A birthday. Not mine, a brother’s birthday. A home birth, and difficult, but I slept through it untroubled and cot-cocooned. He came wrinkled and angry, a bare six pounds, piercing the cold March morning with a thin bitter wail. The cord around his neck had almost choked the life out of him before his life began. An unpromising start by all accounts. Some said he wouldn’t last the week. And there was a bear arrived also.
He was darker than tawny, lighter than chocolate, without a proper name, just ‘Brown Bear’. His coat was not fur, or fluff, or fuzzy. Neither hairy, nor velvety, but a little like a good quality carpet. Neat ears, well-placed, above a noble head. A sturdy bear, quite densely filled with sawdust, and just small enough to sit in the palm of my father’s hand.
They arrived together, on that first day, Simon and the bear, their simultaneous appearance thoughtfully arranged to ward off sibling rivalry. I must have been told the bear was mine; ‘this is for you’ they must have said, but I suppose I misremembered or got muddled, and in my head, it was Simon and the bear: the bear and Simon. The bear was Simon’s. But I loved that little bear.
I have no recollection of the comings and goings that birth day, the midwife, and the neighbours, and relatives, of the pride and anxiety his arrival caused. And of course, no understanding of how his birth modified me. Now he was born, I was first-born. The one with primogenitary first-dibs, the organiser, the instigator. The one responsible for devising games and leading the pack. First-borns are supposed to play by the rules and perpetuate the line; we are traditionalists, enforcers, breeders and nurturers. And also, caretakers and blame-shoulderers. Henceforth, I would be the one who carried the can. Whenever we were carpeted for whatever we hadn’t got away with, I was the one who Should Have Known Better.
As time went on and we grew towards adulthood, bears were left languishing in cupboards. No longer our companions on imaginary adventures, or familiar fur-comfort after lights out; they became relics. And somehow, at some unremembered point in time, Brown Bear took up residence with me and never really left. He sits here, even now, with an air of contentment, small and neat and balding and blind, his pointed snout ending in a black velvet nose, perfectly soft and smelling slightly old. I take care of him.
One day when he was forty-five I said,
‘Simon, I’ve got a confession. Brown Bear, I kept him, I’ve still got him.’
And he gave me that piercing look of his.
‘I thought I should give him back,’ I said. ‘Today. Your Birthday.’
‘Bit of a weird present, Bro,’ he said at last. ‘But give him back? I don’t understand. I always thought he was yours.’