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            You can see clearly the difference between say the beginning of your twenties and the
end, the beginning of your thirties and the end, the beginning of your forties and… It’s
been years, decades. Really, time has shifted not to a collection of years marked off by
birthday candles and age appropriate toys: transformers broken and lost; gifts: a laptop
computer reformatted and updated; mementoes: your daughter’s first shoes framed and
stored—all signs of natural transition—but by rather varying shifts of adulthood: college
graduation, the purchase of a minivan, the consultation of a will maker.

Decades sounds both romantic and a little bit sad as if you’ve been so preoccupied that
what has now become an obsession has been a latent desire for one thing, something you
did not notice until your daughter’s teddy bear went missing. And aren’t we all looking
for something from our past? Aren’t we all looking for the comfort found in an object
from our youth? You wonder if someone ought to sell an adult safety blanket. Maybe it
could be as small and paltry as a handkerchief but it would bring a calmness when
touched. Or maybe, just maybe, you could start to suck your thumb again. Yes, you think,
that would be nice, that would be safe, comforting. But you’d have to do it in secret
because you and your psychologist wife tell your daughter all the time to stop doing that,
that big girls don’t suck their thumbs or pout. Big girls solve problems, make tough
decisions, lead by example.

As you scour the house, you think your childhood wasn’t unhappy. Your mother still
lives in the house you grew up in, and you see her twice, sometimes three times a year.
Your mother enjoys reading detective novels, in particular Sherlock Holmes and drinking
coffee from a French Press. She has the time now. She’s gotten to navigate the
smartphone you bought her and often sends long, grammatically correct texts, which both
amuse you and makes you think your mother is really writing an electronic letter. (How
much time she must spend proofing it!) And though they separated and later divorced,
your father and mother actually send each other Christmas cards and sometimes even talk
on the phone. Your father enjoys playing golf and just ordered new clubs. He often
spends time coaching youth sports at the local Y and spends the summers on the Cape,
always eager to go quahogging with his brother. You don’t dare ask them about the bear
because of what it signifies.

What no one speaks of or really remembers is where that Teddy Bear went, the one you’d
had as a child and that your sister had given you when she outgrew those kinds of things
and sought instead the reciprocation of warmth, a “bear” that might talk back.
Though now, you realize, no one ever really grows out of things like that, despite the
aboveboard sentimentality it might convey for an older person to have such a thing on
their bed or for a mother to still have report cards from elementary school, baby teeth, a
first communion outfit; your sister, Cara, thought it was time, that you’d enjoy it just as
much and so she gave it to you when you were five and she was almost ten. Even then
you think, she knew how to make you happy.

It makes you sad to think it’s lost, that perhaps time has simply done its job, as if it would
say, “What? What’d you think I’d do with it? Seal it in a plastic bag, write the date on it,
and wait for you to ask for it later? Come on. That’s no way to run a business. Think of
the overhead. Think of…” When your daughter asks where Mr. Pudding is, you can only
smile and say, “He’s taking a bath.” And later, “He’s napping, he’s out for tea with his
friends. He suddenly wanted to take a trip to Jejudo now that he has his passport.” But
you know he’s gone, that he might have purchased a one-way ticket. And he’s nothing
but a remnant in your mind, and hopefully hers. But she will ask your wife later and your
wife will give you one of those long, silent stares as if to say, “Well, where the hell is Mr.
Pudding?” It’s been a long day and this is what I have to respond to? And you’ll think,
sure, I couldn’t help getting laid off, why should I be capable of protecting my daughter’s
prized possession. But you won’t say any of this, won’t tell your wife how small you feel
not because she can’t be bothered by such an emotion from her husband of whom her
mother told her not to marry but because your pride is all you have and it took you so
long to hunt it down, capture it, and cage it for moments like these. You know your wife
is not an angry person, just someone now burdened since you’re unemployed.

As you continue to search, it strikes you one day that you might be able to find it, that
someone might be selling a vintage Teddy Bear, the one your daughter loves, the one that
you cherished, the one her dead aunt had as a child. This, you think, is why we have
technology, why websites like eBay exist: to satisfy that perpetual pang that results when
we’ve been reminded of all we’ve lost. You think now about your one GI Joe figure, how
the arm was missing and the face a little scratched—how that was the best kind of toy
despite what the other kids said behind your back and eventually to your face when your
parents separated. Kids can be so cruel, you think, and you place your thumb just below
your mouth. But you bite your nail instead. Tap the computer with your free hand.
You search for Teddy Bears and are instantaneously inundated with bears. Glorious bears
of all shapes, sizes, and sentiments. Mohair, jointed, glass eyed. Momma bears with baby
bears. Large bears, small bears. But none of them look like the one you and Cara shared
as children. None of them are your daughter’s bear. So you keep searching, looking,
hoping. You search and you pray. You wonder when the last time it was you actually and
sincerely prayed not for something, but just to show appreciation, just to say, “God if
you’re up there, I’m grateful. I’m happy.” But you can’t remember, so you continue
clicking and scanning and praying. You make dinner, eat, put your daughter to bed,
promise her you will find him, make him come home even if he’s having the most
amazing time traveling.

When the box comes in the mail, you’re relieved. Though it’s not too heavy, it has weight
to it. When you take it out of the box, you examine it a little, notice one of the button
eyes is somewhat loose. You imagine the life it’s had, who possibly carried it, spoke to it,
slept with it. You wonder of its travels, of who made it, sewed it to life. You wonder of
the joy it brought to children and the pain it caused parents who had lost him.

You make sure to hide it in the van so that Sophia will find it tomorrow because you
know that the joy of discovering something of such crushing weight and immediate
importance to a child—though it is merely an object, a now replaceable item, an artist’s
construction—is as satisfying as the joy it brings from knowing that it is safe and secure,
that it is not lost, that all of the memories attached to it don’t suddenly have a kind of
immense and weightless heft because its absence is the loudest.

         

Mark L. Keats is currently a PhD student in Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. His work has been published in Palaver Journal, Clockhouse, Smokelong Quarterly, and many others.




 


This story began as a sketch of an object a character had as a child. I became interested in the object's collective history, especially a stuffed animal--that symbol of youth and security. Then, I became intrigued by the thought of finding and buying this object online and knowing nothing of its previous life: who had owned it, where it had been kept, etc. 




 





  


Copyright 2009