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Hoping for the Charity of a Child

“Iiii…haaaavvve…aaaa…sstooorry ffooorrr yyoooo.”  Teddy Tales said in his long, baritone drawl.  I’d heard it at least a million times; a billion even, as I sat on the shelf.  Of course, the first thousand or so times weren’t as bad, before Mr. Tales’s energy faded.

“What’s wrong with him, mommy?”  The kid asked with his eyes focused on the brilliant brown fuzzy bear with moving mouth and eyes that followed you like Mona Lisa’s smile.

“He needs new batteries, hon.”

 The kid scooted down in front of me and squeezed my hand.  It didn’t hurt or anything, it never hurt.  He squeezed my foot, making me giggle inside.  And then he crushed my chest, caving it in.  I was okay, only my stuffing was a bit jostled around, but not bad until…

“This one doesn’t work either,” the kid said.

“No, Hon, he’s just a teddy bear.  He doesn’t do anything special.”

If that was the first time I’d heard it, it would’ve stung, but it wasn’t.  And though you’d think I’d grown accustomed to it, you’d be wrong.  I’d heard it over and over for the past month as I sat on the same shelf I’d occupied since that first mad rush for gifts before the big day, when I was one of thousands, an army of fluff adorning the shelves.  But the army was gone, picked off one by one until only a few remained – me, a couple of my twins…

Teddy Tails.  “Ooonncce Uuuppoooon a tiiiiimmmmme.”

And a few plush pink elephants.  “If I hear him try to tell another story…”

I try to ignore the elephants.

“…I swear I’ll jump.”

But the elephants don’t let you.

“Hey, you…Mr. Christmas Bear 2005 with your shiny little gold banner draped across your chest,” the elephant said, “you’re close to psycho storyteller there.  Can’t you reach over and put him out of all our miseries?  Tell you what, if you do it, I’ll give you an alibi…or you can claim an insanity defense.  I’m telling you, no jury of your peers would convict.”  The elephant paused for effect, clearing his throat in the most melodramatic way.  “If the bear talks, you must knock off his block!”

He tried to rhyme.  He was always bad at it.

The elephant had grown increasingly irritable as the days grew shorter and the time without a home grew longer.  He, like all of us, had hoped for a young child to grab him off the shelf and squeeze him, bringing him to life with tea parties and wrestling matches.  But for one reason or another, he’d been passed over.  We’d all been passed over.  But with him, at least he could be bought later.  He wasn’t a Christmas Bear with a gold label letting the world know he was about to be moved to the clearance aisle. After all, a pink elephant can fit any time of the year. A Christmas bear’s only good until Christmas.

She turned the corner, an angel with a pony tail pushing one of those mini-shopping carts they give to kids to run over their older sister’s heels with.  Her eyes were bright and shining, even if her clothes were a bit worn.  She walked down the aisle, each stuffed animal receiving her attention for a moment.  She touched one of my twins.

“Oh, mommy, he’s soft.”  She moved on, stopping in front of me and grabbing my ear, pulling me to her face and snuggling my nose to hers.  “Can I have him?”

“You know Christmas isn’t about getting gifts.”

“I know, mommy.  It’s about Jesus and celebrating giving and all that stuff.”

The mother smiled, a forced smile, like what the clerk gives the customer after he’s been on his feet for 10 hours.  She looked around, eyeing each of us before closing her eyes, wiping her crow’s feet, and then taking in a deep breath.

“Look, Mom,” the girl squealed.

“Oh no,” the elephant growled.  Yeah, he actually growled.

“A Teddy Tales!”  The angel said before hitting that sweet spot for her and bitter pill for us.

“Iiii…haaaavvve- -”

“EEEYYYAAAAAAA- -” The sound echoed in my ears a moment before the sound of plush crashed to the floor, well, as much crashing as plush could do.  But it got worse, the mother’s cart ran over the pink elephant’s ear, tearing it from the head, its soft, fuzzy insides escaping for all to see.  A gasp rose from the remaining plush on the shelf as they realized what’d happened.  In no time, the clerk was there taking the remains of the pink elephant to…the back of the store, the place where no one returned.

It was quiet for the next day, even Teddy Tales stopping with only some inner grumbling, keeping his stories, or promise of stories, to himself.  We watched as people walked to and fro, passing us as they grabbed their replacement bulbs for the tree and stocking stuffer.  But we were too big for any stocking and too expensive, at least until they marked us down after the big day.

I gasped as the hand grabbed me, lifting me up and tossing me into the buggy atop a garden rake and shovel.  Why would anyone buy gardening tools in the winter?  The red tag told me they were marked down… marked down!  And I was in a buggy!  Meaning I wasn’t going to be marked down, an after-the-fact Christmas Bear!  Meaning I was getting bought!  Meaning I was going to a home!  Meaning I would be alive!  I looked at my savior, a balding man in bibbed overalls, like the ones that ‘Farmer Freddy the Raking Buddy’ wears.  He was probably early 50’s, and likely with a grandchild or two just dying to play with a bear.  He made it through the line and lifted me out of the basket, tossing me on the conveyer belt.

“You ready for Christmas?”  The clerk asked as he ran my tag over the red light.

“Not quite,” my liberator said, “but I’m closer.  This year’s gonna be a good one.  New grandbaby, and my son just came to Jesus.  He’s been a rascal for years, but this year, he’ll really get it.  We’ll be going to church together as a family for the first time since he moved away.”

The clerk and he exchanged a few more niceties and then money for the items bought…for me!  The rake and the shovel were bagged and then put back into the buggy, but the old man reached out for me, choosing to carry me himself.  His strong arms felt secure, as if they’d hold back a tide of trouble; likely, they had.

And then they let me go, dropping me into a dark garbage can.

“Hey,” the unmistakable voice screamed, “get your elbow off of my ear!  Like it’s not had enough pain already!”

The pink elephant.  I wanted to ask where we were, but he didn’t wait.

“Man, did I make a mistake.  Teddy Tales was bad, but I never dreamed they’d throw me away.  Heck, I thought I was getting a better deal when they fixed up my ear, but they just tossed me out with the rest of this garbage.”  The elephant said, “Oh well.  At least my stuffing’s back where it’s supposed to be.  That just felt…unnatural.”

An empty pop can rattled to the bottom of the barrel, mixing with some cardboard boxes brightly covered as if calling someone to it, asking for attention.  But it, like my gold ribbon, was trash.  Something landed atop my back, driving home the point that I was left with the broken things.

“Iiii…haaaavvvee-vish.”

Teddy had officially died.

“God hates me!”  The elephant screamed.

I closed my eyes and left them closed as the garbage men picked us up and dumped us into the truck.  They drove away, but none of it mattered.  Piled atop a mountain of waste, I awaited my time to decay.  They tossed me around and covered me up, but my eyes stayed closed, my heart refusing to hurt anymore.  The final night before the big day came and went, only the ground jostling beneath me.  Soon the mice would come and tear out my insides for a bed.

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”  The music tried to comfort me, reminding me of the days in the store when these Christmas carols looped until you wanted to beat someone with a harp.

“Glory to the newborn King.”  The words tried to reach me.

“Peace on Earth and mercy mild.  God and sinners reconciled.”

“Mommy, is this present mine?”  A young girl’s voice could be heard above the Christmas music.

“All of them are,” the mother’s trembling voice could be heard.

I heard the rip and then had to open my eyes.  It was an angel…the angel, her worn clothes replaced by a dress fit for a princess, with a smile fit for a queen.  She grabbed me and held me.  I looked to the mother who held onto a man, his dress military uniform and shaved head making him look fierce, his softened eyes making him look gentle.

As excited as the girl was, hugging me so tight my breath left me, the mother seemed as thrilled, hugging the soldier as she said, “I don’t know how you found us, but I’m glad you did.”

“I’m a soldier, ma’am,” he said with a genuine smile.  “Tracking’s my day job.  Toys for Tots is my ministry.  I guess once a year, the two jobs become one.”  The young man’s held the mother as her body jerked and sobs escaped her mouth

The little girl held onto my hand, dragging me to her next present, opening it up.  “It’s about time!  You know how hard it is to breathe in there?!”  The pink elephant shouted before being yanked into the girl’s arms, squishing me next to him as she ran to another box, shoved us both under one arm and then ripped at a third present.

“I have a story for you.  Once upon a time…”

A Christmas Bear found a home and a life with an angel.

“Would you move your arm?!”  The elephant said.  “You’re squishing my eye!”

But Tea-time with a pink elephant is gonna be unbearable.

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