Thursday, July 29, 2010

Teddy Palley

All seven-and-a-half inches of him reclines against the punched-up pillow tucked neatly beneath the floral quilt on the daybed in the guestroom. He used to reside across the hall, in the more manly beige-and-mahogany room, a palette Claire acquiesced to when she and Kevin redecorated the house three years earlier in the effort to plaster and spackle their marriage as well. “Don’t you think it’s time,” Kevin said, “that Teddy Palley has a room of his own? I mean, he’s not a baby anymore.”

But for Claire, the ecru-furred, ebony-eared, chipped-button-eyed boy bear, cut and sewn and stuffed by some toy manufacturer, would be a baby stuck forever in his stitches.

First, he was “Teddy,” playfully bounced in front of her eyes by a babysitter who seemed very…tall. In her memory, Roberta was a giant. It wasn’t until over a dinner conversation years later, when Claire learned that Roberta had married a Denver Nugget (“They’ll have towering children,” her dad said with a mouthful of bowties) that Claire learned that Roberta had actually suffered from a rare genetic “whoops” that kept her growth spurts continually spurting until surgery stopped its advance.

So Teddy had been Giant Roberta’s. And if Teddy had been new to Roberta when she was a baby (but had she been, Claire wondered, a giant baby?) that would make him 16 years older than Claire. And if Teddy had been handed down to Giant Roberta, well, who knows? In dog years, Teddy Palley he might be as old as Abraham, she considered, scribbling math notations in her notebook in Hebrew school on the day they read the story of Abraham, who, according to the Bible, was 900 years or something like that when Isaac was born. And Abraham died 100 years after that. Having a baby with an age into the four digits was just too much for a 9-year-old to wrap her brain around, so she crumbled the piece of paper into her backpack. Teddy Palley was really born five years earlier in her brother's bedroom on a rainy day.

While most little girls stuff baby dolls under the blouses, and pulled them out by their feet announcing, “I have a baby!” (not realizing this was a dangerous breach birth), Claire walked around with Teddy stuffed under her shirt. “I have a … bear,” she’d say. And when she gave birth for approximately the 17th time on her brother's bed that smelled of Clearasil, with her kindergarten boyfriend, Randy Palley, at her side, Teddy, for the first time, had a daddy. And a full name: Teddy Palley.

Teddy Palley went to the “basement salon” for his Saturday shampoos in the laundry basin, and had his ears tied up in a bow for birthday parties. Teddy Palley went to summer camp; Teddy Palley lived in Steinbright then Lawrinson dorms; Teddy Palley was kicked to the floor in mad dashes to shed clothes and make skin contact, then kissed on his thin red felt tongue the next morning in apology before being returned to his perch.

And Teddy Palley went on a honeymoon to St. Maarten. “Really,” Kevin said to Claire as she unpacked him from her carry-on and laid him on the bed. “Please tell me he’s not coming to the beach with us.” Claire ran her fingertips over Teddy's bald belly (from age...and those countless Saturday morning shampoos). “No," she said. "He'll burn."

And now Teddy Palley sits on the daybed in the guestroom, where Claire has been sleeping for the past two months, since Kevin announced he thought he might be in love with a woman he knew from the gym. A woman he’d only talked to, but knew he wanted. Claire knew now what she wanted.

Soon, when the house is sold, after some new couple eyes the muted master bedroom and imagines themselves there, loving each other at least in the foreseeable future, Teddy Palley will make another trip to another new home, where Claire will paint the room pink and long for that first morning when she kisses his little red tongue in apology after having kicked him to the floor.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Marvelous Night for a Moondance

I am staring at the spinning light of the police car, the blue orb pulsing in the dark. Someone is in trouble. Someone needs help….

My eyes snapped open. In the half-moon light, I took sleepy inventory of my bedroom: the outlines of the sepia photos on the wall, the ghost-like cedar branch standing in the corner, the plant I kept moving around the house for better exposure. And then I saw a flash of green that bathed the dormer. On…then off. On…off.

I sat up with a start. My first thought: an outlet was sparking. An anvil of terror crashed into my chest as I envisioned the house bursting into flames. I leapt out of bed, dropped to my knees for inspection, my eyes now adjusted to the dark.

I have a memory of being six or seven at Mitchell Gassner’s house on summer evenings. The Gassners had a monument of an evergreen in their yard. During the nightly light shows, I’d imagine it was a most splendid Christmas tree with dancing luminaries and sparkling ornaments come to life, like something out of a Disney film. We challenged one another to collect as many fireflies in jars with holes “humanely” punched in the top, then see who could “go longest,” inhumanely imprisoning them until, one by one, their lights went out.

This is my first summer in Bucks, having made stops in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Hoboken, where I lived on top of, below, and squeezed among lots of other people, and where I always had a bug “problem.” For me, one bad bug did spoil the whole bunch. I was undiscriminating in my pursuit, capture and execution of anything that flew, crawled or scurried. Please know that before the swat, slap or whack of a newspaper that left its inky scar on a wall or counter, I always apologized. But something shifted when I moved here. In the splendor of this area, I have discovered a respect for all of nature, even the tiniest, peskiest, most unappealing creatures I share my new world with. I have cupped countless stinkbugs in my hands and coaxed shy spiders onto sheets of paper, depositing them outdoors then bursting into “Born Free.”

Tonight, I would make very meaningful restitution.

Still on my knees, I reached for the windowsill, dumped the tea candle from its crystal votive, and gingerly lowered it over my charge, jiggling the glass a bit so he (I don’t want to pursue that gender designation at this time) would float inside and I could close him off. Then padding down the steps, I carried the encased, magical treasure—my own ailing Tinker Bell-- through the house and flung wide the door. “Live!” I commanded, and he flitted then danced upward, his waning green glow brightening against the gaining light.

On behalf of Mitchell Gassner and the kids from Grant, Lincoln and Lawrence Avenues, I dedicate this to all those who died on those soft summer nights.