“What does he think I am? A baby?”
Deep embarrassment was making me peevish. I did not want my mother, grandmother – and, especially, the guests – to think I was still a little girl who liked teddy bears. After all, I was five. It was bad enough that I was already in my pyjamas and slippers, ready for bed, when everyone else was staying up – but rubbing it in with a teddy bear was insulting. Luckily, my mother’s boss – the man responsible for my social discrediting, this Christmas Eve – was not present, so I was able to ridicule him with as much haughty outrage as I felt. It was not the first time he had triggered my anger. When I heard he went hunting pheasants at weekends, I used my mother’s mechanical typewriter to write him a letter which began, “Dear Murderer” before spiralling into accusations and heartfelt wishes that he might be appropriately punished for his crimes against animals. I then gave the letter to my mother to take to him, never doubting that she would deliver it straight into his hands (even then, diplomacy was an alien concept to me). When, a few months later, I heard that he had injured his thumb whilst cleaning his hunting rifle, I cheered.
And now, that horrid man was giving me a teddy bear for Christmas. Not just that – but a cheap and nasty-looking one. My other teddy bear, which my mother had bought me the previous year, and which sat on an armchair, gathering dust, was made of wool and velvet, with articulated paws. I will never know why I did not play with him, but he was a quality bear. This one was stuffed with some kind of mediocre sponge, and was not even brown but some kind of non-descript pinkish-reddish-orangey, with white muzzle, tummy and feet. Dark brown bead eyes with large black pupils, an upside down, vaguely heart-shaped piece of red felt for a mouth, and a little black nose which was stuck off-centre. A cheap teddy bear with a wonky nose. Couldn’t my mother’s boss at least have spent a little more?
Of course, there would never be any question of my playing with such a low quality toy but I could not stop staring at the wonky nose. Defective. No one would ever play with him. He would just lie there, under the Christmas tree, on top of the scrunched up wrapping paper. Later, the lights would be switched off, and he would lie there, alone, in the dark, with his wonky nose. Suddenly, tears were streaming down my face. No one would ever love Teddy, and he would be thrown away.
I took wonky-nosed Teddy to bed with me, to comfort him. I told him it would only be for that night, because it was Christmas Eve.
I fell asleep, hugging Teddy, for many, many years to come.
He now lives among my woollen jumpers. He is still with me.
* With thanks to Rosy Cole for inspiring me to write this, with her story Elephant’s Footnote.