The one-legged toy soldier remembered vividly how he’d lost his leg. At the time the boy had been 4 years old (he’d heard the boy’s mother say as much). The boy had a friend over, another four-year-old boy, and it came to pass that they started throwing things at one another the way young boys are prone to do. One of the things the boy threw was the soldier, then still bipedal. He’d missed the friend and had instead hit the bedpost, landing on the floor with one of his legs broken off.
Since then the soldier had done his best with one leg. He couldn’t blame a young boy for being a child. Four-year-olds aren’t typically that self-contained. When he was thrown the soldier’s leg had broken off and disappeared somewhere in the debris of the ongoing battle between the boy and his friend, never to be seen again. The boy had, to his credit, examined the soldier later on and regretted having broken the soldier’s leg off. He searched for it, looked under the bed and everything, but it was gone the way small bits of things disappear as if they’d never existed when they’re dropped. The boy was now eight and still fairly young, but he handled his toys more gently now than he had at four. Obviously if he didn’t none of them would remain intact very long.
In the years since being thrown the soldier had grown used to having one leg. He’d now spent most of his life in this boy’s room with just the one. Occasionally a stuffed animal would ask him if he didn’t feel terribly wronged. The soldier would then explain that casualties were to be expected when you belonged to a four-year-old, that he considered himself lucky to still live in the room and enjoy the other toys’ company. The stuffed animals didn’t generally understand. If they were thrown across the room, though most of them hadn’t been, they would stay intact unless they landed on something sharp that pierced their fur, which so far hadn’t happened. So the stuffed animals generally kept their distance from the soldier, not understanding him and feeling a vague sense of pity the way so many do when considering an invalid.
Not that the soldier necessarily considered himself an invalid. He knew that was how he was viewed, not unreasonably. You couldn’t ignore the missing leg. But he’d found the missing leg enabled a kind of creativity applicable even to just moving about. The remaining leg had gotten quite strong since the accident. He’d been embarrassed at first, having to hop around all the time, but this faded with time as he and the others got used to it. He didn’t particularly care or think about it anymore.
The soldier hadn’t been played with as much in the last two years. After about six the boy’s interests had started to drift elsewhere. The soldier had felt a bit hurt by this at first, but ultimately came to the conclusion that this was the natural way of things, that every toy had its time and that waning affections were likely a sign of growth. If anything the passivity that had come to define his life was probably a good thing as far as the boy was concerned.
But the soldier did miss the activities he and the boy used to share. His uniform indicated service in a war of the past, likely as cavalry, but in a child’s mind these are details that are only relevant insofar as they fit into the narrative you’ve decided to construct that day. The soldier had spent happy hours diving through the air as an ersatz pilot with the boy’s swerving hands serving as a vehicle. On one occasion he’d been placed between the two fields of a game called Battleship the boy was playing with a friend on the floor. The boy had, almost as an afterthought, carefully placed the soldier between the two fields off to the side like an umpire at a tennis match, as if his presence somehow lent the game credibility. The soldier had been most flattered, particularly as he had no previous experience as part of any navy. This had been about a year ago. The boy hadn’t played with the soldier in a few months. It was a worthy reintroduction into the boy’s playtime, the soldier felt. He’d bragged to the other toys about it for weeks afterward, to the point that they grew somewhat annoyed and muttered things about him behind his back. The soldier was never made aware of this, and likely wouldn’t have cared if he had been. His afternoon overseeing the battleships was still fresh in his memory. He still thought about it sometimes at night after the boy had gone to sleep.
The soldier did wonder from time to time if and when he would be given away. A number of toys had been, as could only be expected. There was only so much room in the house, and it seemed silly to hold on to things the boy might have acquired at age two. The soldier certainly hoped he wouldn’t be outgrown, but he assumed that at some point he would be. This might just mean he was stored somewhere and never played with again. It might also mean he would be placed in somebody else’s room. He hoped this didn’t happen. He could bear being placed in a box and stored away indefinitely, but he wanted to stay in this house. He liked the boy, and the room. He liked waking up in it every day, even if he didn’t wind up doing much. He didn’t think he was capable of starting a new life at this point. He’d gotten a bit older and he had the missing leg. If he were to wind up with another person they would never have experienced him with two legs. They wouldn’t have a shared history. He’d be an oddity as much as anything else, probably not even a very interesting one, and that’s how he’d die. Not that toys really died in the traditional sense; but once you’d reached the point where you’d never be played with again you were, effectively, dead.
No mention had been made of his potential removal that he was aware, although this wasn’t necessarily reassuring. Most toys that were gotten rid of weren’t warned beforehand.
On a day when the boy was over at a friend’s house for a play date the soldier hopped over to the ox. The ox was his favorite of the stuffed animals. Relaxed and levelheaded in a way the other stuffed animals weren’t. The ox had been there when the soldier first arrived.
“Ox,” said the soldier, “do you think we’ll ever be given away?”
The ox shrugged. “The stuffed animals probably will be. We generally are. A kid gets older and another younger kid likes the sight of you, so that becomes your next person.”
“What about soldiers?”
The ox studied the soldier briefly before answering. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “You’re the first and only soldier I’ve seen here. You’ve got the leg missing so they might just put you away somewhere or throw you out.”
The soldier hadn’t thought about being thrown out. “You mean I’d be thrown in the garbage?”
“It could happen,” the ox said. “If you’re not moved to another kid that’s often what happens.”
The soldier hadn’t considered this. He had never thought toys could eventually be trash. “How do you think they decide whether to store you somewhere or throw you out?”
The ox shrugged again, looking out at the room, already somewhat bored with this line of questioning. “I don’t know. I’m not a person. I don’t know how they think. I don’t know how they decide these things, if I did I’d tell you.”
The soldier was disturbed. He stayed next to the ox for a while without speaking, thinking. Surely he wouldn’t die as trash. That wasn’t fair to any toy, really. He had trouble believing people could be so callous, even the nastier ones. Although no toy had any delusions about people being big-hearted. They were self-absorbed. They made the decisions, they controlled everything. They had lives outside whatever room they kept their toys in: they got to live in other rooms, outside, in other houses, other buildings. They could go wherever they pleased whenever they liked, at least the people the soldier had encountered. He didn’t know if that was true of all people. He was mostly concerned with the boy.
“Ox,” he said finally, “when was the last time the boy played with you?”
The ox thought for a minute. “Sometimes he takes me to bed with him,” he said. “He often likes a stuffed animal by him when he falls asleep. Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know,” the soldier said. “I’m worried he’ll get rid of me because he doesn’t need me anymore.”
“When was the last time he played with you?”
“A few months ago. Well he didn’t really play with me, he just showed me to a friend so he could show the friend I only had one leg. Then he put me down again.”
“And that was a few months ago?” said the ox.
The ox looked at the soldier with some pity, and not the confused, distanced kind the other stuffed animals offered. This was genuine, if not too deeply felt. The soldier was a bit self-important in the ox’s view. He’d been insufferable last year after he’d gotten to survey the boy and a friend playing Battleship. He’d bragged about it for months. But the ox knew he didn’t mean harm. He was oblivious but not mean. Irritating but essentially good in character. Some of the pity was also borne of the fact that the soldier didn’t get on with the other toys particularly well, except for the ox. It wasn’t so much that they disliked him, more that they weren’t quite sure what to say to him, or how to respond to any of his stories or musings with more than polite, insincere interest indicated by nods or the occasional affirmative word or phrase. The ox wasn’t sure if the soldier really felt lonely or if he was so hung up on his notions of duty and dedication to the boy that he didn’t think of the other toys as more than an audience for his thoughts when he was confused or uncertain. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, frankly, if the soldier were gotten rid of; but the ox didn’t necessarily wish that upon him. He was content to coexist with the soldier and the others indefinitely, hopefully without having to interact with the soldier too much.
“I don’t know what will happen,” he said. “I really don’t know. Like I said, you’re the one soldier I’ve seen here. There isn’t really any precedent for how to deal with you.”
The soldier absorbed this, feeling morose. He knew he would have difficulty sleeping now for worrying about whether he’d be thrown away. He knew there wasn’t much point in obsessing this way over his fate. It wouldn’t affect whatever decision the boy or perhaps his mother came to. But it was normal to be anxious about how you would end things. He didn’t want to die in the trash. Surely no one did. He knew the ox would likely stick around for a while. If the boy ultimately got rid of him there was a good chance he’d be given to another child. The soldier had never asked the ox about previous homes he’d lived in but he had the impression the ox was used to moving around. The soldier rather hoped he would die in this room—but not in the trash can.
The ox looked on with mild interest at the boy and his mother clearing out the shelves on the adjacent side. This happened every so often, it was just something to look at until something more interesting came along. He noticed the mother, in one of her sweeps of the shelves, knocking the soldier into the bin, where he disappeared beneath the other trash. The ox did feel sorry for him. He hadn’t wanted the soldier to die. He found he had more pity for him in death than he’d had when the soldier was alive and still able to hop over and contemplate unimportant things out loud.
The boy had his back turned when the mother knocked the soldier into the bin. He turned back briefly to look at the newly cleared shelves.
“Where’s the soldier?” he said.
The mother looked up from a lower shelf. “What?”
“The soldier with one leg.”
The mother looked down at the bin. “I don’t know. I might have swept him in here. Do you want him? He only has one leg.”
“Yeah I know but I like that he has one leg. I showed him to Ollie and he thought it was cool because it looked like he’d been in battle or something.”
The mother began sorting through the trash. Eventually she found the soldier and pulled him out, offering him to the boy. “Where do you want to keep him?”
The boy took him. “I’m not sure, I’ll find a place.” He put the soldier in his back pocket, where the soldier remained until the boy went to bed. At night while getting undressed the boy pulled the soldier from his pocket and placed him on a chest of drawers opposite the shelves where he’d lived before. He placed him near the back so he wouldn’t easily be knocked over, in front of the window. The soldier was never moved again. Though he stayed in the room the ox also never spoke to him again because the soldier never moved. He was entirely still that the ox saw, apparently at peace.