Ted (A Short Story)

They’d all been to some party or prize-giving or something and they brought Ted back with them. Roger said he had won him in a fight, I believed the first bit, not the second.

Ted was a teddy bear, of sorts, only a lot cheaper and tackier than the normal model. He was knee high, inflatable, and permanently moulded into a seated position.

His arms outstretched uncomfortably in front of him and his leg sections were crimped at the top from having been roughly heat-sealed to his torso.

He had fixed and dilated pupils and a manic grin welded permanently beneath his painted snout. He was yellow.

There was a lot of work to be done. I wasn’t in the mood.

They fooled around at my desk with him for a while and then drifted back to their architecture and their phone calls. Ted was left abandoned on my monitor, staring vacantly off at something over my head. I looked at him closely. He meant nothing to me. I had typing to do, he was in my way.

Andrew phoned at three and made mournful noises. I told him I was sorry but I couldn’t see how I would ever manage to forgive him. Ted didn’t bat an eyelid. I remember hanging up and wishing that someone would just get him out of my sight, how he was making my desk look shoddy. I poked his chest with my finger. He felt like a beach ball.

Denny stormed out of his office around four, looking annoyed. He picked Ted up and eyed him suspiciously.

“What’s this?”

“A Bear.”

“Why?”

“Roger won it in a fight.”

“It makes your desk look shoddy.”

“I know.”

He stuffed Ted in under his elbow, facing out.

“Do you know,” he said, “how much I wish this was Harish?”

He punched the inflated yellow snout savagely four times then tossed him back on to my desk.

“Anybody wants me, I’ll be in the conservatory.”

Then he was gone.

I pressed my nose tenderly. It was bleeding a little.

The guys had forgotten the bear in the afternoon rush but they were all delighted to see him when they came out at six. I’d sat him back up on the monitor and cleared both our faces up. There really hadn’t been much blood, just a drop or two.

Roger seized Ted. He threw him up in air and almost caught him.

‘Hey guys,” he said, “ shall we bring Cecil B De Mille down the boozer with us?”

“His name is Ted.”

They all looked at me.

“Ted? Ted? Is that what he told you? The swine.”

Jerry swept Ted up over his head and held him there.

“The bear is guilty of consorting with our womenfolk. What sayest you all?”

“Guilty.”

“Guilty.”

“Guilty.”

Jerry pulled off his tie. I guess they were still a bit drunk from that lunchtime binge. I sat and glared at them.

“You know the punishment for ravaging our womenfolk without a permit?”

Jerry looped one end of his tie over my angle poise lamp, the other end he tied around Ted’s neck.

“Any last words bear?”

I felt sick inside.

They hung him from my angle poise lamp and then went off down the pub.

I sat and stared at the swaying novelty, suspended before me at eye level. A voice inside was clearly telling me that this was a lump of cheap plastic., mass produced in Hong Kong. Nothing more than a piece of short-life, third world garbage not to mention a potential fire risk.

Another part of me was ready to weep.

Ted’s grin didn’t waver. His eyes were still fixed and dilated but now they stared straight at me. I packed up and went home, avoiding his gaze.

I woke up at two-forty in the morning having dreamed about him. The ludicrous image of him suspended above my desk diary, arms outstretched, would not fade. The office was four miles away, there was no traffic. It only took me ten minutes to get there.

Ted hadn’t moved. I untied the knot and let him back up onto my monitor. He seemed to have deflated a little since lunchtime.

I felt completely and utterly foolish, standing at my desk, bedraggled in the middle of the night, rescuing a thankless teddy bear. I tried to identify the cord which had dragged me back.

Ted was, after all, just a useless and unattractive piece of plastic. But, if the right person had him, a child probably, it is possible that he could mean very much to her. She could hold him and love him and take him to her bed to be warm and safe at night. He would be an instrument for the reception of her love. And since love, like Vitamin C, cannot be stored up, since it can only exist in the giving or receiving of itself, Ted would therefore become a creator of love. He would make the world a better and a more lovely place. If, that is, he was put in the right place to do it.

Therefore I should bring him home with me and look after him. Until the right place came along.

Then I sort of woke up.

“I am a mature, qualified, responsible career woman,” I thought, “if I give in to whatever juvenile pseudo-emotional hormonal flux has taken me to this desk tonight, I will be admitting my weakness, my pliability, my inability to survive in this cold city. I may as well pack up, go back to my village, and marry the first yokel that I meet.”

I strode back to my car through the angry buzz of ill-woken fluorescent lights. I left Ted on my desk.

I deliberately slept-in the next day. I was owed some time and didn’t see the point of turning up too early in case I hadn’t fully succeeded in rationalising my humanity away.

I got in at ten. There was a large orange packing crate on the floor in front of my desk. The kind you see on the docks in fishing ports. Ted was in it, feet and arms in the air, looking out.

When they heard I was in, they all congregated from their various corners of the office. They were all grinning mischief at me. Roger and Jerry were in front, as usual. They each concealed something behind their backs.

“Somebody cut the bear down.”

I took my coat off, pushed past them and hung it up.

“In the night. Somebody cut him down.”

“Sod off Jerry, I’m not in the mood.”

“It’s unfortunate that the bear was cut down.”

“Unfortunate.”

“Unfortunate.”

“The law in these instances is clear. If Cecil B De Mille had survived his night on the gibbet, he would have been deemed ‘The Bear They Couldn’t Hang’ and hence would have gained his amnesty and a respected place in our little community.”

“Unless, of course, embittered by his experiences, he expressed a wish to ride out of town.”

“Of course. But the bear was cut down, fellow townspeople, and our course is therefore clear.”

From behind their backs, they both simultaneously produced small cans of lighter fuel. Nobody in the office smokes so they must have gone to considerable trouble to get it.

“Now hold on a minute!”

“Shut up Kate, it’s just a laugh.”

They squirted the fuel onto Ted in the large crate. The liquid, where it landed on him, washed surprising streaks of dirt off his plastic. Jerry produced a box of matches from his pocket.

“No!”

Before I could get to him, Jerry had lit one of the matches and dropped it into the crate. It missed Ted and lay burning by his side. Roger immediately started squirting fuel to make a connection between the match and Ted. A spray landed on his plastic face and ran down. He was crying kerosene.

He ignited then and they all cheered like idiots. A curl of black smoke rose from between his ears as he started to slowly crumple and bend. His head collapsed flaccidly into his chest without once looking up at me again. It happened very quickly then that he ceased to be a recognisable entity. Within seconds, he had shrunk and sealed himself into a tight ball of shining carbon. He did not make a sound.

Denny stormed out of his office.

“What the hell is going on out here? Harris, haven’t you any work to do?”

They sulked off back to their corners. Denny came over and peered into the crate. He wrinkled his nose.

“Clean that up, will you Kate? Harish is here at eleven.”

There were strands of Ted stuck to the floor of the crate which I just couldn’t get off.

I took him home and buried him in the garden under a rose bush. It was the least I could do.

And later that night, when Andrew phoned to apologise yet again, I told him that it might possibly be all right after all.


9 comments:

Susan at Stony River said...

You captured that weird poignancy of unloved toys beautifully, but Andrew really makes it quite a story.

Oh gah, I'm probably going to dream about Ted now!!

And I'm just curious--did any research go into how inflatable toys burn?
:-/

Laura said...

You've got a typo where you have man instead of something else. Also, read it over cause it sounds like Roger was lit on fire instead of the bear. Until you read further Roger is the one who gets lighter fluid on his face and cries kerosene tears.

I liked the story, the ideas. The ending is a bit flat for me.

Elisabeth said...

I love the sharp spareness of your prose.

I'd love to hear you read your stories. An assumption perhaps, but I can almost imagine an Irish lilt to your voice, which to my Australian ears would be heavenly.

Jim Murdoch said...

Since you're repeating yourself I think it's only fair that I get to repeat my comment too:

"I loved the Vitamin C bit but other than that this was just so sad, tragic even. I only read it three times though. Does that make me a bad person?"

I only read it the once this time and I has half way through before it dawned on me that I'd read it before, once you got to the hanging bit.

Ken Armstrong said...

Susan: Thanks. I like your expression 'the poignancy of unloved toys'. S'good, that. No toys were burned in the making of this fiction. :)

Laura: Invaluable as always. I tweaked a bit on your advice.

Elisabeth: How kind! I have a funny nasal voice actually. You can hear me read one of my own stories 'The Visibility' If you fancy it. :)

ken Armstrong said...

Jim: Well repeated mate. Yeah, I just like the idea of having all the fiction I'm willing to throw online all in one place. Call me... I dunno.

I like that you find it sad, I think it's sad too. Nothing wrong with a bit o'sad...

Jena Isle said...

I was waiting for the part where i would laugh, but it did not come. Instead, I felt sad. It just means one thing, that you could effectively write in any tone - not only humorous ones - but also stories like this one.

Elisabeth said...

Your voice is as wonderful as I
had imagined, as is your story on visibility. A sad story, I felt with a particular poignancy. I thought throughout the story of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.

Laura said...

Glad to help. I had self editing drilled into me, by people who had worked as news reporters, when I was in college. I don't get everything right, for sure. But I think some of it stuck with me.