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.