Hello, little one. There's someone I'd like you to meet. Here- this is Flopsy.
No, don't suck on his ear.
Now, your Mummy says you're still too young for stuffed animals, but she wouldn't understand. What I thought is if I give him to you now, a present like, it would be a very callous Mummy who would take him away again. I suppose she'll hide him away until you're a bit older, but that won't matter. Point is he'll be yours. You'll have bonded. There's nothing she can do about that now. She doesn't like me at the best of times, so I shan't mind her being angry with me. I suppose it comes with the territory. Mother-in-law. I made her angry enough before when she wanted a girl. I told her a boy would be better. Everything would have been so much easier if you had been a boy. I had all boys. A blessing, really.
No offence, dear.
Now, I've had Flopsy for as long as I can remember. He was my mother's before me, you know. Been handed down for generations, firstborn girl to firstborn girl. He may not be the prettiest of toys- mangey old thing, your Mummy calls him- but he's been well loved. You must be very careful with him. He's very precious.
My mother. Poor soul.
I didn't know her very well. She died when I was still very young. Terrible luck, she had, at the end. She suffered from all sorts. Poor health. Accidents. That's why she gave me this rabbit, why I'm giving him to you now. For protection. They say rabbit feet are lucky and, well, our Flopsy has four.
You mustn't lose him, dear. You must keep him with you always. Don't let that Mummy of yours replace him or- heaven forbid- wash him. Flopsy doesn't like getting wet. He gets very grumpy when he's wet. You must always say your pleases and thankyous around Flopsy, otherwise he might decide that you're ungrateful and stop looking after you. Flopsy forgives many things- the occasional fall from the pram, the slight preference for other toys you might come to love, or later, when you're older, the odd night locked away in the cupboard when a young suitor is around- but he can't abide rudeness. Or water. Did I mention the water thing?
Anyway... Where was I?
Water. Oh, I did so love the water when I was younger. Not so much now. My father never wanted me to go swimming, tried to stop me learning after what happened to my mother, but of course I didn't listen. We all rebel at some point. You'll make your own mistakes, I know. I won't fault you for that. Won’t be around much longer to judge, anyway.
Look at the pair of you. Fast friends. You hold onto him. Hold onto him like I wish I could hold onto you, like I wish I could hold onto Flopsy.
Well... It would be a selfish thing if I did. I'm an old woman now. You need him more than I do. I've had a good innings.
Is this how she felt?
Oh, I know you won't answer me poppet. You're too young to understand a word I'm saying. Still. This has to be said. You have to know what's waiting for you, the choice you might have to make one day, if you're unlucky. The one I'm making now. The one my mother made for me.
They told us she drowned. Told us that she drove the car into that lake. For the longest time, I really did think that she must have hated me.
Should you love someone, even if it hurts them? Or should you leave them in someone else's care? It should be an easy choice, but it's not. I thought perhaps we might have escaped this, what with me not having any daughters. I thought I might be the last one, but then you had to go and have a difficult birth and there's that mark, bold as brass. Same as mine. Here.
I've seen them, you know. I was abroad once, in my youth. Went lake swimming. Silly, really. Flopsy couldn't help me from the shore. Saw them lurking- great big slimey buggers, they were. Horrible teeth. One grabbed my leg. Everyone told me it must have just been some pond weed, but I knew better.
It's all part of the curse. Family thing, I'm afraid.
I don't know the full story. One of our ancestors went prying where they shouldn't have and upset something very powerful. That's not important. What matters is that we’re marked, poppet, just like every firstborn girl since. The mark calls to them- those dark and terrible beasts that lurk at the edges of the world, those eldritch creatures that drift, dead and dreaming, beneath the waves, those demon spawn who dragged my mother to an early grave.
Oh dear. Someone needs their nappy changing. Come here then. We don't want your Mummy coming back just yet, do we?
There. That's better.
I wish I could give you something more before I leave, but I suppose I've already done enough in that regard. That scar. You can cover it with makeup when you're older, if it bothers you. Not that it will help, of course.
I suppose I'm just stalling, really. Even now a part of me wants to rip Flopsy back out of your arms and keep him for myself. It would be nice to believe that we could share him, that he could protect both of us. Nice, but foolish. Whatever else he might be, Flopsy is only small. He can only look after one of us, and I would rather it be you.
We tried sharing for a time, mother and I. I don't remember much of it, sickly child that I was, but I remember playing with her and Flopsy in the garden on one of those long, hot summer’s days. I remember her smile- such a beautiful smile, full of joy and light. She would laugh and the shadows would draw nearer. Expectant. Impatient. They were everywhere, that summer. In our home. Waiting for us on the street. In our lungs, even, making us cough and wheeze, forcing us to fight for each breath. They followed us everywhere we went. I was kept from the worst of it, but my mother’s life had become a constant battle, and it was a battle we would not win. Not together, at least. The draw of two marks so close to each other was too much for them to resist, no matter what luck we had on our side.
I remember her getting in the car and driving away. She told me she was just going to fetch medicine, that father would look after me and that everything would be alright if me and Flopsy stuck together. She went alone with a suitcase full of clothes and all her savings in her purse, but she never made it far enough to need either. By sunset, the shadows had grown long and dark and my mother was dead.
What else to tell you?
Don't talk to strangers. Keep those you love close. Listen to your parents.
Look after yourself. Eat your vegetables, take up a sport... Gymnastics, maybe, or one of those martial arts you see in the films. Learn to swim and then swim fast. Never look back at what's chasing you. Always put the lid down when you flush the toilet. Be nice to cats. Don't mind what other people might say about you. Pray if it comforts you. Always look people in the eye and never ever be afraid of anyone. Not even Flopsy. Especially not him.
He talks sometimes.
Not often, but if he does you must do exactly as he says. Don't question it if he's not where you remember putting him down, or if some days his smile looks different, or if his fur is suddenly matted with blood.
It's best not to think too hard about what Flopsy is, dear.
I used to think my parents had made the whole thing up, that he was just a stuffed animal and that I had just been a child with an overactive imagination and vivid nightmares. Then- after I'd learned the hard way what would happen if I left Flopsy behind- I decided that he was some sort of lucky charm, an enchanted doll, perhaps, imbued with ancient spells that kept me safe. A poppet of sorts, if you will. Now even that seems wrong, Flopsy having a life of his own and all. Perhaps he's possessed by some protective spirit, or he's some trickster god in woollen form.
Whatever he is, dear, just be glad he's on our side.