“No!” Burly shouted as the trunk lid came down on him, covering him in darkness, but it did no good. Herman didn’t open the lid and lift him out. “Please, Herman, please,” the little bear whispered through the night, but Herman didn’t answer him. Finally Burly sat back and began to think about it. Herman will get a good night’s sleep and feel better the next morning, Burly decided. Herman will take him into his arms and beg his forgiveness which, of course, he will give, Burly told himself. So there was nothing left to do but be patient and wait for morning. But when morning came, Herman got up, dressed and went to the kitchen to cook his father’s breakfast, ignoring Burly’s pleas to be let out of the trunk.
“Do you need me after school?” Herman asked his father as they ate the ham, eggs and toast.
Not looking up, his father mumbled, “Could use some help in the barn.”
Herman climbed into the loft to get his books. Burly saw this as his chance to talk him into letting him out.
“Please let me out. I don’t like it in here. It’s scary.”
But Herman acted as though he didn’t hear the little bear and left. Burly began to wonder if Herman could hear him anymore. Maybe his magical powers went away. Maybe none of his life ever happened. Somewhere in the old rags that filled his head there was a special something that allowed him to pretend he had talked to Herman. Burly was very confused. He tried not to think much about what was happening until that night when Herman came home.
It was very late when Herman finally came to bed; after all, he had to help his father, and then cook, then do is homework. Burly tried to be considerate and not say anything until Herman had slipped in between the covers.
“Herman,” he whispered, “Please let me out.”
There was no reply.
“Herman, I know I can still help you. I just know I can.”
Again no reply. Burly slowly began to believe Herman could no longer hear him until the little bear heard a muffled cry.
“Oh, shut up, Burly. Leave me alone.” And then Herman began to cry.
That made Burly very unhappy. His only reason to be able to talk and think was to be Herman’s friend and to make him happy. This was the first time Burly had made Herman cry. “I’ll never do that again. I’ll listen to what Herman is doing, and whisper advice in the middle of the night. But, I’ll never upset him by asking to be let out again.”
And so the days and months passed with Burly listening in on Herman’s conversations with his friends. And with himself, because for the first time in his life Herman talked to himself. Mostly he said terrible things to himself, like calling himself a dummy because he only made a B in a certain class instead of an A.
“Don’t call yourself names like that,” Burly whispered late at night. “You can’t be perfect in everything. Don’t think bad of yourself or soon you will really believe it and you won’t even make Bs in school.”
Herman didn’t say anything, but Burly noticed Herman stopped calling himself names. The next report card was better. He got all As.
“Hey, genius,” Marvin said one day while visiting Herman in the loft. “With grades like that you ought to go to college.”
“I plan to,” Herman replied with confidence. “I want to be a lawyer.”
“It takes money to be a lawyer,” Marvin said. “Where are you going to get money to go to law school?”
Herman shrugged. “They have scholarships. I’ll get me one of those.”
“Do you think you’re smart enough?” Marvin kidded.
“Yes,” Herman replied, completely serious.
“Yeah, I know you are,” Marvin said in a dark tone. “But that doesn’t mean you’ll get the money.”
”Then I’ll work my way through, even if it takes extra years I’ll get through.”
“And what about the draft?”
“Well, there’s always the G.I. Bill.”
Marvin snickered. “You’ve got all the answers.”
Herman looked at him with wide eyes. “Yes, I do.”
That night Burly whispered, “I don’t want you to call yourself a dummy but don’t go too far the other way. You don’t want to lose your friends.”
Marvin never visited Herman in the loft again. Burly never knew exactly what happened because Herman didn’t mention Marvin when he talked to himself, and Gerald never talked about Marvin when he visited.
“Gosh, Herman, I never thought one of my friends would be the senior class valedictorian,” Gerald laughed one afternoon.
“Well, it was real close,” Herman said. “You did well in the class standings, too.”
Burly smiled to himself. Evidently Herman was still paying attention to his late night advice.
“Have you decided whether or not to take your Uncle Calvin’s offer to stay with him and go to Rice Institute? That would be nice, being with your sister again.”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? She got married last winter.”
Burly wondered if Pearly Bear still had a shelf of honor in Callie’s home or if she had been relegated to an old trunk.
“Anyway, I still want to go to the University of Texas. If I don’t get drafted, that is.”
“What does May Beth say about all this?”
Herman shifted uneasily on the bed. “What does she have to say about it?”
“Well, I thought you two, you know,” Gerald replied, a little nervous.
“We’ve dated a lot, that’s all.”
“Is that how she looks at it?”
“It doesn’t make any difference how she looks at it,” Herman said.
Again Burly felt worried about some of Herman’s attitudes. That night as Herman tossed and turn in his bed, Burly whispered, “Don’t toss away May Beth’s friendship, or love, so easily. Remember love is as important as school.”
In a few weeks graduation had come and gone. Herman was called for his draft induction physical and passed. That meant he would be leaving the old farmhouse for good soon. Burly was scared again. Another incident scared Burly. One night Herman came home and had trouble climbing the ladder. He was drunk. Pulling a small bottle of some kind of liquor from his pocket Herman took a long swig.
“And here’s to the bride, May Beth Webster,” he slurred. “And here’s to the groom, Marvin Berry, the bum.”
So he had not taken Burly’s advice about May Beth, and she had married his former friend. Burly’s heart broke for Herman. For the first time in more than a year Burly wished he was out of the trunk and in Herman’s arms so Herman could squeeze the bear hard to make his pain go away.
Herman mumbled other things in a drunken stupor, things Burly couldn’t quite make out, and then he passed out on the bed.
Burly worried all night about Herman’s beginning to drink. He whispered, ”Please don’t start drinking, Herman. Remember what happened to Tad’s friend, Leonard.” But he didn’t know if Herman ever heard him.
Within a few days Herman was gone to join the Army and the loft became deathly still. For the first time Burly looked around him to see what he shared the trunk with. There were some of Herman’s mother’s clothes, including her wedding dress. There was the American flag from Tad’s memorial service. Down at the bottom Burly found old baby clothes that belonged to Callie.
One night Burly heard steps coming up the ladder. His little heart leapt, hoping it was Herman. Instead, it was Mr. Horn, who walked across the loft to the trunk. When he opened it, Burly could tell he too was drunk. Woody Horn gently picked up the dress his wife wore on her wedding day and touched it to his cheek. Then he caressed the American flag given in memory of his fallen son. Finally he picked up Burly Bear.
“Well, little bear, I wondered what became of you,” Woody said with a slur. “So he tossed you aside too, like he did me.”
Burly thought to try to speak to him, but decided against it.
Woody sniffled. “I guess I can’t blame him. I didn’t do much to keep him.” He began to put Burly back in the trunk and then stopped. “If I can’t keep my son, then I’ll keep my son’s teddy bear.” And with that he took Burly downstairs to his bedroom where he laid the little bear beside his pillow. After he took his shirt and trousers off and climbed into bed, Woody picked up Burly again. “I guess you won’t mind if I start talking to you.”
Mind? Burly thought; I’d be thrilled. If I had stayed alone in that trunk, in that great nothingness of time and space, I would have surely lost my magic and become just another forgotten toy, ripe for decay and to be gnawed upon by visiting rats.
Woody held Burly closely. “I guess a part of me died when Opal passed on. And I shouldn’t have let that happen.”
But you couldn’t help it, Burly thought.
“I kept telling myself that I couldn’t help it but that’s not true. I could have bucked up and done the right thing.”
There’s still time to do the right thing, Burly thought.
“Maybe there’s still time,” Woody’s eyes became heavy with sleep. “I’ll write Herman and Callie letters. I’ve never written a letter before, but I’m not too old to learn. And maybe they’ll forgive me.”
Of course they will, Burly thought, knowing Woody was somehow catching his advice, just like Herman did.
Meet your new friend, Burly Bear.