Author’s note: This piece will be published in the University of Alabama School of Medicine’s upcoming Voices in Word Literary Journal, published by its Narrative Medicine Interest Group.
Descended from Spanish-English lineage but made in China, Javier Fitzsimmons’s brown, burly, furry form lay squished against the basket grating by the weight of a multitude of stuffed animals.
In the 1500s after the wreckage of the Spanish Armada washed up along the English shores, a poor Spanish soldier stumbled through the gray, rainy countryside. Delirious and ketotic from days of exposure, he staggered through a small town. His gaunt figure propped against a wall under a sign “The Tipsy Footman,” his absent survey of the crowd fell upon a young lady. Her eyes met his. He stood straighter. She smiled. He smiled back. She turned but held his gaze a little longer, brushing a brown lock aside from her forehead, and then completed her turn. Steadiness returned to his gait. A slip of parchment was grabbed from a market stall. The lady passed through the street on her return to her carriage. Pinned to a post supporting a canopy, a note read “Aqui esta noche, Guillermo.” Back underneath the sign and exhausted from exertion, the soldier faintly descried the lady raising her hand to the paper. She disappeared into the crowd, and Guillermo made his way to the post. Beneath his scrawl was written Isabel in cursive. He rushed back to the tavern and asked the innkeeper for needle, thread, cloth, a button, and straw. He toiled for hours in his dim room. At midnight, he stole away into the town square and waited patiently. From the gloom and into the lamplight, a slender figure approached and paused. The young soldier stepped closer and reached into his shabby coat pocket. Isabel’s soft green eyes brightened as a furry head emerged in the lamplight and its large brown nose rested in her delicate hands, and thus Aguirre, the progenitor, original model, was introduced into the world.
Javier shouted, “I know not from where my consciousness came! Nor do I know when it arose!”
The other stuffed creatures shifted their eyes toward the pinned bear. A few shook their heads. While staring forlornly at a Frisbee across the aisle, a brown dog quietly observed to the adjacent raccoon that new denizens always needed some time to adjust. The raccoon murmured indistinctly and abstractedly, fixating upon the glinting streamers in the party section.
Javier reflected upon his consignment to the stuffed animal basket in the back aisles of the store and silently cursed the nefarious Gerard, a rakish giraffe, who had presented untoward affections to Penelope the Pony. Javier had thwarted the voyeuristic purposes of Gerard’s long neck and reprimanded him for his noisy mastication of carrots. Incensed, Gerard shoved a carrot up Javier’s right nostril and sneered, “Someone has stayed up past his bedtime. Shouldn’t you find a warm den for winter?”
Eyes ablaze and roaring with the certainty of righteousness swelling in his heart, Javier said Penelope’s pink mane would remain unbesmirched from an herbivore’s unseemly predations. Unperturbed that her honor hung in jeopardy, Penelope sought to perfect her weaving skills on a loom, a task rendered difficult by her hooves. Javier was determined that she would not be foiled in her task and would enjoy the deserved peace from this knobby-kneed quadruped leering through the gaps in the bars of the basket. He wanted to see the finished scene, which so far had heralded a meadow ablaze by a copse and a mighty bear capped with a round brown hat looming in smoke and carrying something the outlines of which suggested a fire extinguisher. This piece of art was worth the duel set to coincide with the opening of the store so that the defeated may be publicly humiliated. It was not to be. While Javier was sharpening his sabre at his whetstone by candlelight, a tiger and a chicken grabbed him by the arms and hauled him away to the back storeroom.
Struggling mightily, Javier asked, “When did your souls shrivel?”
The tiger and chicken remained stolid in their task, the latter remarking, “Cluck!”
Javier turned his fury onto the striped assailant. “You scoundrel! You have betrayed the terrestrial food chain!” The tiger averted his eyes.
Despite his protestations, Javier was tossed into the rejects bin. He hazily recollected the long hours which must have been days and nights in the dreary bin filled with heathen. Senses dulled by despair, he thought his transport to the Dollar Store and rough installation into the toy aisle an unconscionable nightmare that had now resolved into an indignation that filled his fluffy innards.
Javier’s downward gaze did not see the hand that plucked him from the bin. His heart lifted. A new beginning approached. Was he not of noble blood? Was he not a part of the same sturdy stock that had begun with Aguirre, who had protected the ragged dolls of that English nursery way back in 1595, who had maintained the affections of the four children hurrying about the castle despite the intrusion of German-engineered bears who were ostensibly cuter and more cuddly than he and made of stouter stitching, and who had made the Anglicized surname of his warrior creator proud? Now, redemption loomed closely ahead.
Javier kept this optimism even after having his face scraped across the register and being shoved into a plastic bag. He strived vigorously to not let his glimpse of his new, unshaven, stocky master waver his hope. The rough ride and bare-walled, paper-strewn quarters indicated that the hope remained self-generated. Entrenched in a brown box, Javier waited.
From one bag to another, Javier entered black synthetic confines and then rolled out onto a flat, brown table under bright fluorescent lights. An arena, Javier thought, where I can once again show my worth.
Javier heard his name called out by his stocky master. Laughs ensued. “Why do they laugh?” Javier asked himself. Pique began to rise within. “Am I to be mocked? Do they know of my illustrious history?” Javier brooded. His thoughts were interrupted when a hand lifted him.
Javier tumbled through the air, simultaneously exhilarated and insulted. Though barely reaching the height of one’s ankle, Javier envisioned hoisting by his small but nevertheless mighty paws of justice his unceremonious pitcher and heaving him into a deep dark void, ideally from a cliff in the middle of the night under a new moon in a remote area removed from light pollution such that the inky blackness would engender tremendous terror in his victim but not so much so that the victim would lose consciousness and thus miss the seizing of his heart as he plummeted to a dishonorable but just death. Juxtaposed within his mind was the liberating sensation of flying. Not since his great-grand uncle Alastair had perched on the wing of the Wright Brothers’ biplane had a bear had the gift of the wind ruffling through his fur, the speed enlivening his spirit.
A young lady caught Javier. “A new master?” Javier mused. But he saw that his tenure was to be brief, as he was then tossed to another young lady, and then to a young man, and then to a young lady, and so it went. “Was there not anyone old in this populace?” Javier finally shouted. No one seemed to hear him.
During his cranky flights across the room, Javier caught bits of discussion. Words like character, conflict, theme, and plot were bandied about. Javier raised his voice again, “I, too, have seen conflict! Long have I strived for resolution, for peace! Meaning has eluded my grasp. But the search…”
But the conversations of the remarkably robust number of young people swelled, and his voice trailed off. He listened to the mention of narrative. His owner, who wore glasses and a shabby collared shirt, asked how the people in the room could heal the characters. As suggestions followed, Javier’s thoughts began to drift, “Can one give healing? What is there to be healed? I am still able and whole. Yet perhaps not free of injury. Maybe I had to have been there.” Tossed by the slings of the young people and nettled by the arrows of introspection, Javier pondered the trajectory of his heritage and personal chronology, struggling to decide if he were on a long, slow, ignominious descent that he had seen befall many noble houses. Barely did he notice the black synthetic maw enclosing him yet again.
Weeks passed inside the box, and Javier pondered if he had been forgotten.
Then, one morning, Javier found himself stuffed again into the cramped folds of a backpack. The spirit of adventure rising like a zeppelin within his chest, Javier poked his head above the aperture. The black hole which he had occupied was a backpack. The sloping ridge was the right shoulder of his owner. He and the owner were riding in the back of an elevator while a nurse clad in white stood in front of the doors. A green arrow pointed up, and Javier saw the numbered buttons beside the names of the floors. His curiosity satisfied, Javier slid back into the black pit.
When he saw again, light streamed through the ceiling-to-floor windows. Peering to the side, he noticed on the lintel a small red insignia featuring the silhouettes of two children, a boy and a girl, looking into the distance. Surrounding him were a vast array of stuffed animals on a table. On the floor lay plastic toys. Some children were moving them about. Two boys, one of whom had no hair on his head, deliberately crashed miniature cars together, making engine noises, “Vrooom! Rrrrrrr! Erchh! Pbshh!” In the far corner, a girl was playing house. Javier then heard distinct words, and he whirled.
“Mommy! I want that one!” The back of a blond pony-tailed head swung into view.
“Which one, sweetie?”
A left hand pointed, “The giraffe! He looks like the one at the zoo!”
From the back of the pile of toys at the opposite end, the supercilious snout and offensively long neck of a familiar foe came into view. Gerard’s piercing eyes met Javier’s. Javier saw a flicker of surprise, and perhaps even of fear, that swiftly became a smoldering fire of malice. His paws clenched after Gerard mouthed, “How was the Dollar Store?” The girl cuddled Gerard, turning his face away from Javier.
Mustering his composure, Javier contemplated. Perhaps he was wounded in ways he could not see but vaguely yet powerfully feel. Healing may lie out of reach, but he need not be impeded from purpose which had returned.
Javier initiated a game of telephone. He whispered to the adjacent pink and purple octopus who muttered in the ear of the dolphin who turned to the lion and on down the line. When called by her mother, the girl rested Gerard gently on the ledge. He looked at Javier, who pointed at him and then motioned to crack the knuckles of his paws. Just as a derisive smile was beginning to play on his face, Gerard looked at the green turtle who said, “Psst … pass it on. The…”
Glancing to his side, Gerard said, “There’s no one else to pass it on to.
The green turtle blinked back, “I guess it’s meant for you then.”
Gerard asked, “What is it?”
“The bear back there named Javier said to say that the ICU is on the seventh floor.”