Buddy & Bear
by Mary Ann Smyth

'Just look at that bear! Ohh, he's just what I want. Something to snuggle with when you're at work. You know how lonely I get during the day.' Buddy looked at Jim with anguish in his big brown eyes.

Jim's head jerked from side to side as he looked around to be sure no one heard Buddy's words. He and his dog stood in front of a toy store. Buddy, a Springer Spaniel, had spied a stuffed bear with long floppy arms and legs prominently displayed in the front window.

'Buddy,' he said in a low, threatening tone, 'how many times do I have to ask you not to talk to me when we're out in public?'

'Don't take that tone with me. You know how it upsets me.'

Seeing the dark look on Jim's face, Buddy said 'Okay, okay, I'm sorry' as he stood on his hind legs and pressed his front paws against the store window, his black nose making a large round moist spot. 'I'm speaking in a low voice. No one else can hear me.' He dropped to a faint whisper, placed one front paw at his waist and turned his profile to Jim.

'That's my best side, isn't it? Look at that jaw line. Not a droop or wrinkle in it,' he said, gazing approvingly at his reflection in the window. 'Not like some people I could mention but won't.'

'Buddy, I won't tell you again. Be quiet! Not another word! I don't want anyone to hear you talk. Life would never be the same.' Jim, a quiet-loving man who cherished solitude feared Buddy's ability to form words would become a worldwide phenomenon and peace would go out the window. A realization that Buddy could also think and plot outrageous acts, like his scheme to take marimba lessons, would provide fuel for the fire. Life would never be the same again.

'Okay, okay. Buy me that bear and I'll be quiet.'

'Blackmail. You know that? It's blackmail. Downright blackmail is what it is,' Jim grumbled as he fumbled in his pocket for his wallet and walked Buddy into the store.

'Thanks, Dad.'

'Be quiet, Buddy! Be quiet! And stop calling me Dad. I'm not your father.'

Buddy's left front paw covered his eyes. 'No, don't tell me that. Don't tell me you found me on your front doorstep. Oh, what a blow.' He moaned and shook his head as one eye peeked at Jim from behind his furry paw.

'Although,' he continued as Jim tried to shush him 'I never could see a resemblance. I thought maybe I looked more like some other branch of the family.'

'Buddy, you know very well that you came from a well respected breeder.'

'Do you mean to tell me that my parents were purposely bred to ...'

'I'm warniing you. Don't go there. Drop it.'

'Oh, noooo. Don't tell me. Is Chessie adopted too? I've wondered about that. Poor Chessie. Her feline heart will be broken.'

'She came from the SPCA. You knew that.'

'Do you mean we have a commoner in the house? A stray from the pound! Good God, I'll never be able to hold my head up in the neighborhood again.'

'Buddy, quit it! No more.'

Buddy ignored Jim. 'You better hadn't tell her. She's an old girl. Probably kill her.'

'Buddy, do you want this bear or not?'

'Of course I do. I need it now. I need a friend to heal my broken spirit. What a way to find out you're not your father's son! In a cold commercial store, surrounded by nothing but inanimate objects. But I can handle this. I can get past it.'

With that, Buddy held his head high in the air, lifting each foot as though he were a horse in a dressage class, and preceded Jim into the store. A satisfied grin spread his lips over prominent white teeth. He dearly loved to push Jim's buttons.

'Sir, may I help you?' A store clerk approached with a quizzical smile on his face. Jim had seen him start towards Buddy and himself a moment before but the man had backed away with a look of having seen something he'd rather not face. Obviously having braced himself, he approached again.

'Is there something I can show you?'

Buddy pointed a paw toward the display of bears and opened his mouth. Before he could utter a word, Jim poked him with a stiff finger in the side and said severely, 'Sit, Buddy.'

Immediately Buddy sank to a sitting position with a look of hurt in his eyes.

'Actually, sir, we don't normally allow dogs in the store. But Buddy here seems to have good manners.' The man leaned into Buddy's face and reached a fat hand toward his ear. Buddy looked the clerk in the eye and bared his teeth. A low growl that seemed to grow in volume emitted from Buddy's throat. The man quickly backed away.

'We'd like that bear,' Jim said pointing to a brown bear with a shiny black button nose.

'Nooo! Not that one!' Buddy, realizing he had spoken out loud, thrust a paw in his mouth and looked at Jim with pleading apology in his eyes, Sorry almost spelled out in neon letters in those big brown orbs.

'Sir, did you say something?' the clerk asked, a perplexed look on his round face. He quickly glanced at Buddy, who smiled sweetly with an air of innocence. The man's head shook several times in negation and he tried again.

'Did you say something? Is it the brown bear you want?'

Buddy shook his head violently, his long brown and white ears flailing the air. Jim pointed to another bear, one with rough looking fur and a black spot over one eye.

Buddy's head moved back and forth imperceptibly. 'How about that Panda Bear on the back shelf of the window?'

Buddy's head moved more vigorously in refusal. 'Well, maybe not that one,' Jim said. 'Let's see the one with the tiny black nose and the long legs and arms.'

The clerk's eyes narrowed in displeasure as he reached for the homeliest bear in the window. 'This one has not been a favorite. In fact, we only got the one in and it's been here for some time.'

'Ah ... just what we're looking for,' Jim said, handing the bear to his dog. Buddy's face had split in a grin and he gently took the bear in his mouth.

'I'll be happy to put the toy in a bag for you, sir,' the clerk intoned.

Buddy's growl erupted from his throat around his new friend's body. The clerk quickly backed away with a slight bow. 'Yes, sir, the dog will carry it. I understand, sir.'

'Buddy,' Jim said when they were again on the sidewalk, 'don't you think you were over the top there? Growling at that guy. He didn't do anything to you.'

'Yes, he did,' Buddy said, placing the bear gently on the sidewalk. 'He got into my space. Besides, did you get a whiff of that guy's breath? He could drop an elephant dead in its tracks. Whew! Hasn't he ever heard of breath mints? Terrible! Shouldn't be allowed. I'll bet he had garlic pasta for lunch. Didn't you see the tomato sauce spots on his tie? Loaded with garlic. Ever have that dish? Good. But, boy, it'll knock you for a loop for hours afterwards ...'

'Buddy, now cut it out. Stop trying to cloud the issue. No more growling at anyone. Understand?'

'Yeah. Yeah. Okay. No more growling.' He picked up the bear in his mouth and walked as proudly down the sidewalk as any new young father displaying his newborn child for the first time.

'Well, Bud,' Jim said several weeks later as he settled into his navy blue recliner. Kicking off his shoes with a sigh, he continued. 'Have you finally decided on a name for your new friend? You've been kicking around quite a few.'

Buddy lay on the floor, the new bear under his chin, holding his head off the floor. 'How about Pillow? That's what you're using him for,' Jim said, laughing at the thought.

'Don't be funny. It doesn't become you. You know you really never could tell a good joke. Well, maybe sometimes. Yeah, you've made me laugh. But not right now.'

'Buddy, I just asked you a question. Not for a statement on my fun quotient. What's the cotton-pickin' bear's name?'

'Bear. His name is Bear.'

'What happened to Quincy? Or Newton? You really liked Dylan. I happened to like Lester myself. Why Bear?'

'Don't make some quip about that being a dumb name for a stuffed animal, it's the name he wants.'

'That's it. You've gone too far.' Jim adjusted his chair and rose to open his hidden bar. As he swung the wall around to expose the bottles and glasses nestled on its  backside, he said, 'I need a drink. Now my dog tells me that his toy talks!'

His hands swept the air as he punctuated his words with gestures. 'Good grief. It's bad enough I have conversations with a dog. Now I'm supposed to believe a cloth toy can tell us his name.'

'Well, believe it, Big Daddy. He says his name is Bear. His mother gave it to him just before she died. Bear's twin passed on at birth and his Mommy just after that. He was waiting for someone to come along that would understand him and give him unconditional love.'

Jim quickly downed his first drink - whiskey and water - and fixed another one.

'Why are you doing that? You know you don't drink. And why don't you offer me one? You know I might like a drink now and then. To help me wind down after a long day. Life isn't always easy, you know. It's tough to do guard duty around the clock and look after Chessie, the dear old girl. And now I have a new responsibility. A bear that has lost his mother. WHAT! What's wrong? Why are you looking at me like that? Dad. Hey, Daddy. I think Bear and I are going to bed. Good night.'

Buddy carefully picked up Bear and sidled from the room. Before he reached the hall to the bedroom, Jim called him back.

'Buddy. Don't say a word. I'm going to tell you something. No comments. Just do what I say and everything will be okay. Got that?'

Buddy's head bobbed up and down, Bear's arms and legs flopping in the air with the motion. He knew better than to say anything. He sat and listened - the picture of a well-trained dog.

'I don't want to hear any more about what Bear has to say. You can talk to him all you want. But don't repeat anything to me. I want peace and quiet in this house. If I don't get it, Bear goes.'

'Is this negotiable?'

'NO! Absolutely not! Not negotiable. Buddy, go to bed.'

Buddy left the room, his head peeking around the doorway as he passed into the dining room. A sweet smile on both his face and Bear's drove Jim to the garage to work on the '56 Packard he was restoring. Anything to take his mind off that blasted dog.

One evening, several months later, when Jim came in from work, Buddy greeted him at the door with Jim's slippers in his mouth.

'What is it now, Bud?' Jim said. 'What do you want? Can't I come in without having you try to con me out of something? It's been a long day and I'm tired.'

'Everything's cool, Dad. Everything's cool.'

'Then let me just have my dinner in peace. We'll go for a long walk after that.'

'That works. All right. Good.' Buddy's head swung up and down in affirmation. 'That suits me. Yes, indeedy.'

Jim looked at Buddy with question on his face. He narrowed his eyes and assessed Buddy's stance. The dog stood quietly, with his head up. Looking at his master with clear eyes and a slight smile on his lips. He looked the picture of obedience. The good dog. Willing to do whatever was asked of him.

Jim opened the refrigerator and took out a Diet Pepsi. As he popped the top, he realized that the fridge had been straightened up. And the kitchen floor had been wiped.

'Been busy today, Bud?'

'Yeah. I know keeping the house is tough and thought I'd give a hand.'

'Well,' Jim said, as he glanced at the recently vacuumed family room rug, 'you've saved me some time. So how about if we go outside and play a little catch with the Frisbee? Up for it?'

'Sure. Let's do it,' Buddy said as he nosed open the closet door and neatly lifted the Frisbee with his teeth. He dropped the disk on the floor at Jim's feet and got out his fifty foot lead, which Jim liked to use when they played outside so Buddy had a chance for a good run but wouldn't end up in the street.

'This is a turn around, Buddy. I like it.'

'Yeah, figured it was time to change my act. You're a good guy and I've given you a lot of grief.'

'Let's start fresh,' Jim said as he scratched behind Buddy's ear and then patted him on the side. Buddy reached into the pats with his body and stretched his head into the air, delighted to have the attention.

An hour later, after catching the Frisbee countless times, leaping into the air as Buddy had seen dogs on TV do, Jim and Buddy took a long walk around the neighborhood.

The neighbors, instead of shying away from Buddy as they normally did, petted and praised him for being such a fine boy. Buddy's head stretched higher and higher with the accolades.

'You know, Dad, this is pretty cool. I think they like me. I think they really like me! Wow! Is that cool or what?'

'See what happens when you act like a dog and not a jerk?' Jim replied in a whisper. 'It's nice to be with you like this.' He reached to ruffle the curls on the top of Buddy's head.

Buddy thrust his head against Jim's hand and smiled his peculiar smile. Contentment, that's what it is, he thought. I could get to like this.

As the summer night slowly dropped over them like a flimsy blanket, Jim headed for the house.

'Couldn't we sit on the back porch for a little?'

'Sure, Bud. It's a good night for it. You usually don't like that. Too tame for you. That's what you always tell me.'

'I guess I'm changing my tune. Tonight was really, really good. Let's do this again.'

'Sure, Bud. You've got it. It's been a pleasure to have a normal evening instead of arguing about some idiotic idea that you've come up with. Thanks, fella.'

After enjoying the mild night air in complete silence, the two, man and dog, went into the house. Jim decided a cup of tea would be nice before bed and he sat in his recliner while waiting for the water to heat.

'Oh, Dad. There's something I wanted to talk to you about.'

'Buddy,' Jim said with a smile, 'don't ruin the night. Whatever it is, let's just let it sit for a bit.'

'Well,' Buddy started, 'this really shouldn't wait.'

'Okay, whatever it is won't destroy my mood. We had a good night and I feel great. What is it? What have you done now?' He smiled at Buddy and reached his hand to the dog to pet him.

Buddy scooted from the room.

'Where are you going?'

'Be right back.'

In a moment, Buddy walked slowly back into the family room. His friend Bear hung from his mouth, the stuffed animal's long legs dangling from Buddy's jaws. Bear's tan curly fur highlighted his black embroidered nose.

Buddy dropped Bear at Jim's feet - and then handed Jim a rolled piece of paper that Bear clutched under one leg.

'What's this, Buddy? It looks legal. Good grief. It is legal. It's a summons. A summons. Buddy, what's happened? What have you done now? A summons. What in blue blazes is wrong? I guess I'll have to see you through this. But I don't have to like it.'

'Thanks, Dad. But ... well ...'

'Spit it out, Bud.' A look of deep concern washed over Jim's manly face.

'It's hard to say it. I know nothing about it. I don't even know how he got out of the house. Or when. Honestly, I didn't know. I've talked to Bear about these things. Trying to be a responsible father. Like you are. But I failed.'

'What are you talking about? Where did you fail?'

Buddy started to back from the room as he continued to talk about his failure as a father. 'I thought I could raise Bear without any help. But I guess I was wrong. Maybe I just should have read a few books on being a parent. Or followed your example. You're a good dad. You really are.'

Bear stared at Jim from the floor. Buddy nudged him with his foot and resumed backing from the room.

'I hate to have to tell you this, but Bear is being served with a paternity suit!!'

With those words, Buddy scuttled from the room, adding, 'I'm sorry. I really am.' He joined the cat Chessie under the dining room table as Jim's expression changed from concern to complete bewilderment.

Bear's expression didn't change.

Note; The author retains all rights to this story.