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FICTION

CARE BEAR STARE

Bedroom in late morning, poplar trees visible in the distance outside the second story window gently bending in summer breeze. Protagonist paces, alone except for an oversized stuffed animal: a Care Bear, specifically Heart of Darkness Care Bear, its pillow belly embroidered with the image of a wolf's mouth with teeth bared.

"I don't know," Protagonist says, wandering the small room. "I emailed Dan again,"

Protagonist says, sitting on the twin-sized bed at the foot of which the Heart of Darkness Care Bear is propped up. "He just wrote back History's a mystery but liquor's quicker. Again. As if that even." Protagonist looks over to Care Bear. Care Bear stares back silently, its navy-blue button eyes glistening but not enough a mirror in the morning light for Protagonist to glimpse any reflection in. "I can't just ignore it anymore," Protagonist continues. "I can't just let this mayhem go unanswered, stay silent, move on. Not after what happened to Big Tom."

The Care Bear stares.

"But you know what that means," Protagonist says. "Point of no return. No going back now, no wasting summer waiting for happy endings to bloom. For Tom to come home."

Care Bear stare.

"Don't look at me like that," Protagonist says. "I can't stay here and do nothing, spend all day in bed dreaming my life away pretending I'll finish that Goth as Praxis book. I don't know why I bothered."

Care Bear stare.

"Please give me some reason to have hope," says Protagonist.

Swift clouds in the sky outside briefly darken the sheen of the navy-blue gaze. Protagonist sighs, head in hands, allowing the Care Bear's silence to unroll over Protagonist like a stored winter blanket Protagonist has owned since childhood, the only thing besides Heart of Darkness Care Bear to survive the fire.

Care Bear stare.

Protagonist takes a deep breath and stands, braced as if for impact. "You're right, of course," Protagonist says to Heart of Darkness Care Bear. Protagonist then opens drawer of nightstand next to bed, withdrawing a pair of polished brass knuckles which, like the eyes of Heart of Darkness Care Bear, shine but do not reflect. Outside, summer heat scatters hesitant clouds and the day brightens. "You're always right," Protagonist continues, left hand now bearing the knuckles, "I'm glad I have you to trust."

Care Bear stare.

Protagonist paces, stops to gaze at the bedside clock, looks outside at the flexing poplars, and sighs. "I'll spare you. I know what to do, even if I can't give it a name."

Care Bear stare.

"I love you, Heart of Darkness Care Bear. Please wait for me here. Please wait for me whether I come back or not." Protagonist exits and gently descends the creaking stairs, leaving the empty room a monument to patience, or perhaps to avoidance. The stare of Heart of Darkness Care Bear remains steady even when the small bedroom is reclaimed by night, the navy blue eyes of the animal wide open but absent of judgment, prepared for dawn's slow burn of erasure and ready to stare unwavering into whatever shadows might find their way home.

Nicholas Grider is the author of the story collection Misadventure (A Strange Object, 2014) and their work has appeared in Conjunctions, Diagram, Guernica, and other publications, most recently Midnight Breakfast and Okay Donkey. (www.nicholasgrider.com)