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She knew it was not much, but it was all she had to offer. Scraps of roughly cut fabric littered the wooden floor around her work bench that she hunched over. A needle was poised between her quivering thumb and forefinger. She poked thread through the end of the needle, tied it off and stabbed the needle into the stiff material. Her brow furrowed with focus as the gaudy, floral was joined together with uneven white stitches. She didn’t have the resources nor the skill to make it all one piece, so the limbs were sewn separately. Each part received a sufficient amount of stuffing from her hard mattress. Its uncomfortable either way, she told herself. Then the appendages met the torso, hinged by the cobalt buttons from her sweater. It’s been too small to fasten for a while, she thought offhandedly.
She leaned back, examining what finally looked like a bear. But a bear needed eyes. She searched the drafty attic for anything that she could use. She stumbled upon two dull brown buttons, a length of blue and white ribbon, and her mother’s fine lace tablecloth. It broke her heart to cut the lace, but she knew that the bear needed a collar. So she connected it to half of the blue ribbon and tied it around the thick neck. It took the last bit of her thread to place the last white and blue bow between the bear’s peculiar ears. She sat back once more and gave a wry smile. It wasn't beautiful, it wasn’t perfect, but the odd little bear needed to love as much as to be loved.
“You’ll do just fine,” she whispered.
The uneven, wooden stairs creaked under her as she descended through the duplex and out into the bleak winter night. She didn't have far to walk, but it was still a struggle with her bad knee and the sweater that she could no longer wrap around herself. The wind bit at her wrinkled face as she stumbled towards the barren park across from the shabby building she called home. Just past the iron gate entrance, she knew that a small woman would be huddled beneath a thin blanket with a baby boy and young girl called Catty. The old woman had seen Catty from the attic window, caring for her brother and cleaning shoes for money. She made barely enough to feed one person, let alone three. And maybe that was why, when the old lady arrived at the nest of ragged blankets, she found the mother weeping over the girl.
She did not approach the woman or the body of the child, what condolences could she offer? Tears fell in silence and the old lady cradled the small bear as the mother cradled her lifeless daughter. Her fragile heart ached as she stared into the button eyes, longing for love that she could no longer provide. In the distance she could hear chiming bells and a child's faint whisper. She collapsed onto the nearest bench and clutched the bear to her chest.
"I'm coming," she breathed. "I'm coming."
He took the long way through the park that evening instead of weaving through the busy streets of the city. Snow clung to his jacket as he walked between the bare trees. Usually, when the leaves still hung from their branches, the sounds of traffic were muffled but tonight he could distinctly hear the wail of sirens amongst the general commotion. An ambulance pulled up to the edge of the park and its bright lights played across his face. The young man stopped, watching the short discourse exchanged by the emergency personnel and the couple that had seemingly called them. Then the emergency team jumped into action, going in opposite directions.
"Rick I'm gonna need help with this one. Rick!" Before he knew what he was doing, the young man had rushed over to the man by the bench.
"Let me help you," he offered. The man looked at him doubtfully, but nodded anyway.
"We just have to lift her into the truck." They heaved the body of an old woman off of the bench and into the ambulance. The second man ran past them with a young girl in his arms.
"My little girl, my little girl!" The sobbing mother holding a baby latched onto the young man who stared blankly as the ambulances drove away. "Please," she begged. "I have to follow her. Please!"
"Taxi!" He ran into the street, nearly colliding with the small yellow car. The driver swore, but the young man ignored him. "Come on, ma'am." He herded her into the taxi. "Follow that ambulance to the hospital," he demanded. The driver sped forward, dodging oncoming traffic, and the woman continued to cry in the seat next to the young man as she rocked her younger child back and forth until they reached the hospital.
"Sixteen dolla, sixteen dolla!"
"Here," he said passing the driver a twenty dollar bill. "Keep the change."
When they entered the emergency room it looked as if a bomb had gone off. Nurses rushed from room to room and fretted over the people still in waiting.
"Listen lady," one gentleman snapped. "My wife is having a heart attack. Do you understand me? She's having a HEART - ATTACK."
"I'm sorry, sir. There's nothing I can do for you."
"Nurse, nurse," the young man hollered, dragging the mother behind him as he chased after her white clad figure. She turned around and shot him a haughty and exasperated look.
“Listen, I’m doing the best I can here, but the rooms,” she began.
“No, no, no,” he interjected breathlessly. “You don’t understand. I’m looking for a young girl that the ambulance would’ve brought in no more than five minutes ago. This is her mother.”
He ushered the woman forward as the nurses face fell. “Oh…the little girl,” she murmured. “Yes, hold on a second. Let me see what I can do. Why don’t you have a seat right over there?”
The young man led the child’s mother to a waiting area that was nearly vacant except for the man who claimed his wife was having a heart attack. Everybody else was waiting at the front desk or badgering anyone who would stop to listen to their problems.
“Hell of a night,” the man with his wife stated in hushed tones.
“You can say that again,” the young man replied. He tried not to gaze at the man’s wife for a long period of time, but he found it difficult. She was breathing heavily, obviously in distress. Her thin, pale finger groped at the skin above her heart. The young man stood up suddenly.
“Wait here.” He left the mother and baby to relocate the nurse he had just talked to.
“Nurse…Mia,” he said reading her name tag slowly.
“I’m working on finding that little girl for you.”
“I know, but I have one more request.”
“What,” she sighed.
“I know you’re really busy here, but the woman over there, well I think she really is having a heart attack ma’am. I understand if there’s nothing you can do here. Is there another part of the hospital I can take her to, or maybe another hospital close by?”
She looked at him sympathetically before laying a piece of paper on the counter and scribbling something down hurriedly.
“Take this to Dr. Azara on the third floor, tell him I sent you. He’ll be able to help you.”
“Thank you, you don’t know how much this means to me.”
He pushed his way through the crowd and back to the couple who was sitting down. He crouched down in front of them and took the lady’s hand. “Ma’am,” he said softly. “Do you think you can stand? The nurse gave me the name of one of the doctors in the building. She said he would be able to take care of you.”
She looked uncertainly into her husband’s shining blue eyes.
“I’ll carry you, Bev.” He scooped her slight frame into his arms in one graceful motion. “Lead the way.”
They worked their way towards the elevator and up to the third floor.
“Excuse me, could you direct me towards the office of Dr. Azara?” The receptionist glanced at him and then at the couple who stood a few feet back before responding.
“Third door on the left; he should still be there.”
The young man turned back to the couple. “Can you take it from here?”
The husband nodded, opening his mouth to speak. The young man brushed his words away, the look of gratitude in his eyes said more than he could possibly say.
When he returned to the emergency room the mother was standing with the nurse by her side.
“Thank the lord you’re here,” she gasped. It was the first time she had spoken to him, and it made him realize how young she really was. The woman, who could have been no older than twenty-one, gripped his arm with her free one. “The nurse says we can see her now.”
“We?” She didn’t respond to him. He was simply guided through the maze of people to a corner that had been curtained off. The sight behind it broke his heart. The lips of the little girl had turned blue, as had her sunken in little cheeks. He looked at the mother in dismay, finally noticing how slim and ragged she was.
“I’m sorry,” he choked on his words. “I'm sorry.” He didn’t know why he said it, but it meant everything in the world to her because they both began to cry silently.
“She's malnourished,” the nurse indicated tenderly, “and has a slight case of hypothermia, but she’s going to be alright.”
“What about the old lady?”
“The old lady. I helped to load her into the ambulance, she has to be here.”
“I’m sorry sir…she passed away on the ride over. They weren't able to revive her. Did you know her?”
“N-no…I’d never seen her before in my life.”
“Oh I was hoping that you would know why she was holding this bear, but…” she held what looked to be a homemade teddy bear to him. The material was stiff and the stuffing hard. The ears were odd and the eyes made of buttons, but its peculiar design only intrigued him.
“Give it to the girl,” he said firmly.
“Sir, I can’t just…”
“Please, it was made for her. It must have been.” The nurse handed him the bear without another word. He watched her leave. Then he placed the bear gently beside the little girl.
“Ma’am, I’m a lawyer at a big firm,” he said without turning to face her. “And it would be my honor to support you and your children, if you would accept my offer.”
He had expected her to reduce to tears, but the woman stood up tall. “I don’t accept charity,” she whispered, offended
This isn’t charity, ma’am. This is a life line.” Her chin trembled for a moment. Then she set her jaw defiantly. “Listen, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll pay you to clean my house.” She paused, chewing on her lip as she thought.
“Deal.” They shook hands and he wrote down his phone number and address for her with the promise that he would be back in the morning. He had asked her if she wanted to stay in his guest room but she was adamant about staying with her daughter, and he couldn’t blame her. That night, after he had caught a taxi and was looking up at the dark ceiling of his bedroom, he thought of how that whole night had started. What would have happened if he hadn’t walked through the park that night? What if he hadn’t helped the mother and the woman having the heart attack? And then he thought of the teddy bear. Something had reflected in its dull button eyes, something that he had seen in his own eyes. And that was why it belonged to the little girl. Because that peculiar teddy bear, made of ancient fabric and white thread, needed the love of a child.