So this week’s flash fiction prompt over at TerribleMinds is simply about “bad parents,” which reminded me of a story I wrote a while back and hadn’t shared with anyone yet. So, I bring to you today, Gulliver.
The bear is starting to show his age. Faded, worn, his stuffing mostly gone now—spilling out from a tear in his left side. He’s missing one of his shiny, coal button eyes. The bottom of his dangling paw still has her name clumsily scrawled on it in black marker from that time last year when she’d had the flu and spent three whole days gloriously banished to her room with a box of crackers and a thermos full of juice. She loves him all the more fiercely for his bumps and bruises.
Gulliver wears his scars proudly. Unlike her own scrapes and cuts, so carefully hidden beneath long sleeves and her good school jeans. The few times she’d woken up to a face punctuated with welts and bruises, ripe as a summer plum, there had been a day off school. Makeup. Hugs. The only hugs she can recall.
She reads on the bedroom floor. Beneath a lean-to fort of her comforter and desk chair. Here is where she and Gulliver escape. Smiling to her best friend, she relates tales of adventure and happily ever afters to her tattered bear, content and quiet.
Until His frame blocks the light cascading from the bedside lamp. She flinches, hoping He doesn’t notice. The last time He was in here, she’d done a terrible job of putting her clothes away—Neatly, damn it is that so hard?!I—andHe’d had to take a hammer to the collection of delicate angel figurines on her dresser. Over and over until there was nothing left but a glittering pile of glass dust for her to clean and a tiny shard of crystal wing embedded in her lip for mom to remove.
She stiffens her body to keep the shaking she feels inside from escaping as He scans the room for some violation. And his eyes settled on Gulliver.
“This piece of shit is going in the trash.”
She has no choice but to watch on in abject horror as he scoops her bear up in his massive hand and leaves the room. She trails behind, unwilling to accept this latest discipline.
“But… why?” She knows better than to question him, to squeak the words past the lump in her throat. But they escape anyway, pain and grief tearing through her as he shoves Gulliver into the sloppy mess of old coffee filters and leftover dog food in the kitchen trash can.
He doesn’t answer (she’d known he wouldn’t) and instead leaves her there in a heap on the dingy linoleum floor, lost.
“Where’s your teddy bear?” he asks, hours later. She recognizes the mocking tone. The light in his eyes. Gulliver is gone. He threw him away. The scene played over and over in her mind as she wanders the house, an empty ship with a broken anchor.
She makes a run for her room before the first tear leaves her shimmering eyes. She still doesn’t know all the rules to his game, but she knows enough to recognize that He likes it when she cries. Normally it was a good way to make Him stop. Let Him see the pain, he won, and it was almost over. Today, she can’t bring herself to give Him the pleasure.
Instead, she crawls into bed, waits for the release of sleep.
He doesn’t let her forget. All week, He teases. Picks at her scabs. Rips the wound open with His mocking question.
“Where’s your teddy bear?”
Friday afternoon, she walks up the driveway, dragging her feet against the imaginary and insistent pull of home. Despite the lack of homework, her pink hand-me-down backpack feels heavy. Filled not with books or toys but with the heavy weight of loss and grief.
The horizon has long since gobbled up the last of the winter sun when she sits down to dinner. She’s not hungry. There’s a lead weight in her gut that refuses to go away. She forces herself to eat anyway, before He has a chance to force her Himself.
When He pushes his chair away from the table, she shoves another, bigger, bite into her mouth—gagging, desperately trying to prove she isn’t being difficult or obstinate or picky.
“Come on,” He says, motioning with his head as he walks past the kitchen and into the garage.
She follows, trying not to fidget as the icy December floor seeps through her bare feet. Streetlights burn through the inky sky, creating a dingy yellow halo that drips down over the house and spills onto the drive.
“Trash man came today. Thought you’d want to say one last goodbye.” He tips the largest can towards her, shows off its hollow bowels.
The icy air freezes her tears as they spill out of her eyes in a rush.
“I loved you, Gulliver” is all she manages to say before her legs give out. He catches her before she hits the sidewalk, and she’s too sad, too tired, to care what her display of emotions will cost her later.
He lays her on the couch, and she curls into a ball. Her body shakes with a chill that has little to do with the fluttering snowflakes outside the big picture window. She hears Him leave the room and vaguely registers a wish in the back of her mind that He won’t come back with the belt.
Instead, when He returns a moment later, a familiar softness brushes against her cheek. She’s too terrified to hope.
But hope won out—it always wins in the end—and she sits up. He’s holding Gulliver out towards her, his fur freshly washed and the hole in his side stitched neatly. He has a new button eye.
She sits, cradling her best friend, with a splotchy face and the last of the tears drying on her cheeks. Forgetting the half-healed split in her lip, her mouth gapes into a smile as she hurls herself at him and encases his thick frame in her arms.
“Thank you so much, daddy! You’re the best!”