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Teddy Bear

Attalea Rose

      Alice was a name whispered throughout the neighborhood, a name blundered, a name cursed. Children spouted taut laughter when her name was uttered. They were caught between fear and childhood naivety, of what the adults had told them and what the teddy bear in the road meant.

      The bear was perpetually soggy and murky beyond recognition. The youngest children didn’t remember a time when the scraggly bear wasn’t resting beside the storm drain on Cherry Street. One of its arms was lodged in the drain, preventing torrential rain from whisking it away with the stormwater. Its other arm had been torn off. Stuffing no longer fell out of the jagged slit in its side; maggots did instead.

      The bear belonged to Alice. The once-pearlescent grey plush was a gift from her grandmother. The beaded eyes clanked against hardwood floors as Alice learned to crawl with the bear clutched in her fist. The day Alice toddled off the back porch and stumbled into the backyard foliage, her bear was condemned to a fate of grass stains and mud streaks.

      The children dared one another to touch the bear jammed in the drain, to inch closer to the dilapidated corpse and pat its head. The stench alone was enough to induce stomach upheaval. The children that were able to not only brave the smell but tap grubby fingers to the bear’s fur were hailed as heroes, the valiant amongst cowards.

      The parents of the neighborhood filed numerous complaints about the bear, asking that someone do something about it. It was putrid. An eyesore. A gruesome reminder. Yet if the bear was purged, what would the parents discuss during their stifling summer barbeques? And what new trial of heroism would the children invent?

      It had been nearly a year since Alice stopped rampaging across the elementary school playground, and nearly half a year since the adults gave up. To have hope beyond the first month, two months, three was fruitless. Alice was gone. Alice’s mother stopped receiving condolences after the first day, two days, three. “Her mother did it,” Janie’s mother accused. “It was one of the boyfriends,” Harry’s mother sufficed.

      The media prey upon faults, and Alice’s mother had many. She hung men’s underwear from the clothesline across the porch although no man lived in the house. Her blonde bangs were uneven, and the tattoos across her arms sagged on sallow skin. She scarcely left the house in the day, even before Alice went missing. Then the reporters flocked to the dead grass of the lawn, and she wrapped caution tape around the property, stringing it from the mailbox to the wooden stakes she had slammed into the malleable dirt.

      At first, the police attempted to ward the reporters away. Their efforts dwindled by the end of the first week.

      The police searched the house from top to bottom the morning Alice was reported missing by her grandmother. The only illicit paraphernalia they found were nude photos of Alice’s mom taken when she was in college, stored in a wooden box in the master bedroom’s walk-in closet.

      The police searched the backyard, searched Cherry Street, searched the neighborhood. Nothing.

      Alice was nothing but a whisper.

      A tragedy. A mystery that would never be fully explained.

      The bear wasn’t lodged in the drain when the police searched the house or the backyard or Cherry Street or the neighborhood. It appeared the day Alice’s mom moved out. Perhaps it fell out of the moving truck as it rolled down Cherry Street, or Alice’s mom placed it there deliberately in the hopes her daughter would wander back home and find it.

      The was only one certainty, a fallacious certainty concocted by the children or the adults or the media: Wherever Alice was, the missing arm from her teddy bear was surely clasped between blue fingers.