This story is by Michelle Daly and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My weekdays are always a blur and today is no different. While I clean up after our simple dinner, my seven-year-old, Scarlett, plays alone in her room. I mindlessly scrub the last of the pots and don’t notice Scarlett until she’s right next to me, at my elbow. I jump at her sudden appearance.
“Mum? Can you play with me yet?” Scarlett asks, “We could do a tea party with the toys and you can pretend to be the talking bear.”
“Oh, I forgot about that.” I sigh, “Can we give it a miss tonight? I’m so tired after my day in court.”
“You promised this morning! See, you always have an excuse. I wish you would play with me for once! Mummy Harper always plays with me when I ask!” Scarlett shouts as she walks away.
“Scarlett, I work hard for you and don’t have the energy to play. Harper’s job isn’t as demanding as mine. You know what I wish? I wish I was a toy so I wouldn’t have to do all the boring, adult stuff that I’ve got to do, like look after you!” I yell back.
Immediately, I regret my outburst. I regain my composure while finishing the dishes, then head to Scarlett’s bedroom. She’s lying down on her bed under her covers, already in her pyjamas, facing the wall, and her cheeks are glistening with fresh tears. She’s also holding her old, plastic toy wand. It used to light up and play songs, but now it’s battered and cracked so it seems pretty useless. Despite this, Scarlett has always believed it has magic powers.
I apologize to Scarlett for shouting and reassure her that she’s not to blame.
“It’s okay, Mum. I’ve been thinking about how you don’t like to play so I’ve made up a spell. Want to hear it?” She asks, sitting up and turning to face me.
“Sure” I reply as I sit down.
“Fee fie foy,
I wish my Mum was a toy,
Fee fie flee,
So she’d like playing with me.”
As she says “me”, Scarlett lightly raps the wand on the top of my head. She waits for a few beats, holding her breath, but I remain unchanged.
“I’m sorry. It was a nice idea” I say.
Scarlett drops the wand to the floor, slumps back on the bed, and hugs her well-worn teddy bear, Bobby. I stand up, bend down to kiss her forehead and say good night.
I stop at the bedroom door to switch off Scarlett’s light and catch sight of the wand on the floor. It seems to be flickering faintly, enough to make me stop for a second and worry. My fingers tingle at the thought of the spell working but I dismiss it and head to my bedroom. I feel tingling in my feet once I’m in bed but am too fatigued to care as I fall asleep.
I dream that I’m in a boat swaying in the ocean and then it comes to sudden stop. A door slams and I’m jolted awake to find myself in the back seat of a car, lying on my side. I know this car. It’s Harper’s. The seats look huge, like fabric clad tall buildings. I’m paralyzed and frozen in a sitting position and wonder why I’m wearing brown, furry pants. I see my arms are the same and I’m wearing brown, woolly mittens on my hands. I struggle to make sense of what’s happening as it dawns on me. The spell worked! Scarlett turned me into a teddy bear!
I lie on the seat, motionless, as it sinks in. I’m a teddy bear. I am a teddy bear. How could this happen? Will I be a helpless toy forever? I’m lost in my terrible, despairing thoughts until Scarlett opens the door and climbs into the back seat. Of course, it’s Saturday. It’s Harper’s weekend and she’s taking Scarlett camping.
Then, I begin to talk, against my will, in a cheerful tone.
“I’m Freddy Talkalot. What’s your name?” I pause, then repeat, “What’s your name?”
“Oh Mummy, you got it for me! Thank you!” Scarlett exclaims to Harper, then picks me up.
“You’re welcome! Since Mummy Caroline won’t let you take Bobby out of the house, I thought you needed some company. The shop assistant told me it’s really popular.” says Harper.
“Yeah, I’ve seen kids at school with them. It’s meant to have a secret mode that only gets unlocked if you talk to it a lot. You can then ask it anything you want and it tells you the answer.” explains Scarlett.
I feel hopeful. If I can find a way to make the bear say what I want, then maybe I’ll be able to ask Scarlett to reverse the spell and I’ll go back to normal again.
Scarlett eagerly presses my plush ear and the bear begins to ask some questions. I have a go at saying something to see if I can talk through Freddy, but my attempt is futile. I’ve got no power to control the teddy’s speech. Scarlett is having a wonderful conversation with a stuffed bear, whilst I feel trapped and bored inside him. They talk on many mundane topics for at least an hour. The chit chat covers everything seemingly important to a kid, like favourite games and television shows. Scarlett is beaming with pleasure at the carefree interaction. I hear small dings along the way and guess that Scarlett may be getting closer to unlocking the secret mode.
After one of the dings, Freddy asks her a question about who Scarlett lives with and Scarlett goes abruptly quiet. The toy begins beeping, first quietly to warn that an answer is needed, before moving on to blaring, as Scarlett remains mute. From the driver’s seat, Harper asks if something’s wrong, but Scarlett won’t answer. The beep becomes loud and continuous, deafening to me, like the tone of a flatlining patient. I hear a sudden click internally and I lose consciousness.
I can feel some time has passed, as I break back into reality, struggling to grasp a coherent thought. My awareness becomes organized again as I realize I’m in complete darkness and begin to wonder if I’m dead. I recall Scarlett’s blank expression and watery eyes while I was looking at her through Freddy’s plastic pupils. Thoughts race through my head about how she could be feeling this way and I feel an overwhelming guilt that I had no clue she was unhappy. I’ve been so wrapped in my own feelings that I haven’t considered how my separation from Harper has been impacting Scarlett. I feel dismayed at my blindness to her distress. Maybe I am dead. It would be a far better fate than going through life without truly knowing my daughter.
I hear a lock unlatch and light floods my field of vision. Scarlett’s face appears as she smiles and picks me up from the boot of the car. I feel overwhelming happiness to see her face again and realise how much I want to know what she’s feeling and how I can help her.
Scarlett takes me to the back seat of the car and we begin the journey home. I realise I was in the dark for the whole weekend while they were camping.
Freddy begins exactly where he left off and this time Scarlett answers his questions. She seems intent on unlocking the secret mode. I learn that I was right about Scarlett not coping with my separation from Harper and that she’s struggling to find friends at school. Discovering this about my daughter makes me even more determined to help her find her way.
A different chime sounds and Freddy whispers: “secret mode”. Scarlett squeals excitedly at the prospect of asking the bear her special question.
Scarlett lowers her voice and asks, “Why do adults forget how to play?”
Freddy is silent. I take this as my chance to test if I can talk yet.
“Scarlett…” I venture and hear my thoughts spoken in Freddy’s voice.
Scarlett’s eyes light up and I continue.
“Adults don’t want to forget but they do. Life gets in the way. That’s why they need kids, like you, to help them remember how to play. I’m sorry I haven’t been playing with you lately. I know it’s been tough, and I want to make it up to you, if you’ll let me. I love you, Scarlett.”
“Mum? Is that you?” Scarlett asks.
“How did you know?” I reply.
“No-one says “I love you” the way you do, Mum” she responds.
Scarlett accepts my apology, hugs me, breaking her spell and I wake up in my bed at home. My body has been resting all weekend. I rush downstairs just as Scarlett arrives home and hug her again as myself.
That night, after dinner, Scarlett and I hold our first teddy bear tea party and I excel at the role of the talking bear.
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