Brian Anderson has been writing seriously for over twenty-five years and his work has appeared in many poetry magazines and anthologies. Brian’s pamphlet collection “Life Lines” was published by Mudfog Press in 2013. He was born, and still resides, in Sunderland in the North East of England.
You can follow Brian on twitter: @ba785
Jack was shovelling horse muck when he first saw Issac and Teddy.
The delivery van had just pulled away when he caught sight of Issac’s brawny frame, trudging along the muddy path through the allotments with Teddy tucked securely under his arm.
Jack straightened and stretched. He was getting too old for all this physical work he thought to himself as he lighted a cigarette and watched the huge bearded man tramping nearer and nearer. He should be taking it easy like other seventy one year olds. But then again, since he lost Alma, that allotment was all Jack really had in life.
He considered what a strange spectacle the hulk of a man approaching him provided. The relentless plod of his boots; the eyes never leaving the ground; the battered overcoat cloaking over six feet in height and that tattered, floppy, balding teddy bear lolling around at his side.
Jack turned and began to scoop up manure and tip it over the fence into his allotment, puffing on his cigarette as he went.
From the corner of his eye he noticed the man with the bear set his bag down next to the fence and carefully sit the teddy on top of it. Then, without speaking, he took up one of Jacks shovels and began to dig into the mound of manure.
The two men worked silently until the entire pile lay on the other side of the fence.
When they were done, they both put down the shovels and stood staring at the large pile of shit. Jack lighted another cigarette, exhaled and said
“Thank you young man. What’s your name?”
Without looking at Jack the man bent down and picked up the teddy. He held it up, then moving it’s head and gesticulating with it’s arm he said in an exaggerated, deep voice
“You’re welcome. Me names Teddy and ‘ees Issac. Ee don’t speak much that one, bit cuckoo some say, so I does all the talkin’ you know.”
Jack stood for a moment, slightly taken aback by the bizarre puppet show he had just witnessed. He could not comprehend it. It didn’t make him laugh, he knew that it wasn’t meant too, but he also didn’t find it silly. The thing that struck him as unusual was the fact that he himself just accepted it.
Issac now had the rucksack on his back and Teddy under his arm and was trudging off along the path again.
“Bye Issac..and Teddy.” he called.
“Ta-ra.” said Teddy.
Jack arrived at the allotment the following morning to find Issac and Teddy sitting in the sun, leaning against the blue metal gate that bore the plaque reading “JACK AND ALMA’S GARDEN.”
“Hello you two.” Jack said as he approached.
With Issac’s help, Teddy stood and motioned with his arm to the allotment.
“We thought you might need some ‘elp” said Teddy.
“Well that’s very kind of you.” Jack said, stooping slightly to talk directly to Teddy. In a way he felt as if he were talking to a child. He and Alma had never managed to have children, a fact that saddened her till the end and bothered him still he realised at once.
“I would like your help.” he went on “My name’s Jack by the way.”
“Pleased ta meet ya.” said Teddy.
The two men worked all day, Jack stopping for breaks when he felt tired or had one of his coughing fits, Issac carrying on, silent and relentless.
Jack sat down on a garden chair and sparked up another fag. He looked down to the end of the garden where Issac was raking a bed of soil. Then he looked over to Teddy who sat in the chair opposite him. The bear seemed to be staring directly at him with its black button eyes and that strange little smile on its mouth. Jack quickly glanced over at Issac then back to Teddy.
“Hey Teddy.” he whispered.
The bear stared back at him. Silent.
“Hey Teddy.” he said a little louder. Nothing.
Jack chuckled to himself and puffed away on the cigarette. He looked up to the sun riding high in the sky and mopped his brow with his handkerchief. He felt comfortable with Issac and Teddy around. He liked the company. There was something comforting about their presence.
Jack held his handkerchief and tied a knot in each corner. He leaned forward and pulled it over Teddy’s head.
“There you go Teddy.” said Jack
“Ta very much” came Teddy’s voice from behind him. Jack nearly fell from his chair with fright. He was sure he saw Issac smiling when he turned around.
This routine continued for the next few days. Jack would arrive each morning to find Issac and Teddy waiting. They would work silently, while Teddy sat propped on the chair, then part at the end of each day.
On the third day Jack asked Teddy where they had been staying.
“Oh ‘ere and there.” he said.
“No where permanent then?” said Jack.
“Not really,” said Ted “we likes to move about a bit you know.”
“Why’s that then Teddy?” Jack said, looking at Issac.
There was a pause. Then Teddy answered.
“To stay ahead of the ghosts.”
Jack looked across the soil bed’s and rhubarb plants. Ghosts, yes, it seemed that all people were cursed to be haunted by them. Not the ghosts of folklore and children’s stories. But the ghosts that come in the form of grief and memory and the places inextricably linked with lost ones. Like the very garden they sat in.
“I see. I want you two to come home with me to eat tonight. I insist.”
“Alright then.” said Teddy as Jack broke out into another of his coughing fits and tried to ignore the blood in his handkerchief.
Jack and Issac ate corned beef and chips that night whilst Teddy sat at the table with them. After the meal the two men drank brown ale while Jack told Teddy and Issac of his life as a young blacksmith, how he had met Alma and eventually found work on the oil rigs.
They did this the following night and every night for a week.
Then Teddy agreed that they would stay for a while.
Eventually Jack became so sick that he could not make it to the allotment, so Issac would leave every morning and Teddy would sit with Jack watching the television. Jack would comment on the programmes and talk to Ted about various subjects and he would sit there quietly and listen until Issac returned to cook for them and he would once again begin to speak.
But Jack’s condition worsened and he took to his bed. He had refused any treatment from the doctors. What was the point of prolonging the inevitable?
Issac came into his room late one afternoon. He sat by Jack’s bed, gently took hold of his wrist, lifted his arm and placed Teddy under it. He sat silently staring at the floor for a moment, then turned to Jack and for the first time made eye contact with him. He spoke in a hushed, well spoken, educated voice in complete contrast to the voice of the bear.
Jack looked into the melancholy blue pools of Issac’s eyes that seemed to swirl with emotion and regret. He saw the anger of someone dealt an injustice who must surrender to it. He saw secrets and loss. He no longer just saw the man. He saw the humanity in him.
“I sat with him just like this.” said Issac.
“With who?” Jack coughed.
“My boy. Billy.” as he said this Issac looked back to the floor.
“I wanted him home, away from all the doctors. But he was in such pain in the end. Have you ever had to watch someone you love in so much pain?”
“Yes Issac. My Alma. I know...”
“I’d speak to him with that silly bear and he would laugh, he said it made him feel better. But the pain got too much and the bear wasn’t enough. I had to take away his torment. Stop the pain.”
As Issac looked at Jack again, tears slowly dropped from his eyes.
“Billy once said to me that nothing ever really dies. They just breakdown and the atoms take on a different configuration. He was so clever and so right. I took away his pain Jack. But pain doesn’t die it just moves, it reforms. It’s passed around like an infection. I took his pain away but knew that if his mother found what I had done it would be too much for her. She couldn’t cope anyway with his illness. But if she’d known the truth it would’ve been just too much. So I saved her from that. I took the pain from both of them and carried it with me. I spoke through the bear as I felt my own voice would choke me.”
Jack put his hand on Issac.
“I understand.” he said “ I Know.”
The two me looked at each other.
“Could you take away my pain?”
Issac looked into Jack’s greying eyes. He saw a weary sadness and longing. A loneliness and a grief with no time to heal.
“Thank you Issac,” said Jack “ I’m ready.”
Issac nodded again. Then standing, took a pillow from behind Jacks head and pressed it down over his face.
Issac stood by the door of Jack’s place, put on his overcoat and threw the bag onto his back. He picked up Teddy from the floor and held him so they were face to face.
They looked at each other for a moment.
“We not stayin’ then?” said Teddy.
“No Teddy. Too many ghosts, too near.” said Issac pulling the knotted handkerchief onto Teddy’s head.
“Righty ho then.” said Teddy and with that they left Jack’s place, closing the door behind them, and took to the road.
A road leading away from their ghosts and into a world filled with the spirits of others.
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