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The longest day of Theodore Smythe (a short story)

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Theodore was tired, more tired than he had ever been. This had been the longest day he’d ever known. He wasn’t even sure what day it was, or what year. He’d only been alive for three years and two months. That was when Timmy had gotten him for his fifth birthday. Before that, he was just a stuffed doll, a bear. Once he had bonded with his child he became a Bear, a real being. Every year when Timmy’s birthday rolled around, Theodore had a birthday too. It was the day he became alive. They even made him his own cake, but smaller. It was decorated the same as Timmy’s.

This year there was no cake. There was a celebration of sorts, sure. But what with the rumors and the rations, it wasn’t possible to have such a luxury as a cake. Even candles had to be saved for more needful times. Lighting any of them, using them up, when the electricity was still working was wasteful, and the Smythe family knew it.

Slowly there had been less and less, with luxuries like sugar and beef first. They didn’t miss these things anyway. They were too expensive even when times were good. But flour, and oats? That was another matter. It was a few short months before it came to that, and by then there was no denying that war was upon them. They had to conserve what they had and make do to support their boys on the front lines. They needed the food more, to fight the Nazis who were three countries away. It wasn’t much to ask to have the war kept at bay. Trading a cake to have peace at home seemed like a fair trade.

But then the war came home to them.

It wasn’t fair. War, and still no cake. They still were sacrificing, still saving, still rationing, and still the war came, came right to their villages, to their streets, to their doorsteps. Uncle Albert in Shropshire called their neighbor to tell them to make their way to him any way they could. They hadn’t found the money for a phone since they moved to the city, and their neighbor Mr. Pete kindly passed along messages in exchange for Mama doing a little extra laundry on wash day. He’d not quite gotten the hang of it since his wife took ill with the dropsy two years back.

Mr. Smythe didn’t think there was much reason to hurry. He still had a job to go to after all, and Timmy had school to see to. He was getting along so well with his classmates this term, and getting such good grades in penmanship and music. Mama Smyth didn’t agree with his assessment, and said so by not saying anything. Her ‘no’ was simply the absence of a ‘yes’, as befitted a good wife to her understanding. Papa took her silence under advisement and read the newspaper more carefully, listened to the radio more closely, trying to see if there were currents under the words, perhaps telling him things were worse than the government was letting on. The slogan “Stay calm and carry on” was what tipped it. Something about it made every hair on his arms stand up. It was then that he knew they had to leave and go back home to their village of Clun as quickly as they could. Mama was relieved, but said that going calmly was best. Best not to look like they were fleeing. That might start a panic. Just make it look like they were going on holiday.

So they packed just a few things, just enough to fit into suitcases. It wouldn’t do to have too much on the train. It would call attention, and that was the last thing they wanted.

Theodore wasn’t around when they left. Perhaps he had been hiding in the pantry. Perhaps he had been exploring under the bed. Even though Mama and Papa appeared calm to everyone around them, in the house they were anything but. The day they decided to leave was the day they left. No time to make up stories or have people wonder. Mama had allotted just a scant thirty minutes to pack so they couldn’t over think it and try to bring too much. Timmy was so flustered he didn’t realize Theodore wasn’t with him until their train was outside the city gates. He fussed, sure, but Papa said they’d get him another bear. He said it in a low tone, quiet, almost but not quite gritting his teeth. Timmy had learned not to push harder when Papa spoke like this, so he gulped back his tears and distracted himself by looking at the scenery fly past his window.

It was three days later when Theodore woke to the sounds of the bomber planes. Normally, Timmy would find him at night to take him to bed with him, waking him up from his daytime slumber. Bears are awake at night. That is when they guard their young charges. But nobody in the house to wake him up meant Theodore had dozed on in a dreamless sleep, unaware of time passing.

Now he was awake, and lost. Now the city was in ruins. There were fires a few blocks over in the cathedral. The library in tatters. The school used for emergency shelter, not lessons. Now Theodore’s whole being ached with the need to find Timmy. He decided to rest his head against a building for just a little while.

Can’t go to sleep.
Can’t go to sleep.
Must find Timmy and keep him safe.

To sleep meant to fall into that dull dreamless nothing where it is so hard to return for a Bear. To sleep might mean to lose Timmy forever.

He would rest here for just a little while, but not lie down. To lie down would be the same as death, because life without Timmy was not acceptable. A bear once turned into a Bear could not go back into that dull unfeeling world of before.

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