Legs The Caterpillar

Couple cradling a baby and a long caterpiller toy Illustration: Thinkstock, Mandy Dixon


The colourful world of childhood can make memories even brighter

My son Jack stood in his lounge, rocking his newborn son Noah in the blanket I’d just given him as a gift.

It was a very special blanket, one that had been passed down from generation to generation. I’d wrapped Jack in it himself when he’d been tiny.

Now a whopping six feet tall, Jack smiled down at me.

“Mum, if you kept this blanket I don’t suppose you kept Legs as well, did you?”

“Sorry?” Noah’s own little legs kicked free of the folds of wool. “Legs?”

“My old toy,” Jack prompted.

“Oh yes, Legs… the… the…”

“…caterpillar.” Jack smiled. “You must still have him, you never throw anything away.”

I did have a terrible habit of hoarding things in the loft. I’m surprised the ceiling joists can take the strain. Well, you never know when things are going to come in handy again, do you?

“I must have put him away somewhere,” I said.

I did remember Legs. He’d been a red, green and yellow, two-and-half foot long soft toy, with about twenty body segments and twice as many legs. Just when he’d turned five, Jack had given the toy a voice. If anything worried him after that – like the day he started school – Legs would blab about it like a fishwife, even though Jack had been a quiet, shy boy.

“When I next come round, I’ll bring Legs with me,” I said.

Jack cuddled his son and we smiled at each other, both of us still all misty-eyed over Noah.

“Legs? What’s wrong with your legs?” At home, Doug, my husband, scrambled from behind his newspaper.

“No, not my legs, silly. Don’t you remember Legs the caterpillar?”

Doug’s eyes rolled left, then right. “No.”

“Jack wants to give him to Noah. Is he in the loft?” I plastered on a smile. “Can you fetch the stepladder and go and take a look?”

Doug always knows when it’s pointless arguing. He fetched the stepladder in from the garage and I helped him heave it up the stairs. He climbed up into the loft and shone a torch into the darkness. After that he became a series of bumps and thuds across the ceiling.

“Have you found anything yet?”

“Big boxes… and little boxes.”

Waiting for better news, I reminisced. It had been Legs who’d crawled across the sofa after attending his first day at school with Jack.

“Ryan and David were really nice today,” he’d said. “So were Carl and Jon.” He’d then reeled off another dozen boys’ names as if girls hadn’t existed back then. That big fluffy caterpillar really did have a big mouth. “Jack’s asked them all round at the weekend to play,” he’d confessed.

“What – all of them?”

After that day, our house had become an adventure playground for little boys.

Now, something waggled from beyond the loft door

“Is this it?”

Something covered in dust hit the floor. I recoiled with a scream. It looked like a draft-excluder from a crypt.

“Is… is that really him?”

“Well, he was washed a lot when Jack had him and he is knocking on a bit.” Doug peered down from the loft. “Why don’t you pop him in the washing machine? I bet he’ll clean up lovely.”

Clank. One of Legs’s plastic eyes struck the glass of the washing machine’s door before the suds enveloped it. Clank, it went again. It sounded like it was knocking to get out. That’s when I realised it was no longer attached to the rest of Legs. His stuffing was coming out too; clinging to the door as if terrified of drowning.

“Doug!” I wailed. “Doug!”

Doug came charging into the kitchen, turning his head left and right as if looking for a fire to put out. I pointed. “He’s falling apart!”

Doug cocooned me in his arms as I sniffled. “It’s alright. We’ll fix him.” He looked at the machine as the broken bits of Legs whirled by. “Somehow.”

After the washing machine’s last spin we peeled all the bits of Legs from its drum. Doug set him on the dining room table and I hunted out a needle and thread.

I started sewing… only Legs had more holes than body now and the rest of him was wedged in the washing machine’s lint-trap.

Doug sat heaving sighs while I swallowed hard and my lip wobbled. I could just imagine Jack’s reaction as a boy if anything had happened to Legs. His screams would have taken the tiles off the roof. As it was, as he’d grown older Legs had dropped down the list of his favourite toys. First, he’d been placed in a box inside Jack’s wardrobe. Then he’d been consigned to the loft.

“We’ll just have to confess, Doug, and find a toy similar to Legs for Noah. We’re not going to see him again until Friday so we’ve plenty of time.”

Doug patted my hand. “I’ll get my laptop out and take a look on the web.”

My stomach clenched on Friday. I clutched a parcel to my chest containing the Legs replacement we’d found, now wrapped up in gaily-coloured paper.

Doug knocked at Jack’s door.

“We’ve over-reacting, you know. Jack’s an adult with a child of his own now; one old toy’s not really going to mean that much to him.”

“No,” I replied. “Of course not.”

Even so, we’d scoured the internet for a lookalike. We’d found a close match but our replacement’s long furry body was far too bright and lush to ever have been loved as much as Legs. Still, I told myself as Doug knocked at Jack’s door again, our caterpillar can start a whole new toy dynasty with Noah now.

The door opened and Jack beamed out at us

“Hi Mum, Dad. Oh great! You’ve brought Legs with you.”

“Oh. Yes… Well… That’s a bit of a long story,” I stuttered, only Noah was crying his heart out inside and I don’t think Jack heard a word I was saying.

Inside, Lucy, Jack’s wife, sat cradling her son on the sofa. She smiled a welcome as Jack started to unwrap Noah’s present for him.

Doug spluttered out, “Jack, you should know it’s not really…”

“Wahhhh!” Noah roared.

“Aha!” Jack yelped as the imposer’s head appeared through shreds of paper.

I knew the truth would dawn as soon as he tore more wrapping away. In a moment his brows would crease and he’d look accusingly at me and his dad.

More paper dropped to the carpet

“Listen Jack, we washed Legs and… well… he dro–”

“Oh, Legs!” Jack hugged the impostor. Tears welled in his eyes and he had to struggle to compose himself. “I didn’t think I’d feel like this.” His cheeks burned red, then all the air inside him escaped in a quivering rush. “Hello, Legs. Nice to see you again.”

He can be a bit vague sometimes, my boy, but I hadn’t realised he had such a shocking memory. I glanced at Doug. He shrugged at me.

Jack waggled Legs The Sequel under Noah’s nose and the baby’s eyes fought to focus.

“He can only really see colours at his age,” I said.

“That’s why I knew he’d love him.” Jack sniffed. “He’s so colourful.”

Was he? I recalled the real Legs, his worn faded hues, his jaundiced yellows, his wishy-washy reds and his mushy pea-greens.

It’s only really colours he can see, I repeated to myself silently before I gave a little chuckle. The truth dawned. My son remembered a wonderful bright childhood, full of toys, friends and love, and it never faded for him. In his head, it still blazes like a Technicolor landscape. So Legs being as bright as the Blackpool Illuminations was exactly how he’d imagined Legs would be.

I whispered quietly to Doug, “We really did do something right with our boy, you know.”

He grinned and nodded.

I hurried over and hugged Jack – and Legs Mark Two as well, in the crush.

What Jack doesn’t know won’t hurt him, I told myself.

The real Legs, I decided, even as worn out as he was, would live forever safe and sound in the cupboard where I’d left him. I’m sure he’d want Jack to remember a Technicolor childhood too. After all, he always was a very soft-hearted caterpillar.

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Karen Byrom

My coffee mug says "professional bookworm" which sums me up really! As commissioning fiction editor on the magazine, I love sharing my reading experience of the latest books, debut authors and more with you all, and would like to hear from you about your favourite books and authors! Email me kbyrom@dctmedia.co.uk