By James Callan 

When you squeeze her tummy she no longer laughs out loud, no longer tells you that she loves you. She doesn’t make the slightest of sound, yet she is smiling –always smiling. Her eyes no longer light up when you enter the room, no longer flash to illuminate shadows from underneath a propped-up bedcover. Yet they watch –those eyes– lidless and unblinking. They reflect a grown woman who used to be a small child, a stranger who used to be a dear friend.

Beneath the soft layer of her velveteen flesh, embedded deep within her core, batteries crust over with the old seepage of acidic ooze. Like failed organs, her Duracell D’s mold over with a corrosive substance that eats away at her like grief, like terminal cancer. Heavy things, they weigh her down where she sits, and like the dust that gathers upon her crown, her pink, fluffy ears, they metastasize with caustic film.

Pungent, joyful buds open, alter, heartbreak blooming outward, germinating, festering within, a slow-motion sorrow muted inside a thick tomb of soft, synthetic fibers; the timeline of a once beloved teddy bear. The past echoes with laughter. The present, smudged in dark shadows cast by lights that have long gone out.

Then, one day, you reach out to squeeze her tummy, and though she remains silent, though her eyes do not flash with electric light, you think you hear –perhaps feel– an expression of pleasure exude from her soft body. You think you see –perhaps dream– a warm sheen that glimmers within the depths of her deep, marble eyes. You smile. You remember. Then you sigh as you place her, tenderly, in a box with all the other things that you no longer need in your life, no longer want. You fold over the corners of a cardboard crypt and neatly seal it shut.

Inside, the world falls silent, uninterrupted by laughter or warm words of ardor. Inside, everything goes dark, unlit by flashing lights. Inside, you feel the weight of your past as you carry it to your car. Inside, one last sentiment is delivered, communicated to pink fluffy ears as the felt marker scrawls its message upon a sarcophagus burdened with childhood items.

One last word penetrates the layers of a grave, the synthetic fibers of a teddy bear within. It worms its way straight into her corroded heart as you write out over the secured lid of a cramped chamber of discarded goods: Landfill.

If she had a heart, it would shatter and bleed, it would bear the weight of the world. Yet as you walk back empty-handed, you feel lighter, almost buoyant. Each step carries you away from the past. Unburdened, you feel as though you could fly.

*   *   *

James Callan grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He lives on the Kāpiti Coast, New Zealand on a small farm with his wife, Rachel, and his little boy, Finn. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Bridge Eight, White Wall Review, Maudlin House, Cardiff Review, and elsewhere. His novel, A Transcendental Habit, is due for publication in 2023 with Queer Space, an imprint of Rebel Satori Press.

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