from under her bottom and some other shiny jewelry that flashed into her eyes when the light was on. She was never moved around like he was. He wished the teacher could hear him. He would tell her to move Dolly around too.
“Oh, look at you two!” The teacher had come into the room. With all the talking going on they hadn’t heard her come home. “It must have been a boring story you told, Byron,” she said, heading toward Dolly. “Looks like you’ve put her to sleep.” The teacher righted Dolly so that her head was now up off her chest. She propped the doll up against a perfume bottle to keep her upright. ‘That’s better,” she said, smoothing the bed cover on the way back out the room.
Byron almost stopped breathing with the sadness that caught in his little brown throat. Poor Dolly. He saw one tiny tear run down from the corner of Dolly’s eye, making a crooked track over her flat nose until it caught for a moment on her forced smile. Byron wished he could move. He would go over and help her, take her away from the bottles of scent that she hated.
The tear continued until it dripped right down onto her spotty tights. Byron felt the lump in his throat get bigger when it looked as if another tear could fall even further and wet Dolly’s little pink sneaker. Dolly would not like it if her pink sneakers got wet. He wanted to say, “Don’t cry, Dolly,” but knew that if he did the tough little doll would find a way to wound him with some other mean comment. He understood that she wasn’t really mean. It was just her way not to get hurt any more.
Dolly noticed the sadness for her in Byron’s little brown nut eyes and wanted to yell at him to keep his sympathy to himself. But before she could, to her horror, another tear rolled right down her flat cheek, this time falling right down onto her sneaker. She tried not to snuffle. Byron felt helpless.
Then just as he felt he could not stand another moment of Dolly not being able to move, the teacher came back into the room.
“I haven’t shifted you today,” she said, coming toward Byron. Byron thought he would explode as everything within him tried to make the teacher look at Dolly and see that she also wanted to be moved, that she was going crazy sitting there with the perfume. He thought if he could just shout loudly enough the teacher might just hear him. He tried but could feel, more than see, Dolly’s disgust at him being so vocal. He realized that his voice would be making Dolly wince. The teacher was completely unaware that he was shouting at her, even as she picked him up and peered into his little mouse face.
“Oh, you’re so cute, little guy.” She smothered his head with kisses. “Oh, and you’re also still kinda grubby,” she laughed, wiping one hand over her mouth as she held him loosely in the other, while Byron stared at the floor over which he hung, suspended in her grip. The teacher took him into the lounge and propped him up beside the computer, switching it on as she sorted a stack of papers. He knew his face looked just the same as always, but his heart felt so heavy and sad, thinking how Dolly was still stuck there, back in the bedroom. He understood now how much she really did not like the perfume. She might be dressed in her cutie little clothes, but he knew now that Dolly was a very practical girl. Just as tears began to form in his eyes his thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Hi Vicki,” called the teacher. “Come in!”
Vicki walked over to the pile of papers and added another pile. “Thought you might want your photocopies.”
“Where did I leave those?” said the teacher. But Vicki wasn’t listening. She had picked up Byron.
“OMG,” she said, “where did you get this grubby little mouse?” Enough of the grubby, you two, thought Byron. You’d be grubby too if you had lay out in a deserted camp for as long as I did.
“I’ll tell you about it sometime, when I don’t have so much work to do,” the teacher replied. “I keep finding these abandoned soft toys around the community. I’ve got another one in the bedroom. She was cleaner than this little mouse.”
“Show me,” said Vicki, who had some strange toys of her own, including an ugly, purple, plastic troll with crazy green hair, sitting right above her computer screen in the classroom.
“Really?” said the teacher. But she knew Vicki liked toys so took her through to the bedroom. “The one out there is Byron. Byron Badgery. Van named him,” she added, “when I sent her photos the day I found him.”
I wish your daughter had named me, thought Dolly. At least someone in the family had some imagination. Bet she hasn’t even sent a photo of me to her daughter. It’s all about Byron. Byron, Byron, Byyy-rooon.
“And this is Dolly.” The teacher gave an exaggerated shudder.
“What?” said Vicki. “Did you just shudder?”
“Look at her,” said the teacher. “Look at those big pukana eyes!”
“Pukana?” enquired Vicki.
“Look it up some time,” said the teacher, dismissively, picking up the doll. The teacher came from New Zealand where this word had meaning.
Dolly felt another tear beginning to build in her eye, when suddenly the teacher wiped her hand across the doll’s wide pink face.
The teacher patted her hand down the front of her little purple striped top.
“She’s wet,” she repeated. “How weird! How did she get wet?”
“Probably crying, because you’re so mean to her,” said Vicki, taking the doll from the teacher. “Oh, you’re so beautiful,” she said, looking closely at Dolly’s face. “Look at her cute little pigtails! I love her!”
The teacher looked puzzled. She looked from Vicki to Dolly.
“Yeah, don’t know if beautiful is a term I’d use for her,” she said. “But I swear she has attitude! Ever since I brought her home and washed her, I’ve just left her there on the dresser. Her and her big eyes. I swear those eyes follow me and flash at me, every time I come near.”
“Well, maybe you need to move her sometimes; be a bit kinder to the poor little girl?”
The teacher looked at Dolly again, now staring wide-eyed up into Vicki’s face. The teacher smiled. She was a cute little doll, really, now she thought about it.
“I think you’re right. I do kind of like her… pesky little doll. But she should be happy sitting there among the perfume.”
“Are you kidding?” said Vicki, who happened to be allergic to perfume. “Do you realize how overpowering some of those smells are? Poor Dolly!
mischievous type - even if she has got a girlie phone around her neck. I think she needs to move around a bit.”
“Really?” said the teacher. “You do know that she is not real, right?” Dolly tried to make her eyes even bigger as her face stared up at Vicki. “Okay, just for you, Vicki, I will move her around. From now on she can sit up against Byron and keep him company.”
“And move them every day,” demanded Vicki, who loved Disney movies and fantasy and every story that brought toys to life.
“Okay,” agreed the teacher, without too much conviction. After all, even Byron had been left in the same place for the past couple of days. It was only when he caught her eye that she remembered the little mouse that she had brought home and cleaned up.
“Hey, you’re the one that brought them home. And I bet you talk to them, too.” Vicki was beginning to believe they were more than just toys. But then she had always believed in toys.
The teacher smiled.
“Yeah, I talk to them.” She laughed, “maybe they are real?”
She took Dolly from Vicki, kissed her on the top of her little purple headband with the pink flower still strongly attached. If the teacher had known Dolly’s story, she would have been amazed that the pink flower was still there.
“Come on, pukana eyes,” she said. “Let’s be taking you to another view.”
“I think you should sit them outside for a while,” said Vicki. “Let them stay out until they get to see the stars again.”
“You think?” said the teacher, sarcastically, almost making Dolly proud of the teacher’s attitude. Except that this was aimed against her which left Dolly a little conflicted.
But in spite of the teacher laughing at Vicki’s want to treat toys as if they were truly real, that was just what she did. As Vicki was leaving to return to the school, needing to collect her own pile of papers, the teacher with Byron and Dolly in hand, walked her out.
“Thanks for bringing that stuff to me.” She smiled, giving a little wave, as Vicki headed across the rutted driveway, “oh saver of toys,” she added.
The teacher looked around the little veranda, the sand swept in by the wind now crunching under her bare feet, before propping the two soft toys up against each other, on an old, broken, fireside chair that had come from the dump a few months before.
“There you go, you two,” she said, leaning down to make sure they were firmly placed. “Is that better?”
“And make sure you take them in after they’ve seen the stars!” Vicki called back over her shoulder.
And so, that became the pattern of Byron and Dolly’s life after that. And even though Dolly pretended to shudder every time she was pushed up against Byron, she had never been so happy, not since the day she had been taken off the shelf at Kmart. Well, never been so happy, that was, until the day the teddy arrived and set them all on another adventure.
The day that the teddy arrived, Byron and Dolly were sitting out on the veranda of the teacher’s little house in the schoolyard. The teacher had kept her word to Vicki. Every day, the two soft toys were sat outside where they stayed right up until the moon was high in the sky, when she would, well, if she remembered, take them back inside where she would prop them up in the small kitchen-lounge area of her home.
The two toys had been quietly talking as the heat of the sun warmed their little bodies. They were now very relaxed with each other and spent far more time laughing together than when they first met. Dolly could still sometimes take Byron unawares with her sharp words but mostly, she wasn’t nearly as mean to him as she had first been. This particular day they were just chuckling over some funny thing that one of them had said when suddenly, a caramel coloured teddy bear came flying through the air and landed on the veranda, right beneath where they sat on the old dump chair. The teacher, who had tossed the bear, hurried inside, mumbling something about the toilet, quickly slamming the door behind her to keep the hot day outside.
The two toys tried to move their eyes to properly see the bear, but all that was showing was one fat little leg sticking out and part of his back, which, from what they could see, seemed to be wounded.
If Dolly and Byron could have moved their heads, they would have looked at each other with very questioning expressions. Instead, they looked straight out ahead of them, as they had been left positioned that morning, seeing only that small part of the bear caught within their frozen vision.
“I wonder who that is?” said Byron.
“Why would I know? Maybe you should ask him?”
Byron was used to Dolly and wasn’t particularly intimidated by her mean way of sometimes speaking. He understood now that this was the way she generally responded when she felt insecure. He had even learned to sometimes snap back at her, which he did right now.
“Why don’t you?” he said, peevishly.
“Why don’t either one of you,” said the bear, grumpily climbing to his feet and brushing the sand off his soft coat.
Byron and Dolly could not believe what they were seeing!
“I think he just moved!” said Dolly in a loud, almost frightened whisper. Byron wished he could have made a smart comment, the kind of comment that Dolly might make, like, “obviously,” since the bear was standing up next to the chair, but Byron was so shocked that all he could do was whisper agreement.
“He did move.”
“Hey,” said the bear, quite gruffly. “I canhear you.”
“But you moved!” said Dolly, as if that explained them speaking about him in whispers.
“Of course, I moved,” he said, trying to reach behind him to get the last of the sand off his bottom. “All us bears can move.”
“Whaaaat?” said Dolly and Byron, both at the same time. If their mouths could have moved, they would have been hanging open.
“What?” said the bear, reaching out a fat arm to support himself against the chair, while he leaned down to pull a bindi out of his plump foot. “Can’t you two move?”
They stayed silent for a moment, feeling quite foolish. They both made some muttering sounds that said nothing, really.
“Well,” said the bear. “Can’t stay here all day, talking to you two. I’ve got places to go and things to do.” And with that, he marched over to the steps that lead off the veranda. Byron and Dolly could hardly believe their eyes.
“Where do you think he’s going?” whispered Byron. For once, Dolly had no smart reply. She sat there, stunned.
But just as the bear turned to lower himself down the first step, the door opened, and the teacher came out. The bear, very slowly and quietly, allowed himself to fall to where he could just slump his head against the back of the step. He hoped he might even be hidden from the eyes of the teacher, but his dumpy little legs slid out into view.
“Ah, there you are,” said the teacher, sounding slightly surprised as she walked over to pick him up. “How did you get down there?” she asked, but without any real curiosity. She had been in too much of a hurry to actually remember where the bear had landed.
“Here,” she said, placing the teddy bear beside Dolly and Byron. “I’ve found a new friend for you, another one that needs a home.”
“What’s she talking about?” said the bear, now leaning against Dolly, a happy expression frozen on his face. “I don’t need a home. I already have a home.”
Dolly’s big eyes stared straight ahead as Byron seemed to nestle closer on the other side of her.
“What?” she said, with a sneer in her voice. “You have a home? Where? And if so, what are you doing here?” she added, rather meanly, thought Byron. After all, they did not know him, so it didn’t seem fair to be rude.
The bear moved his head ever so slightly to see where the teacher was. But she had gone back inside. So he now waved his arm, expansively, looking out across the school yard and out into the desert. “This,” he said, “is all my home. “I live wherever I want to live.”
“Well, away you go then,” said Dolly. “Don’t let us keep you, Mr Smart walking bear.” Dolly was almost huffing with indignation. She was unsure of what she was indignant about. But she knew that this was a very annoying bear.
“Maybe I’ll just sit here, right next to you for a while.” The bear turned his head and looked right at her with a smart expression on his face. Byron thought, oh my goodness. This bear doesn’t know how mean Dolly can be. But then, when he thought about it, Dolly only had mean words. It wasn’t like she could get up and move around like the bear could. But that didn’t stop Dolly from being tough.
“Maybe I’ll kick your butt, right off this chair, stupid, rude bear!”
Byron couldn’t help but admire Dolly. Even though she was being very bad-mannered to this new toy. To his surprise, the bear burst out laughing.
“What, kick me with those little pink girlie sneakers,” he laughed. “What about you, Ratty?” He leaned forward to look past Dolly to enquire of Byron. “You going to kick my butt too?”
Byron didn’t know what alarmed him more, being called Ratty or having the bear pick a fight with him. And since he couldn’t even move, let alone run away, he just stayed quiet. But inside he was feeling quite angry. How dare he call me Ratty, he thought. I’m amouse!
“Anyway,” said the bear, sliding off the chair and walking across to sniff at the pot plants that the teacher had lined up on the veranda, “I really can’t stay. I know you’d like me to, but I need to set up a camp for the night.”
Just as he said this, he heard the teacher about to open the door again. Byron and Dolly were both surprised at how fast he ran back to the chair on those little fat legs. He jumped right up, with one big leap and by the time the teacher came out he was once again sitting beside Dolly.
The teacher went down the steps to where the hose lay, turned on the tap and began watering the plants. The three toys stared straight ahead, hoping she didn’t drop the hose and spray them as well as the plants, although, the day was very hot. But toys did not particularly like getting wet.
The three sat without speaking as the teacher finished watering all the pot plants before moving away to water the garden that was planted at the side of the little house. Satisfied that every plant had been quenched, she wound up the hose before coming back up onto the veranda.
“You lot may as well come in for the night,” she said, gathering the three toys. “And best I mend you,” she said, poking at the stuffing popping out of the bear’s back. “In fact,” she said, taking them inside, “I will do that right now.”
Byron and Dolly watched from the couch as the teacher put the bear on the table, cut up an old shirt and getting out a needle and thread, sewed a patch onto the bear’s back. They could see the bear screwing up his eyes and pulling his mouth into a tight line, every time the needle went in to make another stitch.
“What?” called Dolly, remembering how cheeky the bear had been out on the chair. “Not so tough now?”
The bear said nothing, but Byron thought that was really nasty of Dolly, and he said so.
“Don’t be so mean, Dolly! That needle must really hurt.”
“Dolly!” called the bear, his face managing a smirk. “Nice name.”
Byron was pretty sure that the bear was being sarcastic but being a particularly nice little mouse, he also wondered if the bear actually thought it was a nice name. For he knew that Dolly was very sensitive about her name. He did not want her to feel hurt. Just in case, Byron thought he should try and keep the peace, before Dolly showed the bear that she wasn’t one to take any cheek.
“What’s your name?” asked Byron, before Dolly had a chance to speak.
The needle caused the bear to give a little grunt before he answered.
“Teddy,” he said.
Dolly burst out laughing.
“Really?” she said. “Teddy? Ha ha ha ha ha! Teddy!” and she laughed again.
If the teacher hadn’t been there, Teddy might have come over and pulled Dolly’s pigtails right off her smiling, big head.
‘What?” he said, indignantly. “Teddy’s a good name. I have had that name for a hundred years.”
Oh, thought Byron, another one who has no idea of time.
“Are you sure you’re that old?” asked Byron, feeling a little superior, seeing that this bear was really not very old at all. He felt that he should side with Dolly since they had been friends for some time now and the bear hadn’t been very friendly to either of them.
“Probably,” said Teddy, missing the note of sarcasm in Byron’s tone. He desperately wanted to stretch, but the teacher had one hand pushing on his back while she finished stitching on the patch.
“There,” she said, getting the scissors to cut the thread. She pushed the needle with some blue thread still attached, into a tiny soft cushion, picked up the scissors and put everything away in a little brown carton. She then picked Teddy up by the arm and threw him over to the couch where Byron and Dolly sat, steering straight ahead.
Teddy landed on his head, almost on top of Byron. Dolly laughed so much and so loudly that Byron thought the teacher must surely hear her. But the teacher never did hear the toys making a single sound.
“Why don’t you just sit down,” she said, “or do you like standing on your head?”
“Why don’t you get up and stand on your head?” said Teddy, knowing that even if the teacher wasn’t looking, the doll couldn’t move. But even though the words he spoke were meant to hurt Dolly, it was hard to take him seriously with his head buckled onto Byron and his big caramel bum up in the air.
Dolly and Byron stayed quiet for a moment, feeling a bit exhausted with this newcomer. Teddy also stayed quiet because he realized he actually did look very foolish, upside down like this in front of these two strangers, who had no idea what a clever bear he really was. Besides, he thought, that doll is quite mean. So he did not want to give Dolly any more ammunition to aim at him.
The teacher, who had started to cook a meal, looked over and to Teddy’s annoyance, she started to laugh too.
“Well, look at you, Teddy Bear,” she laughed. “Pretty good headstand!”
Teddy wondered how the teacher knew his name. Very strange, he thought. I never told her my name. She can’t even hear me. But he was glad that she walked across and set him up the right way, placing him between Byron and Dolly.
The three toys stayed quiet for a long time before Byron politely asked, “what happened to your back? I hope that you feel alright now.”
Teddy turned his head a little to look at Byron.
“That’s very nice of you,” he said, quite graciously. “Thank you for asking.” Not like that mean doll, he thought. “Anyway, what’s your name, little rat?”
For goodness sake, thought Byron, feeling less kind towards this intruder.
“I,” he said, with as much emphasis as he could, “I, am a mouse! And my name is Byron. Byron Badgery.”
“Ok,” said Teddy, not even noticing Byron’s annoyance. “Flash name. Of course, not quite as flash as mine, but very nice.” Teddy glanced over to make sure the teacher wasn’t looking before he turned the other way to look at Dolly. “Sorry if I was a bit mean about your name, Dollz,” he said, realizing that he might be stuck with these two for a while, so better not to annoy the snappy mouthed doll any further. “Guess it’s an ok name.”
Dolly didn’t know whether to be pleased that he was being nicer or annoyed that he had altered her name. So, she said nothing.
Byron asked again. “What happened to your back? If you don’t mind me asking,” he added, politely.
“Oh that,” said Teddy, dismissively. “Just another bite from an old camp dog.”
Dolly and Byron both shuddered a little. They felt somewhat amazed that Teddy didn’t seem to be too worried that he had been attacked by a dog. Dolly and Byron were both quite afraid of all the cheeky camp dogs in the community; those hungry, vicious brutes that too often ran around in cantankerous packs.
“I hate those dogs!” hissed Dolly, a note of fear showing in her voice.
“Oh them,” said Teddy, giving a little shrug. “They’re alright. They just get a bit carried away sometimes.”
“But they could have killed you,” said Byron, amazed that Teddy seemed so casual.
“Nah,” said Teddy. “I’m a bear. I live forever.”
Dolly and Byron were both starting to think this bear might be a little bit crazy. Any toy who wasn’t afraid of those dogs had to be crazy. The three sat quiet with their thoughts for a moment.
“So, where did you come from?” asked Byron, wanting to change the subject so he didn’t have to think of the dogs with their sharp teeth and mean eyes.
“Some kid had me. He dropped me at the football oval. There were people everywhere, so I just had to lie there. I was going to make myself a camp when everyone went home.”
Since when did toys make themselves a camp? thought Dolly. This bear really is crazy.
“But then that teacher saw me and picked me up.” Teddy sounded quite annoyed. He looked over to where the teacher was gathering up the dishes after finishing her dinner. He was going to have to work out how to get out of here. Although it was nice sitting in the cool room after lying out on that hot, red dirt down at the oval.
“So, what do you two do for fun?” Teddy asked.
Dolly and Byron said nothing for a moment. What did they do for fun? They couldn’t really do much. They relied on the teacher to move them around. Otherwise they would have been very bored. Dolly remembered how sore her bottom had been after days of sitting on a sharp ring that the teacher left lying on her duchess. And how the perfume had got right up her nose. She guessed, now that Vicki had encouraged the teacher to move her around, she was kind of having some fun.
“We just talk,” said Byron. “The teacher shifts us to different places so sometimes we sit out in the sun and sometimes we get to stay out until the nighttime when the stars and sometimes the moon are high in the sky.” Byron did enjoy being out in the nighttime.
“One night we saw a huge spider running across the veranda,” said Dolly. She had really enjoyed seeing that. Sometimes she and Byron would watch spiders weaving their intricate webs in the moonlight, between the ceiling and the veranda posts. They were almost as excited as the spiders when a cicada or a moth flew right into a web, entangling itself as it tried to get out. They weren’t quite so keen when the spider came running down to further bind the insect, before devouring the poor thing. But it was entertaining. One time, at that time of year when the cicadas came by the thousands and ate everything but the tomatoes in the teacher’s garden, a huge cicada flew right into a web, knocking the spider right out onto the veranda. Byron and Dolly laughed so much. Was that the same night when the teacher forgot and left them out there until the morning? They remembered how the teacher had had to shake the cicadas out of her sneakers before she could put them on to go to school. Sometimes she even found a spider in her sneaker which, for reasons they could not understand, would make her shriek and throw the sneaker right out onto the dirt. These things they excitedly told Teddy.
“Come with me tonight,” said Teddy. “We’ll go for a walk. I can show you lots of spiders.
Dolly and Byron both felt their happiness fade. They were suddenly filled with longing. And embarrassment.
“We can’t move,” said Byron, feeling quite annoyed at the bear’s insensitivity. “We can’t go anywhere with you.” He suddenly felt so sad that tears filled up behind his little almond eyes.
“Course you can,” said Teddy, impatiently, not even noticing the little mouse’s sadness. “What’s wrong with you?”
Dolly felt very angry at Teddy’s lack of empathy. But for once, words completely failed her. She could not see Byron, but she felt the tears in his eyes and, to her horror, realized that her eyes were also filling with tears. Dolly felt grateful when the teacher switched off the light, leaving the toys in the dark, as she made her way to the shower.
“Thank goodness,” said Teddy, stretching his arms wide out from his little fat body, knocking both Dolly and Byron sideways. “I thought she was never going to go to bed.” He jumped down off the couch and went over to inspect the door. Now, how could he get that open?
Dolly and Byron lay sad and quiet, staring out across to the table. They heard the shower stop and heard the teacher get into bed, soon turning off her little side light. Even from the lounge they could hear her breathing soon turning into the strange sounds that human beings make when they sleep.
“Ok you two, let’s get this door open.”
“Are you crazy?!” Dolly’s sadness quickly returned to anger. “We. Can’t. Move!”
“Oh, that’s right,” said Teddy, almost disgusted as he carelessly walked back over to the door. He looked around for something to stand on.
“Oh dammit,” he muttered, as he unsuccessfully tried to move a large plastic tub, full of folders and papers. He was starting to realize that he would be stuck here all night if he couldn’t get the door open. He stared up at the handle for some time, then letting out a sigh, he walked back over to Dolly and Byron.
“Ok you two,” he said, sounding like an army sergeant. “Time you started moving. I need you to help me get out of here.”
“We can’t!” they howled in unison, no longer caring what the stupid, heartless bear thought of them. “We can’t move!”
“Yes, you can,” said Teddy, very authoritatively. “It’s only because you haven’t tried.”
Dolly and Byron were both stunned into silence with this thought. Could this be true?
“Then how do we do it?” asked Dolly, so timidly that, for a moment, Byron wondered if someone else had entered the room.
“Just stretch one thing at a time,” said Teddy. What bad luck that the stupid teacher had dragged him away from the oval. If he had had a watch, he would have impatiently been looking at it by now. Teddy loved being out in the night and the thought that he might be stuck in here, with these two useless toys, until the morning, was not something he wanted to even consider. He needed their help, now!
“Hurry up!” he said, so impatiently that Byron actually felt his tail twitch in response.
Byron was so shocked to think that part of him had moved that he felt himself slipping right off the couch, as if he had fainted.
“Good,” said Teddy. “See how easy it is!”
But Byron just lay on his face on the floor.
“Get up!” demanded Teddy. He really should have been in the army, for his voice came out so loud, and with such impatience, that Byron felt his little arm begin to stretch out and pat at the floor.
“What’s happening?” called Dolly, staring straight ahead into the darkened room, still lying where Teddy had thoughtlessly knocked her onto her side. “Where are you, Byron?” Her voice almost sounded panicked.
“I think I’m moving my arm,” whispered Byron.
“Oh, for goodness sake,” said Teddy, very impatiently. “Of course, you’re moving. But I need that doll to move. You’re too little to help me reach the door.”
Byron didn’t know whether to be annoyed or excited. Did he really move his arm? Helping or not helping Teddy was neither here nor there in Byron’s thinking as his little paw began tapping on the floor. He just wanted to keep exploring the idea that part of him, and therefore, maybe all of him, was able to move. Byron felt his eyes squint with the effort as he willed his other arm to reach out. And to his amazement, his other arm stretched right out and touched the bottom of the couch, against which he had landed.
“Good. Good,” said Teddy, glancing with irritation at the wrist that held no watch. “Now stand up!” he commanded. And to Byron’s utter amazement, he did just that. Very shakily, Byron rose to his feet. He could feel his tail frantically going this way and that way, trying to give him balance. But he was on his feet, feeling his whole body coming alive with movement.
“Dolly!” he called, looking up toward his friend. “I can move! I can move!”
“Oh, bully for you!” said Dolly, rigidly staring ahead, her fixed smile in complete contrast to her words. “Let’s all have a party,” she sneered. But Byron knew that there was sadness that lay beneath her harsh words.
“Stop your nonsense,” said Teddy, his impatience once more sharpening his words. “Hurry up, Dolly!” He spat out her name with such annoyance. “Start moving, so I can get out of here.”
“Work it out for yourself,” snapped Dolly, “since you’re so smart. I’m sure you can do it without me!”
Teddy did not like it that he needed her help. But without the doll he would be stuck here all night. If he could get her to move then between the three of them, they might be able to drag something over to the door, something that he could stand on to reach the handle. Or, they could make a pyramid with Byron on top and he could get the door open.
“Come on, Dolly,” said Teddy, trying to soften his voice. “If you start moving, then we can all go on an adventure.”
“Where?” whispered Dolly, desperately not wanting to be left behind.
“Out in the night. Under the stars,” said Teddy, wondering how he might get rid of these two once he got the door open.
Teddy wasn’t used to company. He liked to do whatever he felt like and when he felt like it. Bad enough that kids kept picking him up and dragging him off to different places. Fortunately, most kids lost interest pretty quickly, so that Teddy had been able to run off once their backs were turned. Getting past the dogs was a bit harder. Sometimes, downright dangerous. Teddy rolled his shoulders, feeling the pain beneath the fresh patch now holding his stuffing in. He hadn’t wanted these two to know that it really had hurt him.
“I want to go on an adventure,” wailed Dolly.
She had had many adventures but, none of them were at her own will. She had just been picked up and thrown down again, tossed into the air, kicked along roads among cars racing past. Dolly had experienced the horrible dogs fighting right on top of where she had been left, unable to get away. Other times, she had been left all alone to quietly stare up at the sky. But Dolly had never been able to choose her own adventure.
“Then, get up and walk!” shouted Teddy, losing all pretence of patience.
“I can’t,” howled Dolly. “I don’t know how to.”
Byron, now becoming used to his arms and legs going where he wanted them to, called up to her.
“Just think about your arm stretching right out,” he said. “Streeeeetch, streeeeetch, streeeeetch,” trying his best to sound like the yoga lady on the tv that the teacher always meant to follow.
Dolly wanted to tell him what to do with his stupid stretch, stretch, stretch, but she couldn’t think of stretching and think of something nasty to say at the same time. So, she lay there quietly on her side and thought as hard as she could about stretching her arm out.
“Nothing’s happening,” she wailed.
“Well,” said Teddy, with a smirk in his voice, “guess you’ll never be able to kick my butt.”
Oh, how Dolly wanted to kick his fat caramel-creamy butt, all the way down to the bathroom. She would lash out with her little pink sneaker and send him sailing right through the air. Oh, the thought of it gave her so much pleasure. She imagined how hard she would kick him, just like this! And suddenly, Dolly’s foot lashed out at the cushion that lay next to her feet. She almost screamed with amazement. She kicked out again with such force that she shot along the couch.
Byron was trying to see what was happening up on the couch but he was too little.
“Dolly,” he called, almost too afraid that he might be wrong. “Are you moving?”
Dolly was lying back, exhausted from her powerful kick.
“I think I am, Byron. Give me a minute.”
“Well pip pip, and all,” said Teddy, tapping his fat foot with exaggerated impatience. “Time and tide and all that.” He could almost feel the numbers ticking over on his none-existent watch.
The two toys had no idea what he was on about. They were both so amazed at what was happening to them that they had almost forgotten Teddy existed.
“Come on, Dolly, jump down here,” called Byron. “You can do it.”
“Oh, for goodness sake,” said Teddy, and climbed up onto the couch. Grabbing one of Dolly’s little hands, he jerked her right up onto her feet. He actually wanted to kick her, right over the side of the couch.
“Oooh!” She swayed and almost fell to her knees, but Teddy grabbed her other hand.
“Now,” he said, in a firm, but much kinder voice than he had used, up until this point, “lower yourself down.” He was beginning to consider that he needed the cooperation of both these toys, if he was ever to get out of the teacher’s house.
Dolly, her legs all wobbly, took one step backwards, taking her almost to the edge of the couch. Teddy kept holding her hands to help her balance until she knelt down, then moving her grip from Teddy’s hands, she took hold of the soft fabric of the couch. Tentatively, she pushed one pink sneaker out over the edge, before doing the same with her other little sneaker. Dolly’s skinny legs, encased in her spotty tights, dangled for a moment, before she lost her grip. Falling backwards, Dolly landed onto the floor with a soft thud.
For a moment she just lay there. Byron raced over, as fast as he could on his still shaky legs.
“Are you alright?” he enquired, leaning over her. He could hear her making a strange sound which caused him to think that she may have been seriously injured. Then he realized, she was laughing! Dolly was laughing so much she could hardly breathe. Byron started to laugh too, causing him to lose balance and fall down next to her.
“Right,” said Teddy, jumping back down off the couch, all full of business. “No time to be mucking around. Let’s get out of here!”
Dolly and Byron got to their feet, still with little muffled giggles, every time they glanced at each other. They were so joyful, hardly believing in this turn of events. Teddy might be very annoying, but they were ever so pleased that his annoying bossiness had got them moving. They set to carrying out Teddy’s instructions, trying to work out how to get the door open.
The three toys tried different ways of reaching the door handle. Teddy put Dolly on his shoulders and tried to balance Byron on top of Dolly, but Byron kept falling off. This was very frustrating for Teddy. Plus, Dolly did not appreciate Byron clambering up over her just to keep falling down again. And she didn’t mind letting him know exactly how annoying this was.
Then they tried Dolly first, then Byron, who Teddy firmly squashed onto Dolly’s shoulders so that Teddy could be the toy on top. But Byron’s squeals of protest, when Teddy planted his big fat foot on Byron’s head, annoyed both Teddy and Dolly so much that they gave up on that idea.
When Teddy suggested Byron go on the bottom, Byron just went and sat down on the floor, not speaking to either of them. Byron decided really didn’t care if he went outside or not. He was still so amazed that he was able to move that maybe this was enough excitement for one night. He sat distractedly pushing a cashew nut around. He had spotted the nut as a little dark shape almost under the couch, and was enjoying playing with it, when Teddy’s sharp instruction snapped him to attention once more.
“Help me push this over,” said Teddy, indicating the plastic tub. He was certainly not giving up and Dolly had become quite excited with the idea that not only could she now move, but that she could even go outside and have an adventure in the night.
“Come on, Byron,” she pleaded. “Come and help us push the big plastic tub over to the door.”
It seemed to Byron that Dolly being able to move might help her become better tempered. That would make his life a lot easier, so he got to his feet, still amazed that he could do this, and went to add his little weight to moving the big plastic container. To the surprise of the three of them, Byron helping was just what was needed to get the tub to where it would give Teddy enough height to reach the door handle.
“Okay!” said Teddy, with renewed vigor and jumped up onto the container. Reaching up to open the door, under his breath he quietly told himself, “come on, Teddy. You can do this.”
It took several attempts, sometimes with Teddy saying some words that Dolly and Byron thought might not be very nice words, but then, all of a sudden, Teddy managed to turn the handle. Slowly, the door opened, just a tiny crack and no more. Because now, the plastic tub was in the way.
“That’s okay. That’s okay,” said Teddy, to himself, as he jumped back down. “Here, we need to shift it out of the way,” he instructed the two bystanders.
So, the three toys huffed and puffed and grunted until they got the big plastic container back over to where it had been.
“Quick!” said Teddy, feeling a bit of a breeze coming through and noticing the door moving ever so slightly. “Quick!” And the three soft toys made a run for the door, wrenching it open and racing out onto the veranda. They all did a little dance of pure joy, even Teddy, before falling onto their backs, exhausted and breathing loudly, until they caught their breath. Teddy was first to get up. Walking to the steps, he turned back for a moment as the moonlight cast his chubby little shadow across where Dolly and Byron still lay.
“Well,” he said, and both Dolly and Byron realized, that if he had had a hat, he would have doffed it. “It has been nice meeting you, but now,” he gave a theatrical pause, “I must depart.” And with that he gave a bow and jumped down onto the first step.
“Depart?” said Dolly, sitting up. “Depart? I don’t think so. Not without us. You promised us an adventure. So here we are.” Both she and Byron rose to their feet, Byron still slightly wobbly on his far bigger than necessary sneakers but determined not to be left behind. Teddy turned back with an exaggerated sigh.
“Alright then,” he said, turning to lower himself down to the next step, “but if you’re coming, you’d better keep up. Because I have things to do, places to go, people to see.”
“Oh, really?” said Dolly, her voice full of sarcasm. “Peopleto see? What peopledo you go and see?”
“Don’t believe me? Then come with me now.” And with that, Teddy stepped out into the night.
“We’re coming!” they shouted, and Dolly and Byron quickly raced out into the warm night to catch up with Teddy, who was walking very fast for a fat bottomed little bear with two very strange, big, clumpy feet.
Teddy gave an exaggerated sigh of annoyance as they drew level. But secretly, he found himself quite pleased to have the company. He wasn’t going to tell them, but he was tired of having adventures all on his own. So, this just might be fun to have an adventure with friends. He was surprised at the idea, when he realized he had used the ‘friends’ word. Was he actually thinking that they could all become friends?
Teddy had never had a friend before. He didn’t even know how he got to be in this place, let alone how he might have made friends. He figured it was because he was actually very old, so that it was too far back to remember such unimportant matters.
Dolly was so happy to be moving. And all by herself! She started to skip and sing a song she had heard on a movie that Jenny had used for a lesson.
“We’re off to see the wizard,” she sang, “the wonderful wizard of…”
“Ssh!” said Teddy, instantly causing Dolly to stop skipping and singing. “You have to be quiet now or we won’t see very much at all.”
“No one can hear us,” said Dolly, very annoyed at him stopping her happy song.
“What are you talking about?” said Teddy, very impatient with her ignorance. “Everythingcan hear us. Just not people.”
Dolly could hardly believe what he had said. She had never thought about other things. She had mostly just been among people.
“Yes!” he replied, sounding annoyed with her. “Just stay quiet for now and I will show you.”
The three toys walked down the sandy track, towards the old ladies’ camp. Teddy knew this place. He had been there many times. The old ladies had made their own house out of roofing iron and pieces of timber. Mostly they sat outside, doing their big paintings on canvas. Teddy had always loved the bright colours that were kept in glass jars. He liked it when the kids stayed at the camp because the kids kicked up the dirt and threw rocks at the dogs to stop them fighting. The kids all yelled and played games and kicked balls around. One time, when one of the kids noticed Teddy, he was grabbed and thrown high up into the air. Even though Teddy could jump all by himself, he enjoyed being tossed high up into the sky. But most of all, Teddy liked the nighttime, when all the people were sleeping. He could wander around under the stars and see all the life going on around him.
“Where are we going?” asked Dolly, trying to contain her excitement.
“We are going to paint.”
“Paint? What’s that?”
“You’ll see,” said Teddy, before suddenly gesturing at them.
“Quick! Get rocks! Quick!” he hissed.
A pack of snarling dogs had come out of the dark and were racing towards them.
For a moment Dolly and Byron were so fearful they could hardly move. But seeing Teddy grabbing a rock in one hand and a big stick in the other, they quickly moved to help him.
There must have been at least ten dogs, barking and growling, the hair raised right up on their bony backs.
“Now!” cried Teddy, running very fast, right towards the dogs. He shouted, “gwan, gwan! Get out, ya mongrels!” and threw one rock with such force that when it hit the closest dog, right on its nose, the dog yelped and turned, running away in the other direction. Dolly and Byron, so encouraged by this amazing power to stop dogs attacking them, also began yelling and throwing rocks.
The look of fear on the dogs’ faces caused Dolly and Byron to start laughing. They suddenly felt very powerful, and very tall, as the startled animals retreated. The dogs, always unnerved by the things they sometimes saw walking around, when all the people slept, never quite knew what to make of any strange little toy. They knew that toys seldom moved in the daytime but had often seen them come alive once the people settled down for the night. It was one of the few things that made the dogs feel quite afraid. So they slunk right through the open end of the humpy, settling down beside where the old ladies slept on, unconcerned, for they were used to the dogs barking and growling. People never heard the toys shouting, for people never could hear a single word uttered by a toy. And although the dogs had brought them out of their sleep a little, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. So, the old ladies just snuggled further down under their soft, dusty blankets, their beds, propped up on empty flour drums, wobbled a little as they settled back into deep sleep.
The toys stayed back until they heard the old ladies, once again, quietly snoring. Checking that the dogs weren’t coming back out, Teddy lead Dolly and Byron around to an old table at the side of the humpy. He jumped up onto a rickety chair and quietly called to the other two.
“Dollz,” he instructed, “give the little rat a leg up.”
Byron started to object but Dolly grabbed him by his little red jumper and hoisted him right up so Teddy could take his hands. When Teddy got Byron onto the chair, he put a knee under his bottom and propelled him right up onto the table.
“Now you,” he said to Dolly. “Take my hands.” Reaching down he pulled the doll up onto the chair where then, they both hauled themselves up onto the table to stand next to Byron.
“Look,” said Teddy, pointing to the jars of paint. “This is paint.” With that, he found an old brush lying on the paint splattered table. He took the top off a jar, dipped the brush into the bright blue paint and began to make wild patterns on the table.
“Oh,” said Dolly, barely able to contain her delight. “Let me! Let me!”
Teddy opened another jar, this time with yellow paint. Dolly dipped the brush into the yellow and began going over Teddy’s pattern, turning it into green. Dolly and Byron had never seen anything so magical, ever before. Byron had a memory of an old man back in his camp that used to sit painting on a big piece of canvas. But he had never been close enough to see it properly, so he had not really understood. Now that he could move, he realized there were no end of things he might get to see.
Just as Byron was about to ask for a turn, Teddy said, “Okay, let’s go,” and jumped right down off the table, rolling in the dirt a little bit before getting to his feet. “Come on,” he whispered, loudly. “Just jump.”
Byron wasn’t at all sure about this. It seemed a very long way down. Just as he hesitated at the edge of the table, Dolly gave him a push, and laughing, jumped over the edge almost landing on top of him.
“I’ll show you were the snake lives,” said Teddy, picking up his stick once more, already hurrying away from the camp.” He was impatient to show them some of the things he knew.
As Dolly and Byron hurried after him, they had no idea that in the morning, the old ladies would growl at their grandchildren and tell them not to leave the top off the paint jars, in fact, not to even touch their paints. The old ladies were very, very good artists who sold their work all over Australia and all over the world, so it was very annoying to find their paint drying out in the morning heat.
“I’m not sure about seeing snakes,” said Byron, trying to keep up with Teddy. If there were snakes around, then Byron did not want to be left out there on his own, but nor did he want to go looking for one.
“Don’t worry,” said Teddy, “I’m not scared of stupid snakes.” And with that he walked even faster, taking the road right around past Mathew’s camp, where everyone there was quiet, apart from a baby that was being shushed back to sleep by its tired mother.
Teddy was just about to leave the road and head out among the rocks and scrawny plants when they heard a whomph, WHOMPH, WHOMPH getting closer and closer. Byron had heard this sound before, but he did not know what made it.
Suddenly, bursting out from among the scrub, came a bounding grey kangaroo, almost landing on top of them. The ‘roo hesitated for a moment, looked at the three startled toys, before changing direction and bounding off down the road, back towards where the toys had come from. The strange animal with its long thick tail, strong, muscled hind quarters and tiny little arms, quickly disappeared from sight, with only the fading sound giving any indication of where it was headed.
“What was that?” said Dolly, still shaking from the close encounter.
“That?” said Teddy, as if he had forgotten nearly being trampled. “Uh, that’s just a ‘roo,” adding, “the people eat them, so I guess he was in a bit of a hurry to get out of the community. Come on,” and he headed back into the rocky area from which the kangaroo had bounced out of.
“I know where a snake lives out here. She might be out hunting but maybe we can track her.” Teddy had been among the people for long enough now to have learned some things. He knew all about tracks from watching and listening to the people, but also, even though it pained him to accept it, he knew that he would never be as clever as they were. The people knew every track on the ground, what creature had made it and how long since it had passed by. Even the tiniest little bugs were known to them by the soft, almost invisible marks they left as they went about their business.
As Teddy got closer to a big rock with another rock balanced on top of it, he began looking at the ground. The moon was so high and bright now that it was almost like daylight. The toys had very good vision, even, had the night been darker. All those days of lying around with nothing to do but look out from where they had been placed had given them very good eyesight.
“There!’ said Teddy. He held his arm straight out, extending it with the stick that had almost become part of him, keeping the other two from moving too close to what he was looking at. “See? Big snake track.”
Dolly, who had been playing with an old hair tie that she had found back on the paint table, quickly wound it round one little brown pigtail while standing very still. Byron drew close in beside her.
“Let’s find her!” said Teddy, excitedly, and began tip toeing as he followed the snake track. Dolly, with Byron clinging to her little white jacket, gingerly followed.
“Tiptoe!” hissed Teddy. “They can feel the vibrations if you walk too heavily.”
Dolly and Byron wondered if it might be better if the snake did feel their vibrations and quickly slither away. But they didn’t want Teddy to be annoyed at them, so they did their best to tiptoe on their wobbly sneakers. It was easier for Teddy because he was barefoot. Dolly played with that idea. Maybe Teddy was actually “bear” foot? She began to laugh a little at her own joke, when Teddy, pointing with his stick, said, “There!”
The brown snake was half coiled like a hose that had been carelessly thrown, her head darting as she contemplated these strange creatures who were getting in the way of her finding a mouse for supper. She wondered if maybe there was a mouse among these three but her flickering tongue could not smell mouse and she did not want to waste her venom if there was nothing among them for her to eat. It was a good thing that Byron did not know what the snake was thinking as her level of annoyance grew with the interruption.
Suddenly, with a movement so quick that Dolly and Byron both shrieked, Teddy had picked up the snake on the end of his stick and thrown the poor startled creature high up and into some bushes.
“Quick!” he called. “Run!”
Byron and Dolly did not need to be told twice. They all ran as fast as their little legs could carry them, back out onto the road where, shrieking with laughter, they fell down on the soft dust, trying to get their breath. Byron thought he might never be tough enough, or foolish enough, to poke a stick at a snake, but as he looked up at the moon, he thought, this was the most amazing adventure he could ever imagine.
“Let’s have a spider fight,” said Teddy, gaining his breath and jumping to his feet. “Spiders are such fun.”
Dolly and Byron weren’t so sure that spiders might be that much fun, close up, but they wanted this night to go on forever. Besides, they certainly had enjoyed watching spiders when they had been left out overnight on the dump chair. So, they followed Teddy as he strode down the road, heading towards the basketball court.
Dolly whispered to Byron, “Do you think Teddy will stay with us now?”
“I hope so,” said Byron. Even though Teddy was a bit full of himself, Byron really wanted him to stay. He was still amazed at how easy it had been to begin moving. This would never have happened if Teddy had not come into their lives.
“Yeah, me too,” said Dolly. “Even if he is a bit annoying. I think he might also tell li..” but she stopped when Teddy let out a yell.
“Watch out!” he called, running to the side of the road.
Dolly and Byron also ran to the side of the road, no idea of what they were running from.
“Scorpion,” hissed Teddy, then shuddered. Dolly and Byron were amazed. It had seemed to them that Teddy was not afraid of anything. “I hate scorpions,” he said, not even trying to pretend otherwise.
Dolly and Byron really wanted to see this scorpion thing that scared Teddy so much. They headed back over to the place where Teddy had seen this creature, even as Teddy warned them not to go near it.
“Urgh,” he shuddered. “Ugly, mean scorpions.” Teddy was keeping well away, annoyed that the silly toys were taking no notice of his warning. But he was reluctant to move on in case they thought him coward. He was annoyed with himself for letting them see that scorpions actually frightened him.
Dolly and Byron both saw it at the same time, its stinger tail curved threateningly up into almost a round loop. Dolly thought it wonderful. She ran to the other side of the road and found two sticks which she brought back to where the scorpion still held its position. Byron was keeping his distance but quite fascinated by this strange creature.
“What are you doing?” called Teddy, trying not to let them hear his nervousness. He was impatient to get going as far away as possible from the horrible thing. “Come on! Just leave it!”
Dolly ignored him. Reaching down with what appeared to be makeshift chopsticks, she picked up the black scorpion between the sticks and ran with it as fast as she could, right towards where Teddy waited, no longer the boss of the adventure. When Teddy realized what she was doing, he was horrified. He tried to call out but only a loud growl rose up out of his throat. He took off, his fat feet kicking up so much dust, that Dolly started coughing and laughing all at the same time, which made her lose her grip on the sticks that held the outraged scorpion. Byron, who was now thinking he was in the company of two fools, but did not want to be left out in the night on his own again, ran after them both, hoping that he would not step on the angry scorpion. There was now so much dust the it was hard to see the road.
“You’re crazy!” yelled Teddy, looking over his shoulder, still keeping his distance, even though he was now aware that Dolly no longer had the scorpion. Dolly just kept laughing. She hugged her sides, wobbling with mirth, as she stopped and started, trying to catch up with the annoyed bear.
“Right,” said Teddy, trying to regain his composure as Dolly and Byron drew nearer. “It’s payback time!” He tried to sound very serious and very bossy, but Dolly only laughed more, so much so, that Teddy couldn’t help himself. He began to smile, then grabbing a handful of sand from the road, he ran back towards Dolly, throwing it right into her face. Still laughing, Dolly leaned down, also grabbing a handful of sand, and ran right up to Teddy and threw the sand all over him. They both laughed so much that they had to stop as they each bent forward, laughing and holding onto their sides. Teddy was definitely beginning to consider that having friends might indeed be more fun than just walking around having adventures on his own. Byron thought them both a little crazy, but he found himself happily smiling at their nonsense, his little mouse face all lit up in the moonlight.
After brushing themselves down, which even Byron had to do because the sand had flown everywhere, they headed on towards the covered basketball court. Teddy once again took control.
“Over there!” he insisted, pointing direction with the stick. He had picked it up again after the sand fight, even though he had no need of a walking stick. He ran towards a corner pole that supported the roof. “Get a little stick,” he told them, letting his big walking stick fall to the concrete court.
Dolly and Byron ran around looking for little sticks before coming over to see what Teddy needed them for.
“Here,” he said, peering behind where the wire netting was attached to the end pole, erected right up against the solid wall where the court finished, and the social room began. “Give it to me.” And without turning away from where he kept his eyes fixed, Teddy reached back for someone to hand him a twig. Dolly thought bossy Teddy should go and get his own stick but nonetheless, handed him one of hers. For even if he was far too bossy, she was still very keen to see what new adventure he was introducing them to.
Dolly and Byron moved around trying to peer over Teddy’s shoulder as he gently poked the little twig behind the iron pole. They could see that there were lots of spider webs there. Teddy kept poking until a black spider with a red strike on its fat back came running out around the other side of the pole.
“Ha!” he exclaimed with immense satisfaction, before flicking the spider right over his shoulder to where it landed on Byron’s head.
Byron gave a loud squeal and furiously shook his head until the startled spider went flying off onto the court, momentarily stunned before scurrying away as fast as it could. He felt very annoyed at Teddy’s irresponsible behavior. But Dolly and Teddy seemed not to care about anything. They just couldn’t stop laughing. Byron’s look of alarm when the spider first landed on him was just so funny. He looked even funnier when he began furiously shaking his little mouse head to get rid of the frightened spider. His sharp little nose had almost become a blur as he shook his head with more vigor than a dog coming up out of water. But what neither Teddy nor Dolly fully comprehended was that Byron was indeed a mouse. And mice often go places where spiders also live. Therefore, Byron, was actually quite used to spiders and only a little afraid of them. It was just that the spider flicking had all happened so fast that he had reacted with a moment of panic, not quite sure what had been flung at him.
Dolly, having given Teddy her second twig, now ran off to find another in order that she might find some spiders to flick. Teddy was looking into all the little nooks and crevices that he could find. Byron went over to the other side of the court where he found a broken part of the concrete that had fallen onto the dirt, right beside the step at the entrance to the basketball court. He squatted down, peering into the dark holes left by the damage. He could see several little spider houses with fat black spiders, all pressed back into their own spaces, trying not to be seen by this intruder.
Looking over his shoulder, Byron could see Dolly and Teddy poking their twigs into different parts of the support poles, flicking and laughing as they ran towards and then away from each other. In the meantime, Byron went outside, looking about the ground, until he found an empty spaghetti can, rusted and slightly squashed but with its lid still half attached. Picking it up he went back to the broken step and with infinite patience, he worked each spider out of its place and popped it in the can. When he had many spiders in the can, he pressed the lid down and got to his feet. Taking the can with him, he walked back over to where Teddy and Dolly now sat together, their backs against the wire netting, laughing and chatting as they caught their breath.
“What were you doing?” asked Dolly, smiling at Byron. “Were you angry with us for the spider on your head?”
“Should I be?” asked Byron, sounding only slightly annoyed.
“It was just a bit of fun,” said Teddy. “But the look on your face…” and Dolly and Teddy began laughing again, remembering how funny Byron had looked shaking the spider off his head.
“All good fun,” said Byron, still standing before them, holding the lid down on the rusty can.
“Yeah,” the other two sighed. “All good fun.”
And with that, Byron peeled the lid back and threw the contents of the can right onto the heads of Dolly and Teddy.
They both leapt to their feet as panicked spiders ran over their heads and faces. Teddy gave such a loud grunt that for a moment, Byron wondered if he had taken things too far. But his satisfaction was great when Dolly screamed and ran up the court, frantically brushing at her pigtails to get rid of any spiders that might still be there. Who looks funny now? he thought.
“Just a bit of fun,” he called. But when he saw Teddy and Dolly, both turn at the same time, running towards him, faster than any of the basketball players that used the court during the day, both loudly screaming, Byron realized that his payback might not have been the best idea.
Byron turned and ran as fast as his little mouse legs would take him, right out the door and back out onto the road, too afraid to even check how close they might be behind him. Only when he heard the distant laughter did he stop and look back to see Dolly and Teddy, collapsing with mirth.
“What?” said Teddy, with a swagger, as he and Dolly caught up. “Do I look like someone afraid of spiders?”
Byron felt a little better, even though he did recall that Teddy certainly did not like scorpions. He didn’t want to seriously scare his friends. And he certainly didn’t want them to be mad at him. But at least now they realized that he also had some tricks to play.
The moon was low as the three toys walked out to where the strip of tar-seal road marked the way past the little Arlparra community. The first rays of sunlight were just beginning to lighten the dusky sky into a deep purple. A few stars were fading in the sky as if someone was going about, turning off light switches. The small stretch of sealed road would soon run out and the dirt road would take over once more, running all the way to Camooweal, hundreds of kilometres through country familiar to those who had lived there for thousands of years, but not so familiar to the teacher’s people.
The toys quietly walked and talked and laughed about paint and spiders and scorpions – although Teddy suddenly seemed to be more interested in something at the side of the road as soon as Dolly laughingly recalled how she had struggled to hold onto the scorpion without touching it. Teddy distractedly used his walking stick to poke at the dust, before once again joining the other two. They were three little shadows, chattering and wandering down the road, Teddy, tap tap tapping with the stick that suited him so well.
Before long, they turned onto what the teacher always referred to as, The Sienna Track; that rough, dirt road that wound back around to the school, wherein the grounds, her house was situated. It was along here that the teacher had found Dolly lying on the road, and before that, Byron, at the discarded camp just next to the road.
Although the three friends were feeling a little tired, they still managed to kick up dust at each other, breaking into a run here and there to escape any laughing retribution. Coming to the water hole they sat down for a moment, where they watched as swarms of bright green budgies were beginning to fly up into the early morning sky. Sounding almost like running water as their wings beat in unison, the birds swooped and dived before momentarily settling back upon the spindly trees. Then, without warning, they all took off again, their small bodies first appearing as dull shadows, before they wheeled around, so that the breaking dawn light caused the whole flock to shine like a bolt of bright, iridescent, green silk, tossed into the sky. The hundreds of little birds wheeled several times before flying high up and away. The toys lost sight of them for a moment before the happy little birds all flew back into sight, circling once more above the stagnant pool of water, before once again, settling into the trees. This behavior, the birds repeated over and over, until the toys began to tire of watching them.
“Come on,” said Byron, the first one to get up. “I don’t want to be left back out on this track.”
“Well, you won’t now,” said Teddy, sounding slightly irritable, for Teddy wasn’t used to anyone telling him when it was time to finish an adventure, let alone forgetting that it had been he, who had taught Byron how to move. “You can just get up and run away now,” he reminded him, in an impatient tone.
Dolly laughed at this. Byron had obviously forgotten that he was no longer stuck anywhere. Yes, they could both now move, wherever they liked.
Byron had felt a little foolish when Teddy reminded him of the obvious, that he would never have to lie anywhere ever again, waiting for someone to rescue him. To hide his embarrassment, Byron quickly walked on. The other two stood up and followed.
They had hardly started back down the track when Byron abruptly halted, before quickly moving backwards, almost knocking Teddy over. He had been startled by huge dark shadows moving out from the trees at the side of the track.
“Don’t worry,” said Teddy, sidestepping Byron. “It’s just cattle.”
Teddy began running at the large beasts, waving his walking stick and one little caramel paw in what he perceived to be a very threatening gesture. Dolly, with a big smile spreading right across her whole face, quickly joined him, shouting and waving. With much bellowing, the startled cattle crashed right through the trees on the other side of the road, bucking and running until the toys could no longer hear them.
Teddy dusted his hands together in satisfaction, and looking back to where Byron had hesitated said, “That’s all you do. Just run and shout at anything, and they will get out of your way” – “except scorpions,” he added, under his breath, and with a slight shudder.
“What about this one?” whispered Byron, who had yet to move after stopping when he had seen the shapes of the cattle moving in the half light.
An enormous perentie lizard had silently moved out onto the road, flicking its long, pink, forked tongue, in and out, tasting the air. With each slow step of its fat, bowed legs, the huge, spotted body swayed. If it didn’t eat Byron, it might well knock him right over the treetops with one flick of its long, fat tail, now adding to the large tracks it was making across the sandy surface. Slowly, it came closer to where the little mouse stood, nervously clutching at the front of his grubby red jumper. Byron was not sure whether he should run or continue to stand very still. He thought this might well be an animal that ate little mice.
“Wow!” said Dolly, in a loud whisper, coming back up the road, to get a closer look. Byron stood frozen to the spot. She noticed the long claws on each of the finger-like toes. When the flickering tongue touched right on one of Byron’s whiskers, Teddy, who had also walked back to see what was happening, having never seen this creature before, snapped into action.
“Ruuuuun!” he cried, jolting Byron right out of his immobile state.
The three toys took off, running with the speed of Olympians. Teddy had even dropped his walking stick in his haste to get away. Had they known it, they would have been twice as afraid, for a big perentie could outrun any rabbit, let alone three little soft toys. But the lizard had soon detected that these three, not even the one that looked a little like a mouse, would ever make good eating. He was seeking something much juicier.
For a brief moment, mild curiosity caused the perentie to lazily turn its head to look at the fast, departing toys, before continuing across the road and into the trees, not far from where the cattle had broken through in their panic.
When they finally stopped running, they all gasped for breath, leaning forward, rocking a little with their hands on their hips. Running fast away from things was becoming quite familiar to the three friends. Their mouths were full of dust which they hawked and spat out onto the road, just like all the people did. The dust was always getting into everyone’s mouths and throats. The toys once more began laughing, looking back to where the giant lizard had disappeared into the trees. What a night this had been.
“Whew!” said Teddy. “Let’s get home,” and, looking through the trees, towards the eastern horizon, added, “before the sun gets up.”
There was a thin strip of sky, at the very edge of the earth, just beginning to turn light blue. It wouldn’t be long before an arc of yellow would push up under the blue strip and cause the sky to further lighten. High up overhead, pink clouds were beginning to feather against the purple-black where the light still hadn’t gained a hold on the big sky. The moon had dropped far down on the western horizon, having lost the intense orange/yellow colour of the night. It was now a dull white. Day was about to begin.
Dolly and Byron exchanged a happy look. They both realized that Teddy had said ‘home.’ It sounded like he might just stay with them after all.
Exhausted, the three dusty little toys hauled themselves up the steps, onto the teacher’s small veranda. Heading to the door, to Byron’s horror, they discovered that it was now closed. The breeze must have slammed it shut after they had left. It seemed like all that was a very long time ago. Dolly was just about to ask Teddy how they might get back in, but stopped very still when she heard the teacher moving about inside.
“What do we do?” she whispered. Byron looked alarmed. He liked it here and didn’t want the teacher to be annoyed. He didn’t want her to think he had run off. She might throw him away, like Dolly had been thrown away, so many times.
“Don’t worry,” said Teddy. And with that he climbed up onto the dump chair. “Humans don’t remember anything about toys. Quick! Get up here. She won’t know anything.”
Dolly did just that. She ran to the chair and jumped up to sit beside Teddy.
“Quick Byron,” they both called, and leaning down, Dolly took Byron’s little paws in both hands, hauling him up beside her, just as the teacher opened the door.
The three toys quickly froze and looked straight ahead, Byron with his slightly trouble expression while Teddy innocently looked over to the pot-plants. Only Dolly looked as pesky and full of mischief as always.
The teacher, barefooted, was just tapping her shoes upside down in case something had crawled into them during the night, when she noticed the three soft toys on the chair.
“Huh, that’s weird,” she muttered. “I thought you three were inside.”
But without further thought, she turned on the hose and began her morning routine of once more watering the plants in readiness of the hot day, already making itself felt. The sun had pulled itself just above the horizon, giving the clouds bright pink, red and orange frills. At the same time the sky went from dark blue to deep lavender before becoming the light blue that it would remain until the sun made its way across to the western horizon, forever chasing the moon. This was the teacher’s favorite time of day. She did not know that the three little toys also loved watching the amazing sky, not noticing that they ever so slowly moved their heads that they might also watch the changes.
Dolly felt Teddy nudge her with a ‘see, told you so,’ movement, as the teacher, without any curiosity, continued about her business. When she bent down to inspect a plant Dolly and Teddy quickly turned to look at each other with a happy smirk, then just as quickly, stared straight ahead again. Byron had not dared to even move a broken whisker.
“’ey, whatju doin’?”
Some kids had wandered over to speak to the teacher.
“Just watering the garden.” She replied, smiling warmly at them. “You’re too early for school. Maybe go home for a little bit.”
The kids didn’t answer. They had noticed something unusual in the dirt of the driveway, in front of the teacher’s house. They were looking at the toys, sitting statue still on the chair, and then back to the driveway. They excitedly began chattering in their own language, the words of which the teacher only ever understood a very few.
“Maybe go home?’ she said it like a question but really, she was meaning they needed to go home, so she could get ready for work, where she would see them then.
The kids excitedly pointed at the three by two little tracks, the newest ones leading right up onto her veranda. For these children could recognize every trace, of every single thing, that might have moved upon the land, even over rocks, just as their mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers and all the people that had gone before them, had always read the land. But the teacher came from a different place, and from different people, and she was like a blind person in their country. They were very kind about her not knowing these things. She was just not as clever as them.
“Go home now,” she said, not unkindly, but firmly, in that annoying way that teachers speak to children. “Come back in an hour,” a time that had no place or understanding in their country, but they all agreed. And chattering like happy little birds, they moved off, calling back in the limited English that they used for this teacher; this whitefella one, who was like a new baby in their world, unable to read any of the important marks that made proper sense of where she lived.
“See you,” they called.
“See you,” she replied, turning off the hose and going inside to get ready for school.
The three toys let out a long sigh and squirmed their way back into a more comfortable position, where they could lean against the back of the chair. They would be stuck out here for quite a long time, once the school yard filled up with all the kids.
“Hang on,” said Teddy, looking over to the door, then suddenly, jumping down from the chair. Snapping off a frond from one of the pot plants, he raced off the veranda and down onto the drive that they had recently crossed. Walking backwards, Teddy began to sweep away all their tracks. Once back on the step he threw the frond down beside the plant from which it had come, jumped back up beside Dolly and Byron, who had been holding their breath, before he relaxed back into his innocent expression.
“We need to remember that next time,” he said.
Teddy was disappointed with himself. Toys should always stay magical.
Maybe I will take that little palm frond with me when we go out tonight, he thought. And with that, Teddy began to softly snore.
Dolly tucked her hand into Byron’s, snuggled into Teddy and with eyes wide open, she too settled into sleep.
Byron thought back for a moment to his long days and nights lying out under that big sky in the old discarded camp. Who would have thought? he said to himself. Leaning into the comfort of his new friends, Byron felt himself also slipping into sleep, where he would happily dream of snakes and spiders, giant lizards and beautiful, clever, dusky children, who could read the land better than any book, and cared only for country and culture, leaving toys like him to live their own adventures.
This is the track beside which I found Byron and later, where I found Dolly lying on the road. It is a rough and, in many places, a rubbish strewn sandy road. But the colours of the land, and the sky, always filled my eyes with wonder and my heart with joy.
“My Sienna Track”
When I painted the track it appeared as I always really saw it...rubbish-free, colourful and wild.
Inspired by the NZ Bear Hunt during the March/April lockdown 2020, I started posting a story (in instalments) in the front window of my cottage here in Oamaru.