Excerpt from Chlora’s Book of the Month Club: August and June
Draft 1, 2014 copyright Ginger Henry Geyer
How Teddy came to be... (from August excerpt)
A few years ago, at the Grape Festival,
Dad actually won something in one of those carnival booths.
All he did was throw baseballs through a hoop.
Everybody knew it was rigged, but Dad was resourceful
and figured out how to get around it.
All the bells went off and the carnie guy looked dismayed
while Chlora jumped up and down.
Dad let her select the prize.
She immediately pointed at the fuzzy, fat teddy bear,
the only blue one crammed between all the others.
Being a rescued animal,
Teddy was a lucky soul, and he knew it.
He was eternally grateful.
In June, Chlora wakes up one morning in her bedroom, and heads for breakfast with Teddy…
First thing, the stuffed bear needed a name.
Chlora mulled over this conundrum for a whole day.
She often wrote lists of names
in the back of her diary because
she liked to name things. Names stuck,
even though back in the Bible
some characters like Paul or
Jacob got renamed when they got a new life.
Chlora sometimes wished she would get renamed too,
when kids called her "Clorox" or "Chlorine."
She knew a kid called Charles the Fifth, or Charlie 5,
one of those from a self-perpetuating elite family
of name droppers who drew credibility
from their Mayflower ancestors.
Then there were those lists of names in the Bible
all that boring ultimate genealogy that went all the way
back to Adam and Eve. Or did it?
Once Chlora entered a contest to name new crayons,
but she didn't win.
One of her entries was "Pepto Bismol Tongue"
for a crayon that was grayish-pink
like that icky color your tongue
turns after chewing Pepto Bismol tablets.
Another crayon they called "Skin Tone" she
renamed "White Lie".
It didn't win either.
Mainly Chlora liked to name her pets.
She would have to look the animal in the eye
and say the name out loud to try it on for size.
She felt the power of Adam when she came up
with the name that fit best.
For her brother Jerry Pete's box turtle,
Chlora recommended Hard House.
She dubbed their pet rabbits
Bonnie Bankside and Patty Esther,
and suggested Grandmother's poodle
be called Phydeaux, spelled the French way.
Chlora's favorite cat, a tabby named Iodine,
was the only pet allowed in her room.
It didn't work out too well when her
big sister's boyfriend gave her a parakeet.
Cutie Pie died from fright, thanks to Iodine.
Jerry Pete named his hamster The Spinster
because that all she did was stay home
and spin in her cage, poor thing.
Chlora wondered if God had a name,
because God seemed too big for one.
Just imagine God with a dog tag on his collar
with his name and owner's address on it.
Or maybe God had a silver I.D. bracelet.
Chlora also named wildlife and farm animals,
who technically weren't pets.
It was a way of pidgeon-holing them,
and an attempt to tell them apart.
A pair of deer she aptly named Hunkey and Dorey.
They and their little fawn Polka Dot used to drift
into the yard till Dad put up a high fence.
The unfortunate fence arrived right after
her brother gleefully ate some raisins
left behind by the deer.
Out at the family farm was a pinto pony
named Tonka Weejun, coined after
some TV Indian character,
plus her sister’s new loafers.
There was also Caramel the Calf.
The day Chlora found out that Caramel was the
hamburger she was eating
was the day Chlora quit naming.
So after much deliberation,
she stared at the fluffy blue teddy bear,
and simply named him Teddy.
And that was that.
Chlora's relationship with Teddy was complicated.
They all called him her imaginary little friend,
But he wasn't in her head.
He was in her arms.
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear,
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't fuzzy, was he?
She had a bad case of Velveteen Rabbit syndrome
with Teddy, even though he wasn't a rabbit.
She outsourced her feelings to him,
her Significant Other.
Teddy was with her through thick and thin
He had staying power.
However, his fur didn't.
Over time it thinned out and faded.
That was the first thing to go with aging.
When he was young, Teddy was fat and stiff,
but now his limbs were limp and his head fell back,
while his ears fell forward.
He was but a shadow of his former self
and yet he got better all the time
and he smelled right.
Chlora cradled Teddy to her chest
like a treasured obsession
and told him her close-hugged truths.
He might be a transitional object,
but he had object constancy.
Once when her sister was having a teenage meltdown,
Chlora kindly offered Teddy to soothe her tears.
Joanie Kay snarled and said,
"Get that snot-nosed, mangy bear outta here!"
and threw innocent Teddy across the room.
Chlora was horrified.
Problem was she loved Teddy too much,
and that was her secret.
Teddy was like Jesus, he made the holy touchable.
Yet even Jesus felt like an abstraction,
even though there were plenty of pictures of him.
Surely he approved of Teddy,
of anything that helps make sense of the world.
Teddy carried Chlora's yearning.
Being with Teddy was an I/Thou encounter,
why couldn’t others see that?
He would do anything for her,
even if she hung him on a nail.
When it came to comfort,
Teddy the care bear was the one Chlora reached for.
She told him the woes she couldn’t record in her diary,
and he absorbed her prayers.
Teddy was the icon of all-rightness. The time she busted open her
Magic 8 Ball, it spilled purple juice all over Teddy,
but he didn't even mind.
By now his face was smashed in
from being slept with,
and his goggly eyes hung by a thread.
His red felt tongue just wore down to a nub.
Teddy even let her operate on him once,
just so she could see what was inside.
His back seam was ripping open
so Chlora palpitated his pulpy innards
and sewed him up with green thread.
Like Chlora, he was proud of his stitches.
This was a bright summer morning
and Chlora's stomach growled.
So did Teddy's, even though he had gotten up early
for the annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast
Now he was the toast of the town
even though he was not a people-person.
Politics and religion were not Teddy's cup of tea.
He wasn't about to swallow all those
honeyed words, like Winnie the Pooh,
who was a bear of very little brain,
bothered by long words.
Not Teddy, he was smart.
He'd had a nip and tuck at the fancy breakfast buffet
but he was always willing to eat again.
Although it'd be fun to take Teddy his breakfast in bed,
fancily arranged on a tray,
the smell of bacon announced that it’d be
a good day to appear in the kitchen.
Chlora knew Teddy would join her for bacon
and for their other favorite, Alpha Bits.
Her little brother Jerry Pete was already slumped
over his bowl of cereal,
blowing bubbles in his milk with a straw.
Chlora advised him that
when you sup with the devil, you better use a long spoon.
Mom told Chlora to quit making those
snap, crackle and pop judgments
and eat her breakfast.
Chlora gleefully smashed blackberries
in her glass of milk, just for the enjoyable color.
She put a bib on Teddy
since he was prone to spilling his milk.
He would gobble up those soggy cereal letters
before Chlora could even spell a word.
If she wanted to invent a chewy poem,
she would have to distract Teddy.
After chasing down the letter T,
she finally managed to capture the word DOUBT
in her spoon.
It was not easy to spell with floating letters
when a bear was trying to fish them out.
Teddy not only snarfed up letters, but whole books.
She had to hide her diary from Teddy, because
at night he consumed every story she read,
cover, spine, and pages, just like St. John.
They were all omnivores.
St. John had swallowed the Holy Ghost, feathers and all,
and then he got marooned on that Patmos island
to bear witness. John was Teddy’s role model.
John would have benefited from some survival tips
from The Swiss Family Robinson,
like using a sea turtle's shell for a sink.
At least he didn't get voted off the island.
And then an angel visited him
and brought him food.
Well, it wasn't really food,
but sort of a Reader's Digest version of the eucharist.
It was a scroll, or a little book,
and he was commanded to swallow it whole.
He probably needed some Pepto Bismol afterwards.
Most people who swallow the scriptures whole
tend to burp a lot.
They should swallow their pride instead.
But John spit out beautiful words, especially
in the beginning when the light shines in the darkness.
Later on, when he had his prophetic stomach ache,
he wrote some stuff that caused a lot of trouble.
Chlora bit into a fresh peach;
now the arrival of summer was verified.
She gave Teddy a bite and it dribbled on his bib.
He googled his eyes at her.
Anybody smart knows when you google
you'll get contradictory information,
all of it almost believable.
What was Teddy trying to say this time?
In the evenings, Chlora likes to either tell stories with her stuffed animals,
stage a puppet theatre or play with shadows.
This night she hosts the wedding of her monkeys, Arnold and Feeney…
Teddy returned first, spouting his best bib and tucker.
He would be the best man at the monkeys' wedding,
since he was the best of all.
Chlora could read him like an open book.
Teddy was true blue, a non-anxious presence.
Unlike those monkey-minded monkeys,
Teddy never ran off, he
just stayed put wherever she left him.
At storytime, or at weddings or at the puppet theatre
Teddy was always polite and most attentive.
He was well-liked by all the other stuffed animals
although once they got jealous
and triangulated on him,
making up stories that were lies
and accusing him of evolution.
Evolution was sorta like reading the last page first,
which Chlora liked to do with a long novel.
That was one way to make a long story short,
which of course never happened when some long-winded
storyteller got on a roll.
Chlora might become a professional storyteller someday.
Where can you get a phD in that?
But that would take a lot of time.
Evolution did too, but then the creator made time,
so he could take as much of it
as he wanted to make people, fossils, and the rest of it.
There were advantages to staying an animal
instead of morphing into a human,
as Teddy well knew.
You would lose your animal magnetism
and have no tale to wag, and if not careful
you’d turn into a mass of overstuffed prose
where everything is figured out,
instead of just being a poem.
Teddy vowed to remain the bear he was,
and if he was loved into oblivion even
till he was physically erased, so be it.
His story would outlast him.
At last those co-habitating monkeys were married
and now everybody knew there was a commitment
to help them keep.
After their elaborate wedding tonight,
tomorrow night would call for
just a simple shadow parade
instead of the shadow puppet show.
The show required a bit of a set up.
Chlora would rig up a big flashlight behind the tent
made of sheets, and the animals
would have to compete for the best roles.
Arnold and Feeney usually got the main parts,
as they had strong silhouettes,
whereas Teddy hardly had a profile.
Since the newlyweds would be off on their honeymoon
there couldn’t be much of a show.
Chlora preferred these quiet shadow nights
although she’d never admit it.
They just evolved on their own without any effort from her.
This was when she could feel the corners of her life.
You had to wait for it to get dark and quiet
and everyone else was asleep.
Shadows have always been used to tell time,
and Chlora knew it was late enough when the bedroom
became a container for a shadow parade.
The walls would fill up with figures that would slink
silently from one side to the other.
Although she pretended she didn’t know
what caused it, she actually did know
beyond the shadow of a doubt, that
it was just the headlights
of passing cars shining through the window.
The shadow parade arrived abruptly,
stretching around corners, bumping over the shelves
and closets, and leaping across the shut door,
until it was swallowed
up again by the window.
Some nights it was like a circus train of mute elephants,
giraffes, lions, and floppy clowns,
shaping the darkness into something new.
Sometimes the ceiling fan distorted the shadows,
as it made round wind waves that lifted up the
draperies and cast their own shadows.
Everybody should own their own shadow,
but not Teddy. He was afraid of his own shadow
and was always trying to get away from it.
Therefore he would be relieved tomorrow night
that it was shadow parade time,
instead of the puppet show, when you had to reveal
those lost parts of yourself.
Teddy didn't want to be
in any kind of show behind the sheets.
Whenever he got too anti-anything,
she knew his shadow was disturbed.
Chlora tried to soothe him,
and told him to just face that shadow
and find out what it wanted instead of stuffing it.
Shadow work can be humiliating
but humility is edible, especially
if blended with something tasty.
Compressed shadows were what she found
during his surgery, and she warned him that he
was in danger of becoming a stuffed animus,
like a ground hog who can't find
his own shadow on Ground Hog Day.
Chlora told him the story of Peter Pan's shadow
that got ripped off but that nice Wendy girl
sewed it back onto his foot
and then he could fly again.
A little help from pixie dust didn’t hurt.
Teddy wasn't interested in flying, but he did nod
when she told the story of the apostle Peter,
who folks admired so much
they laid out sick people on the path
so his shadow would fall on them
when he passed by. Maybe they'd be healed.
That Peter cast a loonnggg shadow.
Maybe it had pixie dust in it too.
What if they ran out of light, like on a cloudy day
and there were no shadows?
Would God cure those sick people anyhow?
How come God healed some but not others?
Was healing more about souls or bodies?
Chlora told Teddy that his shadow side
was a mystery, not a problem,
sort of like the dark side of the moon.
Perhaps it'd help Teddy to try some shadow boxing
to fend off an animus attack.
Chlora had tried this herself one time
when she put on her cousin's boxing gloves.
She glared at herself in the mirror
jogged around and threw some punches.
She pretended to be fighting an angel
like Jacob did when wrestled all night
and came out with a new name.
That's what it took to get a blessing.
If he'd had boxing gloves he could’ve
punched that angel in the nose
and won his blessing quicker.
Whenever Chlora tried wrestling with angels,
they just rolled over and played dead.
Most wrestling seemed to be reserved
for prayer, but even prayer could get physical,
as Jacob well knew. His angel played dirty
and pinched his leg so bad
that Jacob limped the rest of his life.
Chlora tried this with her sister,
whose big blue bruise on her thigh
was proof that Chlora was no angel.
Chlora tied the boxing gloves onto Teddy's
short arms. But he would not
put up his dukes or pull any punches.
He just mumbled "Take off the gloves" and flat out refused to fight.
Teddy was a good, peace-loving anarchist,
even though he was well acquainted
with the injustice of the world.
He had absorbed much of it,
and was always in solidarity with the oppressed
on the evening news. Teddy, being just a bear
couldn’t remove the pain or even the source of it,
but he helped the world bear it.
Teddy was a good shock absorber.
Chlora's tall dancing doll, Olive Oyl,
was a different matter. Olive Oyl was whiney
but feisty, and always played the victim.
Chlora should tie the heavy boxing gloves
onto Olive Oyl's hands.
Next time Brutus bothered her,
she could land him a smack in the family jewels
and send him tumbling over himself.
Every girl needs self defense
especially in these days before they came up
with laws about sexual harassment.
But that ninny Olive Oyl always got into a fix
and hollered for Popeye to rescue her.
"Popeye, Save Me!" was her favorite refrain.
She should be crying out to Jesus
if she wanted saving.
But if a train were coming
and you were tied to the track,
you'd take the first saver who got there.
Teddy disappears…. Chlora discovers that Teddy is not there.
But Teddy also had his shadow side.
One day he disappeared.
He wasn't in his usual spot on her pillow.
Teddy never had to go the bathroom
or smile when he didn’t feel like it,
so where was he?
Chlora interrogated the other stuffed animals.
Fifi, being an aristocratic French poodle
adjusted her rhinestone collar and looked the other way.
The monkeys shrugged, and Olive Oyl boo-hooed.
Chlora went crazy looking for him.
Absence makes heart grow fonder,
but this time her heart went frantic.
Had Teddy abandoned her, betrayed her trust?
She blamed his disappearance
on the babysitter who had told
her she was too old to be sleeping with a bear.
She looked in all the likely places,
then crept out to the trash barrel.
It was burning wildly,
smoke curling up to the cold sky
like the Big Bad Wolf's cigar.
Chlora sat down and sobbed.
Teddy had gone to meet Smokey the Bear.
She mourned, she scratched out an epitaph in her diary:
You saved me a place
at the table
and gobbled up the honeyed words.
Loved into oblivion,
Bearing all things,
you were erased,
your hunger hung on a nail,
your shadow stitched to your back.
Open wide now
for a rich meal,
ink on paper bound by spine.
Stuff yourself before you read stories;
a tummy ache will confirm the call.
Digest it whole,
Prophet without honor,
then lift up your head,
spit up my words
The Cross-Eyed Bear,
needs more than a hug.
She wished her diary had taken Teddy's place in that bonfire.
It would have saved it from posterity.
Dad was always burning leaves and garbage
out there in that barrel. Was Teddy garbage?
Sometimes his fires got out of control
when the grass was dry, but Dad was usually
on standby with a hose.
Worse was when Mom's skillet of fried chicken
got over heated. It wasn't her fault but Chlora’s,
because Chlora had distracted her
with one of her crises and Mom was comforting her
in the living room and forgot the grease was on the stove.
Chlora pointed out the waves of smoke
coming from the kitchen and Mom ran back in there.
She slipped on the splattered oil
and grabbed that skillet and threw it out in the backyard,
fire and all. Wow, did that ever take off!
Chlora suggested they call for the town’s new
firetruck this time, then she reviewed
her grab-in-emergency list that was
firmly implanted in her head.
First on list was Teddy, then her diary,
then the drawings she'd stuffed in the closet,
then her picture collection.
And then there was the list of things
she'd like to have burned up,
like the pink ruffled dress and all the hats.
When the fire barrel died down, Chlora ran from it,
her face streaked with soot and tears.
She ran smack into her Grandmother's big bosom,
soft and safe, wide and deep,
an olfactory mix of roses, baby powder and onions.
Grandmother told Chlora to stay right there on the porch.
Perhaps Teddy was as brave as Teddy Roosevelt
and he would come home.
Grandmother quickly went inside
and came out the screen door
carrying the big old brown rocker.
Chlora loved that rocking chair.
It was a family antique and the best thing
about it was that Grandmother was its cushions.
She placed it on the patio, and turned off the porch light.
The june bugs quit buzzing and a kind breeze blew in.
While Chlora rested her weary head and cried,
Grandmother hummed to the rhythm of the squeaky
rocking chair. Together they sang
I see the moon, the moon sees me
The moon sees somebody I’d like to see
God bless the moon and God bless me
And God bless the somebody I'd like to see
They soul searched the night sky
for ursa major and ursa minor,
which they never could find.
She learned that the bear is the oldest known diety.
"Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight
I wish I may and I wish I might
have the wish I wish tonight."
What was the difference between a wish and a prayer?
Grandmother suggested that Teddy might
be a suffering servant, and maybe he needed a break.
That even though love bears all things
it might just be too much for a little bear to bear.
Had Chlora turned him into a martyr, would his
frail body — or his ashes — now become a religious relic?
Or was he a masochist feeling the burn,
like Jane Fonda in striped leotards?
Grandmother said, "No, just imagine that
Teddy's a piece of you that'll never go away."
She hummed and the rocker creaked
Chlora could feel the vibes through her arms
and decided there was
no sweeter sound on this earth
than Grandmother humming Blessed Assurance.
Chlora snuggled deeper into the ample bosom.
Grandmother's body was similar to a Rubens,
or in kinder light, an early Renoir.
Better yet, she was like a smoke alarm
for the Holy Spirit, an early detection system.
A train blew its chords.
Now let's go rinse that smoke out of your hair
and get ready for bed.
For once, Chlora got to go to bed with wet hair.
Ain't that just the cat's pajamas!
She tugged on her PJs, and considered how cool
it would feel to dampen them
and just lie under the ceiling fan.
Mom came in her room to tickle her back.
She said, "Let’s go waste some time together
tomorrow, just go do nothing.
And maybe we can find you a small rocker
of your own.
You can put Teddy in it
when he comes back."
They said the bedtime prayer
and Chlora always changed its ending:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should fly around the lake,
I pray the Lord my rug I'll take.
And Teddy too.
Mom smiled and kissed her on the nose.
Chlora had bedtime rituals, just like a dog
They spread out her lumpy quilt
and turned down the blanket
with its comforting strip of blue satin edging.
Chlora patted out a small pool in her soft pillow
and arranged the stuffed animals around it.
Teddy’s spot was vacant.
Mom flicked on the nightlight shaped like a lamb
and told her to count her blessings
instead of sheep.
Chlora propped up her diary. It was lights-out time
but she really needed to reread some things.
Her big sister wasn’t in bed yet,
thankfully, because she snored
worse than Sleeping Beauty.
Beyond the thin wall to her brother's room
she could hear his hamster running in her cage
till she finally tuckered out.
J.P's bedroom was so full of rockets and astronauts
it looked like the space race was on full blast,
especially since those Russians
sent their dead dog into orbit.
He had likely fought the monsters under the bed
all of them magnified by being called
"just in your imagination."
He was afraid of the dark and would sing
"This Little Light of Mine" to soothe himself.
Brother had probably wet his bed by now.
Chlora wrote one last thing in her diary:
"Either you can leave it to Beaver or give it to God."
She flipped through the pages of the art book in her head,
got them mixed up with answered and unanswered prayers,
all of it circling around her head.
Finally she walked through all the rooms
in her mind and fell asleep.
Chlora awoke at midnight and sat up.
There was Teddy in a small rocking chair.
He didn't even smell smoky. She was glad to see him,
but realized she didn't really need him anymore.
She might write about this in her diary,
but she really didn't have a good name for that.