Teddy Bear Brown

Morgen Knight

            Kristen was having a good day when she walked into Day Old By Gones. It was a small shop on the corner of 9th and Charlotte. Dim, stuffy. She had a large, white shopping bag in her hand. Inside of it was a three hundred dollar sun dress. Her Ralph Lauren sunglasses were pushed to the top of her head. The click of her wedge shoes was lively off of the floor, before the carpet started. It was the only noise inside the shop, besides the entrance bell, which had comprised of a single, sweet, ding.

She stopped where the old, musty carpet began, looking around. There was a woman behind the counter, looking down at the paperback in her hands, a couple of people browsing, and a pair of teens, who’s heads were darting around with furtive looks. Stealing, she thought. One of them began to laugh quietly.

What was there to steal in a place like this? She had felt a sort of amused arrogance when she’d seen this shop. They sold crap here. Relics not old enough or valuable enough to be antiques, and nothing here was new enough to be the five-and-dime made in China loot. It was like…a yard sale, but in a store. There was the table full of records, the shelves of figurines, the hand-me-down clothes, and incomplete set of golf clubs for a hundred dollars, boxes of puzzles, metal photo frames, and more.  It was almost junk, but sometimes there were hidden pearls. First edition books, for example. Rare albums. She had once read about a picture sold at an auction of Betty Davis for ten grand that someone had found in the sole of a boot.

There weren’t many of these shops left for collections like this, she knew. You had to hit the yard sales and flea markets, which she didn’t have the time for. But she couldn’t resist the coming in here when she had seen it. There was a feel about these shops. A smell. It was like she could see the memories walking around.

Kristen walked by the picture frames. There was a silver one with a picture of a young boy standing near a pond in it. She picked it up. Some people didn’t take the pictures out when they sold the frames to places like this. She guessed that the frame was suppose to say something: Your life could be held here.  Look at the smiling faces. Pay attention to the joy. This could be your life, too. Kristen had seen the same thing at the super stores and in wallets. It was probably suppose to give the items life, or the buyer an idea for themselves, the way real estate agents will stage an empty home. The illusions of what could be. But all of those photos were fake. Actors or models, she supposed, put together to pose and smile. A happy family. A happy couple. And they were printed on cardboard, easily discarded. But, the picture in this frame was real. She could tell by looking at it.  In fact, looking up and down the shelf, she believed that every photo here was real.  Something about that felt empty.

The frame might be real silver, she thought. It had the look and weight. Maybe something bought at Tiffany’s a generation or two back, passed along, and now it was here. $25.00, the orange sticker read. Most prices in places like this were more like suggestions. She made a note of it and put it back.

There were coats (it was springtime) and jackets and old shirts on the rack that could be in fashion again. Maybe. You never knew what was going to come back around.  There was a small display case of jewelry at the counter: rings and lockets, mostly.

But it wasn’t until Kristen got to the back that the amused grin slid off of her face.  She didn’t even feel it go, the way leaves can fall from trees. All of the amusement bled out of her. She didn’t understand why; she didn’t even question it. All she knew was how unsettled she felt.

It was a long table full of stuffed animals that she was looking at. They were piled up, a few canted to the side, sitting like a church choir or jury. Along the front of the table was a line of bright children’s books. The sides were discolored, probably missing pages.  One of them had been drawn on with purple crayon. But she barely noticed the books.

Something deep, something sleeping was clawing its way up her back. Kristen could feel it, but was powerless to stop it. Her eyes darted left and right, looking at all of the stuffed faces interrogating her. There was a myriad of sort animals. A small zoo. All of them looked unkempt and tattered. Dirty.

When it seized her, Kristen gave an unbelieving gasp, dropping her sack on the carpet. Both of her hands came up to her face.

“It can’t be,” she whispered, believing it.

What had grabbed her was the face of a small bear. It was pressed up against another animal, a lion with mange, so that she could only see its face. There was no way that it could be her bear, but it…it looked just the same. The glassy eyes watched her familiarly. The crushed-in chest. The padding of the right ear gone, deflating it. There had been a mouth of simple black thread, but she had pulled that out–on her bear. Sure, this one looked the same, but there was no way that it could be, right?

Kristen picked it up, holding it out like a child you’ve lifted off of the ground. It was the missing right arm of the bear that made her face go white. The arm was gone, a thick line of stitching running from its belly to its shoulder. An amputee.

Him–the bear had always been a him. She had named him Browny. It wasn’t the most original name, she would admit, but she had been a little girl. Seven or eight. She had lived a state over, then. She had been so miserable. This was before her aunt had taken her in.

Kristen brought the bear close to her, slowly, as though afraid it would animate suddenly and bite her. Once she had it against her chest, she squeezed it, closing her eyes tightly, breathing it in. The bear smelled like dust and lemon cleaner, oddly. But there was another, softer, more intransigent odor as well. Kristen could smell smoke.

She had been a bright child. She knew this because her Aunt had told that to her a number of times. She knew this because the photos showed it, photos she would never leave in a frame that she was selling, whether it made the frame come alive or not. There was a small collection of them at her condo, in the first drawer of the table by her bed. Her smile in all of those photos was so big. She didn’t smile like that anymore. It was a lost art.

The bear was so soft, the skin worn in many places as to be nonexistent, covered in patches. She had carried this bear with her everywhere. Slept with it at night. Tea parties. Dress up. After her mother had died, it had been Kristen’s only friend.

Being happy, she didn’t recall. But being without a mother, she did. It was a heart attack, she knew now. Whether she had understood that at the time, Kristen couldn’t remember. The only specific thing that she did remember was the wake, and the way all of her family had acted. And then they were gone, all of that care and the smells and the tears leaving with them. The only tears left were her own. How many had Browny absorbed? Cuddled up in a corner, she had held that bear, never letting it leave her side.

I’m here with you, she could almost hear it say.

And she would talk to it.

Time was a warped thing, but to Kristen, it didn’t seem like that long after her mother was gone, that her father had remarried. He was a businessman that traveled a lot, she recalled. He was always gone. The woman that he had called Kristen’s step-mom had brought a daughter with her, a girl two years older than Kristen was. A step-sister.

We don’t have to like them, Browny had said.

Kristen had agreed. In fact, she had hated the woman and her daughter. As Kristen thought back on it, she couldn’t determine any realistic cause. The woman, Cindy, had not hurt her. She had not called her names. All that she had done was take her mother’s place. Kristen had not liked her step-sister, either.

Had hated them, and so had Browny.

The bear in her hands had a small sticker on his chest. 50 cents. She had thought that this bear was destroyed. It should have been. The bell rang once as she paid for the bear, the teens leaving. The woman at the counter had a concerned look on her face as Kristen dropped two quarters down and rushed outside-she had to know.

With a key, she opened the stitching along the bear’s side. When the hole was big enough, Kristen tore at it, plunging her hand in it, pushing the stuffing around. When she felt the paper, she almost cried. It was folded up and ugly. Time, water, and smoke.  Parts of it were brown. She unfolded it in the sunlight.

The picture that was on it, she had drawn. It was of her and her father holding hands. He was a man that she barely remembered, now. Her Aunt had raised her, just the two of them. She had taken Kristen in, loved her, made her go to school and college, helped her manage the inheritance. But the man was a ghost to her. Behind him was their house, flames shooting out of the windows.

Kristen fell to her knees, crying. The bear lay half disemboweled beside her, looking up indifferently.

It had been Browny’s idea to start the fire. She had used his right hand to do it, holding it over the match. He had asked her to, and she had, dropping him on the downstairs carpet. Afterwards, she had run out, hiding in the small playhouse that her father had built for her, watching the flames grow.

It had been his idea that had killed her step-mom and her step-sister in their sleep. His idea. He’d told her what to do. He’d told her when. What he hadn’t told her was that her father was still home.

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  1. This is actually scary!

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