Note: This story appears in the Bethlehem Writers Group anthology, Once Around the Sun, available on Amazon.
Timothy Worthy Teddybear and Spring Cleaning
by Will Wright
It wasn’t that Timothy Worthy didn’t like spring. He loved how the air came alive when the windows were first opened, taking walks in the field with Milly, and holding a buttercup blossom under her chin to see if she liked butter. Then there was the rain. Timothy Worthy would stay awake at night and listen to the soft rain tapping on the roof and window pane. He liked almost everything about spring, except . . . Spring Cleaning!
Spring cleaning meant nearly constant activity throughout the house. Mom kept the children busy every moment cleaning the garage, cleaning the closets, cleaning the basement, cleaning the attic. They never had time for Timothy Worthy.
“Hey Andy, how about letting me ride behind you on your bicycle?”
“Sorry Timothy, I have to paint the shed.”
“Terri, wanna play checkers?”
“Sorry Timothy, I have to beat the throw-rugs.”
“Milly, would you like to play house?”
“Sorry Timothy, I have to fill my donation bag”
Timothy Worthy shuddered. Every year Mom gave each child a donation bag to fill with old clothes and toys for the needy. One year, Andy put his Sunday suit with the scratchy wool trousers in his bag. Timothy told him that Mom wouldn’t allow it, and sure enough, the following Sunday, he was wearing the suit, looking more miserable than usual. To Timothy’s dismay, old friends sometimes found their way into one of the bags. Timothy Worthy knew his friends were going to loving homes and that the children would never send HIM away, but the idea of the bag disturbed him.
One year they sent away the bear’s favorite cookie jar! They replaced it with a much larger jar shaped like a pig.
“Looking at the pig will help me keep my weight down,” said Mom. Timothy Worthy, who couldn’t imagine wanting to be less than completely full of cookies all the time, moped for days until Terri pointed out that the new one held a lot more cookies.
One of the most frustrating things about spring cleaning for Timothy Worthy how hard it was to find a place to snooze. No sooner would he settle into a comfortable spot than that comfortable spot would be invaded by Mom’s army of obedient workers. Even the doll house offered no relief. When it came to cleaning, Mary, the porcelain doll, was just as eager as Mom.
Timothy propped himself against the wall in Andy’s room to catch his breath. Andy always tried to do the least spring cleaning, so it seemed the safest place. He was just nodding off for a much-delayed nap when he sniffed a strange scent. “Hmm,” thought Timothy, “I suppose I’m going to have to open my eyes and see what it is.”
The first thing Timothy Worthy saw was Sebastian. There was something different about his friend. He looked strange. It wasn’t just that smile was crooked, or the smell, for it was Sebastian that Timothy Worthy smelled, much about the hippo had changed. His dark gray hide, was now brighter, almost shiny. His teeth shone white instead of a dull yellow. Strangest of all, his right side seemed overstuffed and tight, while his left was loose and baggy.
“What happened to you Sebastian?”
The hippo stomped his left front hoof. Some of the stuffing shifted, and he looked a bit more like himself. “Spring Cleaning, Timothy,” he said. “Do you remember that spring when Terri was five?”
“Sure, Sebastian, that was the year we moved from Andy’s room to Terri’s.”
“Do you remember what happened to US that spring?”
Timothy scratched his head. He was good at remembering hugs and cookies and comfortable places, but less important things slipped his mind. Suddenly it came back to him in a flash. “The machines!”
“Yes, the machines,” said Sebastian. “Mom threw me in with a lot of towels. I’m still dizzy.”
“Do you think Mom will throw me in too?”
Sebastian sniffed at Timothy Worthy, and then wrinkled his nose. “I’m pretty sure she will.”
“Oh, I hate spring cleaning!”
“Timothy!” said Sebastian, shocked.
He’d never heard Timothy use the word, hate before.
Timothy gave Sebastian a stubborn look. “I won’t go through that again. I have to find a place to hide until spring cleaning is over.”
“Where are you going to hide during spring cleaning? Every bed and chair is moved. All the closets are turned inside out. Every box and drawer is sorted.”
“I could go to the attic.”
“I heard Dad’s supposed to work there tonight.”
“I bet they won’t find me if I hide outside.”
“Maybe,” the hippo agreed, “but there are dogs and cats out there, and what if it rains? I think you’re better off getting washed by the machines.”
Timothy Worthy rubbed his stomach. “I wish I had a nice big chocolate chip cookie to help me think.”
“I don’t think that would help,” said Sebastian, who was, after all, not a big lover of cookies like Timothy Worthy was.
“I’ll hide in the basement!”
“The basement’s no better than any other place. The whole house gets cleaned.”
“I know,” said Timothy, “but Andy always cleans the basement and there’s one place I know he never cleans!”
“How do you know that?”
“I’ve watched him. Every year, Mom tells him to be sure he cleans the space between the loud metal box and the big drum, but it’s too small to get a broom in there. Andy always leaves it dirty and I’m just small enough to climb in there and hide.”
“I’m not sure this is a good idea, Timothy.” The hippo shifted another lump to the left. “The machines weren’t as bad as I remembered. I think it just surprised me the first time. You’re going to get washed sooner or later. Why not get it over with?”
Timothy jumped to his feet. “Whose side are you on, Sebastian? Are you going to help me or not?”
Sebastian sighed. “I’ll help you.”
Getting from Andy’s room to the basement had never seemed dangerous before. Discovery could come from any hallway or door. Of course Sebastian wasn’t afraid, since he was already clean, so he led the way. Timothy hung back cautiously. The hippo urged him to move faster.
I’m too afraid,” said Timothy shivering.
“If you stay here, they’ll find you.
“But I’m scared.”
Just as Sebastian’s patience was nearly at an end, the bear made a run for it, all the way to the basement door.
“Sebastian,” Timothy whispered.
“Will you get me a cookie before I hide? A nice big chocolate chip cookie?”
“Please,” Timothy begged. “It may be a long time before spring cleaning is over.”
The hippo grumbled as he waddled into the kitchen. “Why am I doing this? He’s going to get caught.” Getting to the jar was no problem, as the family was busy outside, but, the first cookie that came up was fudge nut.
“I don’t see why it has to be chocolate chip.” He fished around in the jar until he found a large chocolate chip cookie. He padded back to the basement door and handed it to Timothy.
“Thank you Sebastian!”
They had to grope their way in the dark once they passed inside the basement door. They could hear movement above. Timothy felt his way to the big drum, ducked under the pipes and squeezed himself into the hiding place. The metal box wasn’t being loud at the moment, but the walls that rubbed against him felt furry, soft and a little wispy, not the way concrete or metal should feel. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he thought he saw spooky threads dancing around him. Was something crawling up his leg?
“I don’t know if this was such a good idea,” said Timothy.
“I never thought it was,” replied the hippo.
Timothy could see the machines on the other side of the big drum. He heard a steady drip echoing from the sink. The basement door opened and light tumbled down the stairs. Mom and Andy followed.
“This year, young man, I want the whole basement clean. I want no dust, dirt or cobwebs left when you’re through.”
The light above Timothy came on. He could see that his arms and legs were covered with black soot. Cobwebs formed a shawl about his shoulders and draped the top of his head. “Oh my,” he muttered, “how am I going to get all this off?”
“And one more thing, Andrew. This year, I want that space between the furnace and the water heater cleaned out! It’s filthy in there!”
“But Mom, It’s too small to get the broom in.”
“That’s why I got you this hand broom. Crawl in there and clean it. Do it now.”
Timothy Worthy froze. “Of all the places to hide,” he muttered. Andy was still putting up a feeble protest, but Timothy knew that wouldn’t last much longer. He searched the area for some way to escape. Five feet away was a laundry basket with sheets in it. Timothy crawled under the pipe, dove into the basket, and hid under a sheet. Timothy heard the sound of a stuffed hippo laughing from the basket next to him. A minute later, he heard Andy lie down and scrape out his hiding place with the hand broom. Timothy wasn’t quite close enough to hear what the boy was muttering.
“Look at how filthy it was!” Mom sounded very excited. “Look at all that soot, and those cobwebs... and what’s this? Half a chocolate chip cookie! How did that get in there? We’re lucky we don’t have mice! No, no, don’t stop now, young man. I want you to sweep that spot again until we know it’s clean. While you do that, I’ll throw this load of sheets in the washer.”
At first, Timothy didn’t realize what was happening. Suddenly he felt the basket move as Mom lifted it up toward the machines. Now that all was hopeless, he wasn’t really afraid of being washed. He just felt silly. Tip, thud, shake, slam, whirl, and click. Timothy was in the dark. Water poured down from above, slowly soaking him and the sheets. He thought about crying for help, but he didn’t. It was useless, and besides, he was too embarrassed. The water felt warm, like the time Terri had brought him into the bathtub with her.
“This isn’t so bad,” he thought.
The machine gave a loud thud. Suddenly, everything began to move. For the next half hour, Timothy could think of nothing other than trying to keep the sheets from twisting round his arms and legs.
When it finally stopped, Mom threw him, along with the sheets into the other machine. This machine was very hot. It spun so fast Timothy thought he would never see straight again. He had no choice but to press against the wall and feel his stuffing shift.
It was morning. Timothy, with Milly’s help, had moved all his stuffing to the right places. His fur looked brighter and he smelled better too. Milly was whistling in the bathroom, getting ready for pre-kindergarten. Timothy lay back among the pillows, and looked out the window. In the yard a dogwood tree was budding. Soon, it would explode with blossoms. In the branches, a spider was weaving a web. Timothy remembered the cobwebs from his basement hiding place, and shuddered. The webs in the trees were different, though. They seemed cleaner. Morning dew hung from the strands, and the early sun reflected off the drops.
“I guess I could learn to like spring,” the bear mused, nestling back against his pillow, “but right now, I think I’d like a cookie.”