Teddy has been sitting on the same brown sofa in the family room for over ten years, staring at Rita’s photograph across from him. There’s a faraway look in his droopy eyes, and from the way he stares at my wife’s photograph, I can tell he is trying to say something, but can’t get the words out. After Rita passed on, I laid him down on the sofa. He has been there ever since.
Teddy is a chubby little stuffed bear. Sepia brown in complexion, he measures about a foot and a half. He came to Rita soon after her surgery as a gift from Millie, our only daughter, and stayed with her for two years until she said her last goodbye.
“Call me after the surgery,” Millie had said when I phoned her the day before to give her the bleak results of her mom’s colonoscopy.
I did. Waves of sobs followed the news of the presence of malignancy. She took the earliest flight to Austin. As soon as we got home, she rushed upstairs where Rita was resting. After a long hugging and crying, she gave Rita the stuffed bear. Despite the sudden upheaval in her life, she had not forgotten her mom’s love for stuffed animals.
Rita never parted with Teddy until the day she left. He was her constant companion. I often wonder if Rita ever spoke to Teddy when they were alone. Perhaps she asked him questions she couldn’t ask anyone else. Perhaps his answers gave her the strength and the will to carry on her fight. When he was not lying next to her, she would hold him close to her chest, or sit him up on her lap and mumble sweet baby talk to him as they watched TV together. She carried him in the crook of her arm like a baby wherever she went.
I did not let go of Teddy after Rita left us. I wanted to hang on to him as my bridge to her memory.
“I think we should dress him up in a fancy outfit,” I had told Rita soon after Teddy came into her life.
At first Rita thought I was being funny and laughed at the idea.
One day we went out in search of an outfit for Teddy and found a shop that had hundreds of fancy dresses for stuffed animals. Rita picked up a beautiful blue satin outfit.
“Do you think it will look nice on Teddy?” she asked.
“Yes, of course.”
She put the outfit on Teddy when we got home. Her face glowed with affection as she held him up and looked at him. She clasped on to him for the longest time as she carried him around and showered him with hugs and kisses.
“Doesn’t he look cute?” she said.
That outfit has been on Teddy ever since. I’ve often thought about adorning him with a new one, but every time I thought about doing so, I’ve been held back by a desire to keep him just the way Rita had left him.
On Friday evenings when I get home from work, I sit across from him, ready to pickle my brain. He engages me in a voiceless conversation, keeping me company in the silence of my lonely sanctuary. For a while, I’m quite cognizant of his presence until I reach the moment of euphoria and begin to float in the Pink Clouds. Gradually I reach a point when my world is filled with disembodied figures engrossed in hushed confab. I’m no longer alone. Teddy has helped me get there.
On some of these evenings, when I can inspire myself to practice music, he’s the only one in my audience, listening in rapt attention to whatever melodies I can belt out. “Keep yourself occupied with music,” Rita had said more than once when she realized she wouldn’t make it through her battle. As my baritone voice reverberates in the melancholy rendition of timeless songs, I see in Teddy’s glassy eyes his pain of lost companionship. I pick him up and mourn with him our mutual unspoken grief. I feel a lump rising in my throat and can hardly breathe.
What will happen to Teddy when I get my own clarion call? Will someone adopt him as a bridge to my memory, or will he be tossed away with the clutter of this house?
I wish Teddy an eternal life. I would like him to be the bridge between generations, a wellspring of strength, a crutch to lean on through cycles of birth and death. Maybe someday, in the dead of night when the rains come down hard against the windows and the winds screech and whistle through the trees, Teddy, from his permanent perch on a brown sofa in someone else’s lonely sanctuary, will finally let out a cry of anguish, pleading that his failures were not his own doing, but the will of some unseen forces to whose rhythms we all dance.
Shiv Dutta’s essays have appeared in River & South Review, The Evansville Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Hippocampus Magazine, Eclectica Magazine, Epiphany, The Evergreen Review, Silk Road Review, Front Porch, and other journals. He has also produced many technical papers and co-authored two technical books. One of his personal essays was nominated for Pushcart Prize. He lives in Round Rock, Texas.