Monday, February 1, 2010

Bear’s universe

On Bear’s fourth birthday, just over a month before we moved to Thunder Bay, Morgan and I presented her with her very own stuffed animal. It wasn’t much to look at, it wasn’t particularly fluffy or cute, it wasn’t very big or, indeed, very interesting; it didn’t even have a face. Essentially, it was a purple gingerbread man-shaped toy not much bigger than my splayed-out hand.

Bear loved it. She treated it with the same reverence with which Fishy had become accustomed. When we gave it to her, that late November day, she accepted it with an air of immense importance, as though we had bestowed upon her some great honour. If she could have spoken then I imagine it would have been something along the lines of, “I will hug him, and love him and call him George.”

Bear had never had her own stuffed animal but anytime she caught a glimpse of someone else’s, her eyes became giant black pools of shining giddiness and amazement. Thoughts of intrigue flashed across her face and her entire universe shrank to her and the stuffed animal. We thought it was time she had her own.

With the same soft-mouthed care she had reserved for Fishy, Bear took the stuffed animal between her jaws and held him there while tiny droplets of drool gathered along her lips and spotted onto the toy’s purple fur. She then settled down with him on her bed of blankets, held him between her front feet and proceeded to lick him from top to bottom, laying down the first layer of what would become the slightly crispy coating of dried dog drool that made him extra special.

Because of the way she cared for the purple gingerbread man, we called him her Baby. When we asked her where her Baby was, she would disappear in a flash and return with him in her mouth, gnawing gently on his head. She had in no time discovered to her delight, Baby had a tiny squeaker nestled inside that made a thin little breathy kind of peep when she pushed on it.

Bear seemed quite content with her whispering Baby, her loud squeaky Fishy and new blue bone. Her original bone, the black one we set out with, was long gone, buried on a lonely beach along the shores of one of the great lakes, we weren’t sure which. All we knew was after a summer and fall of exploring isolated shorelines by canoe, the bone had disappeared. Bear had definitely buried it, we just didn’t know where.

We had caught her trying to sneak away from us a number of times while we set up camp on various sandy beaches that summer. We could tell she was hiding something by the way she walked, almost tiptoeing and taking much smaller and slightly quicker steps than usual, trying very hard not to be noticed. She kept her head turned away from us and bent at a strange angle as she tried to conceal the bone in her mouth. We knew for sure she was up to something by the way her eyes darted towards us and away in a very less than nonchalant manner.

When we called her name, her body stiffened, and then she turned to look at us with the guiltiest expression on her face, ears pulled down, big brown eyes trying to look innocently up from under her tiny eyelashes. Caught in the act, she would turn slowly back to where we stood and drag her feet through the sand, head hung low, then grudgingly hand over her bone so we could tuck it away for safe keeping. I guess that’s exactly what Bear had planned to do to, and eventually she did it.

I never understood why she would want to bury something she cherished so much in a place that was only a temporary home. Temporary for us was usually one or two nights, though at most we might stay a week, and Bear knew that. So, I was extra shocked one day to find Bear trying to sneak off with Fishy.

We were stopped on a tiny northern lake in the middle of nowhere, contemplating a spit of sand that turned into grass, then scrub when I saw out of the corner of my eye Bear slink away from us with Fishy clutched protectively between her teeth. We watched her like hawks after that, only letting Bear have Fishy in the tent or, if we were travelling, in the car.

It wasn’t until we let our guard down, safely planted in our rented cottage in Thunder Bay, that we realized Fishy’s days were numbered.

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