A happy family starting over. Buried secrets left behind. Pretending nothing ever happened. Tape over broken hearts and ripped pictures. Fake smiles hiding the scars left. Doubt still lingers, provides a layer of protect from more unbearable hurt. Crimes perpetrated against the relationship. Guilty on both ends. And here they sit, unpacking and pretending that life is wonderful. Snow falling, covering dead grass. Wind blows. Cold haunt the air.
Carrying the heavy box to one of her children’s bedroom, she stepped on yet another toy. Looking frustrated at her husband.
“They are everywhere! What do they do, dump the box, pick up a couple toys, play with them and run off to another distraction.”
“Claire, honey, they’re kids. This is hard for them. For us. No one likes moving.”
He bent over and picked up the old ratty stuffed cat, it was faded and dingy. It might have once been black, but was now a soulless grey. Looked like it had been loved by many children until it was forgotten and discarded.
“Ben, that thing is ugly. Where did they find it?” We should throw it away.”
“No. It reminds me of a toy I had as a child. Maybe it’s mine and I gave it to one of the kids. I don’t remember having it. Maybe my folks found it and gave to the kids.”
“It’s ugly and creepy. It’s old. We should toss it.”
A whirlwind of activity swept into the room. “Hey, kitty! Where did you find him? “ Asked their son, taking the stuffed animal from his dad and placing it on his bed. The cat seemed to smile as he sat perched at the head of the bed.
Ben looked at the time. “Okay kids time to go, grab your stuff.”
Ben kissed his wife’s head. “Honey, it’s stress, new city, new job, new home, the holidays. Relax.”
She bundled up her family. All three children. Gloves. Mittens. Hats. Scarves. Boots. The tiniest child clutching an old beat up stuffed rabbit.
“Where did you find this ragged old thing?” “These ugly old stuffed animals are everywhere today.” She thought to herself as she tried to pry it from her child’s hands.
“No, it’s mine! She’s my friend!” Emma screamed.
Ben stepped in between Claire and Emma, who was clutching the pink ragged bunny, as if letting go of the animal would cause it to fall to its death.
“Let her take it to school. Let her be.” Ben said with an enduring smiling and a hint fear in his eyes.
Claire rolled her eyes. “Fine.” “Never right. Never having a say. Nothing has changed.” She thought to herself.
She closed the door behind her family. She could hear them talking and laughing down the hall. She leaned against the door. She was finally alone. Left to herself. Her misery. Her all consuming thoughts. They ate at her. Fed off her insecurities. Keep busy was the only thing she could do.
As she started to clean. She found another old worn out stuffed animal, a bear this time. “Three for three.” She thought. “Where do they find these things? Probably his ever meddling parents. Probably from the old country. Blah Blah Blah. Well, I know it didn’t come from one of his many business trips, too old, too ugly. Ugh. We are over this. It’s over. We’ve done therapy.” She threw the bear in the trash. “bastard.”
She flopped onto the couch. Looking through her contacts. She stopped at mom’s work. Click send message to. “Hey, it’s me. Don’t know if I can do this anymore.”
“I miss you to. Where is Ben?”
“Assignment in London. Just say the word.”
“I can’t. He doesn’t know. After all he’s done. I still didn’t go through with it. With you. Do you hate me?”
“I know. I should have. I wish I had. He deserves it.”
“Your mother, your sister, your best friend. The people you were closest to. He convinced them to turn on you.”
“thank you for not turning.”
Setting the phone next to her and looking up. The bear was perched onto the coffee table. Staring at her.
“I thought I threw you away. Creepy old thing.” Grabbing the bear and this time stuffing him to the bottom of the trash.
“A hot bath. That’s what I need.” She thought. She soaked forever. Not wanting to get out. To face her life. Finally as the water began to chill. She got out. Went out to bedroom and there on the bed was the bear.
She jumped. She knew she had thrown it away. Quickly she dressed. Grabbed the bear. Buried to the bottom of the trash. Gathered the trash bag, down the hall, down the 20 floors and out to the dumpster. Shaking her head. Trying to release the feelings that were eating at her, trying to consume her.
Back in the warmth of the penthouse she found her way to the medicine cabinet. She opened the pill bottle. Anything to numb herself. She laid down on the bed. She could hear her phone. Looking at it, it read Ben: love you honey. Hope you are having a wonderful day.
She threw the phone to the floor. “I bet you do.” She traced the scars on her wrists. He caused this. Forced it. The phone chirped again. There next to the phone was the bear.
“God damn it!” She jumped up. “I am not doing this again!” She grabbed the bear. Took him into the kitchen, grabbed a pair of scissors. Stabbing the bear, ripping out his stuffing. Cutting off his limbs. One by one. “Leave me the fuck alone!” She was breathless by the time she finished killing the already dead stuffed bear. She slumped onto the floor.
“Honey, were home!” Ben and his three children rushed into the house. “I think we are in for one hell of a storm. Might be home bound. Stopped by the store, just in case. Honey?”
“Daddy, can be build a snowman?”
“Where’s mom?” Henry said.
“probably sleeping” Nora said angrily.
“Come on now kids. We’ve been through a lot. She’s getting better.”
“No she’s not!” Nora protested.
Emma pulled on Nora, showing her the pink bunny.”
Nora sighed and smiled.
“What’s that about?” Ben asked.
“Nothing. A story nana told us.”
“Really? She’s been dead for how long now?”
“Yeah, she said you wouldn’t believe. Forgotten your roots.” Nora said staring at her dad.
“I’m sorry honey. I believe you. What did your great grandma tell you?”
“She said that the spirits of family members can live in toys. That they can come back and protect you. She said spirits can live in toys to protect children.”
“And Emma believes that nana is in the bunny?”
“Where did those animals come from anyways, I don’t remember buying them. Yet, they seem so familiar.”
“Losing it dad.” Henry said laughing.
“Alright Nora will you please watch Emma and Henry can you call for pizza or something.”
“Chinese.” The two girls said from the living room.
Ben knew where to find Claire. He knew Nora was right. Claire was curled up in the bed.
“That fucking bear. He is everywhere.”
She was sobbing uncontrollably.
“No, not again.” He prayed.
“It’s okay, baby, it’s okay.”He held her tight against himself. Holding back the tears. “Please god, not again.”
Emma, the youngest child, stood in the door way. Holding the pink bunny.
“Those fucking toys.” Claire lunged for Emma, ripping the toy from her arms and throwing it into the trash.
Emma screamed, breathless cries.
“Honey, honey.”Ben rushed to Emma, trying to comfort the child.
“I thought I asked you kids to watch your sister. Take her.”
“Bun Bun!” Emma screamed.
“He’s okay. Just go watch tv.” Henry guided Emma by her shoulders. Doing his best to comfort his sister, sadness and fear reflected in his eyes.
“Not again,” Ben prayed.
Ben returned to Claire.
“It’s just a toy, honey.”
“No it’s not. It’s evil. The fucking bear followed me all day. Those toys are everywhere.”
“Of course, we have children.”
“No! That bear, like the bunny followed me all day.”
“It’s okay”, he held his wife. Snow falling against twilight sky.
“Lay down, I’ll get you some tea, okay.”
She nodded, still sobbing. “Protect me. Keep me safe. NO toys.”
“No toys. I promise.” He said leaving the room.
She squeezed her eyes shut.
Ben grabbed the bunny from the trash before leaving the room.
“Make sure you kill it. Throw it away in pieces in the trash.” Claire called from the bed.
Ben stood in the kitchen watching the sun set and the snow fall and the wind swirl. Holding the pink bunny rabbit. Setting it on the counter.
Nora watching from the doorway. Henry and Emma watching Nora.
Not again. Silence fell upon the penthouse apartment, like snow falling upon the ground.
Ben returned to the room with sleeping pill laced tea. He wanted to just give her the pills but he couldn’t risk the violence. They had been through enough. She drank the tea. Fell asleep. Ben tended to his children. The night moved in unsettling silence, everyone awaiting the enviable storm.
The children were tucked into bed. Quieted and reassured. Emma clutching the old and ratty pink bunny.
Ben laid in bed with his wife, he held her. Not again.
Claire awoke to an empty house. She was groggy. She was pissed but too tired to feel it. “Fucking prick, lacing my tea. Thinks I’m crazy.” Tracing the scars on her wrists. She stumbled into the bathroom. There sitting on the counter was the cat, bunny and bear.
“What the fuck! I killed you,” she said clutching the bear. Glaring at the bunny. “Ben was suppose to kill her.” Staring at the cat. “I don’t know where you came from. But your gone today.”
Stillness fell upon the penthouse. A hush. Snow piled up outside. Cold layered the day.
It was dark when Ben and the children arrived home.
“We are fine mom. Yeah, wish nana hadn’t told the kids that story. I know it’s old country stuff. I should believe. Watch what I say. Kids need protectors. Okay. I get it. I love you too. We just got home. Call you later.” He set the phone down. “Claire! Claire honey, we’re home.”
Nora, Henry and Emma looked at the dad. They had been here before. Emma clutching bunny. Grey cat sitting on the couch next to Henry.
Ben tried to give his children a reassuring look.
“Henry, why don’t you find something to watch.”
The three children sat on the couch in anticipation.
Emma whispering to Nora. “Bunny says mommy’s gone. They needed to protect us. Keep her save. Nana said.”
Nora kissed her sister’s head. “Okay, let’s watch some tv, alright?”
Henry looked at his sister, “Emma’s right. We are better without mom. She’d do it again.”
Nora covered Emma’s ears, “Shut up. We aren’t going to talk about that. She doesn’t remember. I don’t want to remember.”
Emma shook her head. “Mom tried to kill us. Went away. Got better. But didn’t. That’s why the they are here. To fix it.”
Nora glared at Henry. The three sat on the couch watching the television, trying to pretend none of this was real.
Ben searched the house. No Claire. No note. No blood. No nothing. His mind wandered. “Oh please. Not again.” He went to his phone. Called her sister. Nothing. Called Linda. Nothing. Claire’s Mom. Nothing. Her Brother. Nothing. Anxiety building. Flurries increasing. She’s just gone off for awhile. It’s okay.” He told himself. He hated himself for the rush of relief her absence caused.
“Looks like mommy, went out. What should we do for dinner?” Ben said, trying to seem calm and relaxed, as if nothing was wrong.
Emma smiled. “Told you.” Henry and Nora just looked at each other. Everything felt lighter. Outside snow had stopped.
“Sounds good to me.” Ben said.
The family sat around the table piled with various delivered foods. Laughing and talking. As if nothing had happened. Bunny sitting next to Emma smiling.
“Ok, kids. Bedtime. Brush your teeth and off you go.” Emma grabbed bunny. The children ran off to their rooms. Henry smiling at the grey cat still perched at the head of his bed.
Ben sat on the couch. There sitting next to him was the ragged old stuffed bear. “Hey old friend. How are you? Do you by chance know where my wife is?”
Bear just sat there. Staring. Stitches on his arms.
Nora came into the room. “There’s my bear. Thanks dad. Love you.”