Finger Mouse, Albert the Bear, & the Angel Men

2015-03-14 08.46.08

Some fiction for your inner child

Finger Mouse was bored. That was partly because he wasn’t really Finger Mouse, but a bit of pink felt which Sarah’s gran had stitched together, when Sarah was five. The little girl loved Finger Mouse almost as much as she loved fish fingers, and custard, and her gran, and granddad.

That was 30 years ago, and pink felt Finger Mouse – or Brian, as he preferred to be called – had spent most of the last two decades lying at the bottom of Sarah’s sock drawer, up til the point when Sarah moved house, and re-discovered him. He then had a short but traumatic trip round Sarah’s washing machine, on the “delicate” cycle. Along for the ride were a pair of red woollen mittens – complete with attaching string – and a matching scarf which Sarah’s gran had made, and a small, red teddy called Albert after Sarah’s beloved granddad, which she’d won on a grabber at Scarborough, when she was six.

Not pink, not felt. Will never rat on you.

Not pink, not felt. Will never rat on you.

Brian Finger-Mouse had turned a dusty, rusty pink with the passing years. He emerged from the washer a lighter rose colour. He was also swearing, although only Albert, and the mittens, and the scarf, could hear him.

“Really, Brian!” said Albert. “Is there any call for that sort of language?”

The teddy went to Oxford with Sarah, and sometimes acted as though it was him, and not Sarah, who had a first in English Literature, and poetry.

The scarf and mittens didn’t say anything. Being clothing, they accepted the rinse, and spin cycles as their fate, like the small woollen accessories they were.

“Shut yer gob, Albert,” said Brian. “Just because you went to uni is no excuse to be so up yer plush little arse – which, by the way, isn’t so plush any more.”

As soon as he said it, Brian regretted it. There is a crucial – if unwritten, given most toys are illiterate – rule which says that one toy should never mention the main signs of plaything ageing: missing limbs, fading, and thread-bare plush.

Aging is okay, when you're a castle.

Aging is okay, when you’re a castle: Conisbrough, Autumn 2015

Albert hadn’t been designed to be a favourite cuddly toy, let alone someone’s lucky mascot. The cheap little bear blinked back tears, so rapidly that only another toy, or a small child, could see. Then he held up his right paw, which Brian recognised as the universally known toy equivalent of holding up two fingers.

The mittens, and the scarf, didn’t say anything. They never did.

Brian, of course, swore. He’d learned from the original Albert, Sarah’s grandfather, who’d been a sailor with the merchant navy. “Incomer,” he added, just to get Albert’s imaginary blood boiling. The felt mouse never forgot that he, Brian, was Sarah’s favourite long before Albert arrived.

“Felthead,” Albert replied.

The mittens were shocked. Even they knew that under toy rules, referring to someone’s materials in any but the most complimentary of fashions is strictly out of bounds.

Now, now, they would have said, but didn’t, because they were only mittens.

The bear, the mouse, the mittens, and the scarf then achieved a kind of solidarity when, once removed from the wash basket, they were pegged out on the line.

“What the Niflheim is that?” exclaimed Albert, as he swung in the breeze, and gaped at the shiny blue above him.

The mittens, Brian, and even the scarf were all swearing – the mittens and the scarf at the shock of being outside in warm weather. Warm, I ask you! And String protect us! The mittens might have said to each other, if they could speak. It’s unnatural, all this bloody warmth, the scarf would have replied, if it, too, could talk.

Even Doncaster is sunny sometimes

Even Doncaster is sunny sometimes

Brian could speak, at a level which all of them – Albert, the mittens, the scarf, plus the little boy who was playing in the next garden – could hear.

“Must you, Brian?” the bear asked, even as he flinched at the sight of the sun, and from the pain in his ears, each of which were attached to a clothes peg.

“Yes I bloody must, so put a zipper in it, Al,” Brian the finger mouse retorted. Being short, light, and compact, he wasn’t blowing around as much as the others. He was feeling light-headed, as Sarah’s sister Wendy – who was doing a bit around the house in exchange for some baby sitting – had pegged him by his bottom.

Brian looks like a triangle – pass it on, one of the mittens tittered to the other.

The mitten didn’t pass it on, though, being mittens.

“What is to become of me?” Albert moaned. “The shining, the blue, what could it mean?”

“It means you’re on a washing line, you red plush doofus,” Brian replied. “That shiny thing? That’s the sun. The blue? That’s the sky. Now remind me, which one of us has a first from Oxford?”

Dreaming spires, York, 2015

Dreaming spires, York, 2015

The sun? The sky?”

“It’s been awhile, eh, Al?”

Albert nearly fell at the sound of sympathy from his old rival. He didn’t fall, though, as he was still hanging from a washing line.

“What’s that green stuff below me?” Albert asked nervously.

“It’s grass.”

This was a new voice: high like Sarah’s, and Wendy’s. Almost, but not quite as high pitched as young Sarah’s had been.

“Who said that?” asked Albert, and “What the -?” swore Brian.

Jeepers, the mittens thought, and Crikey, the scarf agreed, silently.

Portrait of the Mittens with a Middle-Aged Author. Plus a Dalek.

Portrait of the Mittens with a Middle-Aged Author. Plus a Dalek.

Brian looked in the direction of the voice with his closest eye – a black bead badly in need of restitching – then exclaimed, softly, “It’s a little lad!”

“Where?” Albert asked.

“He’s behind you,” said Brian, who had been to several pantos with Sarah, when she was between 7 and 8 years old.

Albert tried to turn his head, but he wasn’t jointed, and in any event, had been pegged with his back to the little boy.

A boy! The mittens and the scarf thought. I do hope he likes red.

“Do you like to play?” asked Albert.

“Don’t be a doofus,” said Brian. “He’s a child. Of course he likes to play. You do, don’t you?” the felt mouse added.

“I’m playing with my Angel men,” the boy said.

Angel in the snow, Hyde Park Cemetery, Doncaster

“He sees angels! It’s like William Blake reborn!” rejoiced Albert, whose fondness for poetry was legendary in the sock drawer, and the old toy box.

“What you on about, Al?” said Brian. “He said he was playing with angels, not seeing them in trees.”

“You read Blake!” Albert exclaimed. “Oh, Brian, how splendid! Think of the nights ahead, reading, ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’ together. Oh, the fun we’ll have.”

“With a six year old?” Brian replied.

“I’m five,” the boy said. “Mummy says I’m big for my age. I go to big school soon. My name’s Jack, not William.”

“I’d shake hands, Jack, only I’m at a bit of a disadvantage,” said Albert.

Jack looked up at the little red bear, and the mittens, and the scarf.

“My favourite colour is red. What’s yours?”

“Red!” Albert said, and the mittens, and the scarf, agreed silently with him.

“How do you feel about pink?” asked Brian, trying to keep the desperation from his voice.

“You’re funny,” Jack said to the mouse puppet.

“Funny’s good, right?”


The boy’s face disappeared behind the wall which separated the two gardens.

“Come back!” said Brian, and “Dear boy!” exclaimed Albert, and Crumbs, thought the mittens, and the scarf.

A minute or so later, the boy climbed over the wall, and dropped down into Sarah’s garden.

“I stood on the trike,” said Jack, as he walked toward the wash line. “Mummy and Daddy said I can have a bike for Christmas. A red one.”

The child stood under the wash line, then jumped as high as he could.

“Ouch!” said Albert, as his ears came away, and he tumbled to the grass below, and “Oh for – !” Brian swore, as he too hit the ground.

Huzzah! thought the mittens, and the scarf.

“I have a sandpit,” said Jack. “Want to see it?”

Before any of them could reply, Albert and Brian went flying over the wall, and landed in the other garden.

“I’ll wear you,” Jack told the mittens, and the scarf, as he draped first the scarf, then the string, over his neck.

Huzzah! they thought, again.

“Just like old times, eh, Bri?” said Albert, as he picked himself up, and looked around the little boy’s garden. Brian could see Albert’s glass eyes glisten. He didn’t say anything, for he could feel his own black beads tearing up.

Albert was walking again. Slowly, carefully, the felt finger puppet hovered above the grass. He watched as his old friend turned his red plush head for the first time in nearly 30 years. Then he hovered across to the sandpit, where a little boy wearing a scarf and mittens around his neck was playing with some plastic angels, and a small, red bear.

Red bear at night, angel's delight

Red bear at night, angel’s delight

Tagged: childhood, fiction, Finger Mouse, mittens, poetry, short story, teddy bears, toys, William Blake

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