By Michael B. Tager
They follow him almost by accident.
“Take him with you,” his mom says. She presses the knitted bear into his palm, stitches rough and comforting. Protests start – I’m not a baby – but her lip trembles so he dumps it into the last box, next to the Rancor.
When he arrives, space is limited; the new roommate got there an hour earlier and filled the room with plastic/porcelain/metal statues of the Virgin Mary on ledges, windowsills. He unpacks and fits the Rancor onto a deep shelf in the scarred wooden desk. After a moment’s thought, he sticks the little bear into its upturned palm. The Rancor is hard, knobby brown plastic, all claws and teeth.
He steps back and grins, the movie monster and the bear his great-grandmother knitted in anticipation of his birth. The bear fits perfectly, black eyes peeking from between the Rancor’s claws. When his new (soon-to-be-ex) roomie frowns, it’s better, more perfect.
The first girl he has over doesn’t see them, she’s disturbed by all the Marys, but the second does. “What are these?” she asks. He hopes by turning away and mumbling, aiming for bashful, it’ll work like actual charm. She’s canny, but accepts the explanation’s kernel of truth.
“Little Bear and Rancor? They’ve been with me forever. They’re like a sitcom; one’s the brains, the other’s the brawn. They solve mysteries, save the day.” She giggles, tosses her blonde hair and they make out for a few minutes. Later, she doesn’t return his call.
After college, Little Bear and Rancor accompany him to Philly, where they live in a non-working fireplace, surrounded by an asymmetrical candelabra covered in blue-and-red wax. Half-a-decade later, in Amarillo, they loom on the heavy marble mantelpiece. After he completes his juris doctor, he rents a shack to save money. He gets bedbugs and burns all of his possessions; Little Bear and Rancor are the only things spared.
After the wedding, his wife asks him to, “Grow up already and get rid of those things. You’re in your thirties, you know.”
He snaps back, “My shit is valid too.” Hereafter they live in the office-slash-place-he-smokes-pot-sometimes, in a dim corner where only he can see them.
They never live in the kids’ rooms and he doesn’t like them being touched on the odd occasion the kids reach with their grubby paws. Even when they go to college themselves, he presses other tchotzkeys into their grasping hands; Little Bear and Rancor are his.
At the funeral, the kids (balding and pregnant again, respectively) conspire to display them above the coffin. His wife smiles, wrinkling her already-creased brow. She wishes she had a drink and that the tears would dry and that his little toys reminded her less of him.
After that, who knows?