My daughter walks up to me with tears in her eyes, clutching her favorite stuffed bear in her arms. I take a few a seconds to look up from the pile of insurance papers to see exactly what it is she’s crying about. All along the hallway is a little broken line of cotton stuffing, like breadcrumbs leading back through the forest. It trails from her bedroom door all the way up to my desk, where she stands sobbing with the injured bear in her arms. His head is nearly detached from his body. I laugh, for what feels like the first time in weeks, and scoop my daughter up into my arms.
“I can fix this, sweetheart,” I say.
Brushing the notices and forms to the side of my desk, I coax the poor bear out of my daughter’s arms and lay him gently on the table top. The stitching doesn’t look too complicated, if I can only remember the things my wife taught me about mending toys. It was always her realm of expertise.
“Sweetie,” I say, looking into my child’s eyes. “Do you remember where Mommy kept the sewing supplies?”
She nods, sniffing quietly and looking perhaps a little sadder at the mention of her mother.
“Go fetch it for Daddy.”
I set her softly back on the floor, and she scurries off to the linen closet. While she’s gone, I take a few moments to inspect the bear’s wounds. It won’t be perfect. I don’t have the skill to completely hide the damage. But, with a little coaxing, my daughter will carry on as if nothing had happened. Or so I hope. She does love that bear.
Hurrying back to my desk, she struggles to carry the large sewing kit my wife left behind. I lift the kit out of her hands and remove a needle and some thread. Slowly, I move the needle back and forth along the bear’s neck, taking care to get as much of the stuffing my daughter brings to me back into his body as possible, but I can’t be sure how much of it is being overlooked. He’ll probably feel a little empty compared to what he was before.
My daughter watches with wide eyes as my inept fingers do their work. More than once I manage to prick myself with the needle, but thankfully I avoid the temptation to swear. I’m the only example she has now. When at last I feel somewhat satisfied with my work, I present the bear back to her for inspection, knowing I’ve done an imperfect job. The thread coloring doesn’t quite match, and the stitching is a little too tight.
For a few moments she is silent, then her eyes blaze with happiness.
“You fixed him!” she exclaims, giving the bear a big hug. Her smile reminds me so much of her mother, I have to look away.
“Wh-what do we say?” I ask, a lump forming in my throat. My wife always handled this part as well.
“Thank you, Daddy.” My daughter smiles, before following the trail of overlooked cotton breadcrumbs back to her room.
Somehow, I manage to hold myself together and get back to the unorganized stack of papers. I never thought there would be so much to do just to collect a little money to help us get by. After a few minutes, I push the forms aside again. I just don’t have the energy right now.
Sighing, I look up to the ceiling.
“Are you up there?” I ask. “If you are, please tell me how I’m going to get through this. How am I going to do this without you?”
But I already know what my wife would say if she were still here.
It looks like you’re off to a pretty good start.
J.D. Rice is a flash fiction writer and aspiring novelist living in Frederick, Maryland. His work has been featured on 365tomorrows, Flashes in the Dark, and Every Day Fiction.