JohnBear, Janine, and I

Hermester Barrington

Story image for JohnBear, Janine, and I by

J ohnBear passed between my dad and the TV, and I flinched as it flared into static and a copy of Us Magazine flew from my dad’s hand through JohnBear’s head. “Crappy cable companies charging me an arm and a leg for that!” he yelled, and the screen sparked again as JohnBear led me past it. I paused to look at the last photo taken of the whole family, at Uncle Matthew’s wedding last year—Dad kind of making a face, Mom with her smile too wide, Junior and Tina trying not to laugh. I wondered, not for the first time, if I was the only one who could see the five foot tall teddy bear in the picture, standing beside me, his paw resting on my shoulder.

I was considering an experiment with my dad’s camera when Tina and Junior came into the room, their eyes bloodshot, which they explained away as chlorine from a neighbor’s swimming pool. Everybody started talking at once, over the sound of a TV shill telling us to “ACT NOW!"—“We’re going to Tracy’s,” Paula announced, “Don’t stay out too late!” Mom said, before Paula had finished, and just as I told my parents that I was going to Janine’s.

“Our discourses are like pieces by Philip Glass,” I muttered, as JohnBear and I slipped out with my siblings, diverging where the walkway met the sidewalk. “Pieces of Glass, Pieces, Pieces by Glass Glass, Pieces of Glass by Glass of Glass,” I sang while I walked, JohnBear shuffling beside me in rhythm with my music.

Janine’s family had moved into the house five doors up the street during my trip to hospital, six months before. A few weeks later, I had been kneeling on the sidewalk, looking for a species of beetle, magnifying glass in hand, when her shoes appeared in my field of vision. “Watchya doing?” she asked, and, looking up, I recognized her from school—she was in the fourth grade, like me, but in Ms. Bachmann’s class. When I told her I was looking for a specimen of the devil’s coach horse, she said, “Ocypus olens? I found one here last week—come on!” and we started pulling up the stones under a dripping faucet in our quest. We didn’t find that beetle, but we spent the next few hours poking about her yard, seeking and finding other natural wonders.

Today, though, Janine wasn’t outside, but her window—second floor, southwestern exposure—was open. Up the Lacoönian branches of the sycamore and into her room—nothing easier than that, for me and JohnBear. She was leaning over her desk, writing on a small slip of paper as we clambered in. “Hey, Charlie!” she said, smiling, “Is JohnBear with you?”

“Uh, he’s right behind me, as usual.”

“Ah, I wish I could see him. Hey, look at this piece of basaltic lava I found yesterday!” and she held up a mineral display case.

I rubbed my finger over the stone’s texture—the surface between its pores had been worn smooth by erosion. “I can see things in it, like cloud watching or staring into a fire—JohnBear, stop jumping on the bed!” I added, turning at the sudden noise.

“It’s okay,” Janine said.

“Where did you find it?”

“Down at the creek,” she answered, “you should come with me sometime!”

I felt a sharp pain in my hand then. I had a scar where the nail had gone in and out of my hand, the last time I was down there, trying to build that fort.

“Yeah, maybe,” I answered, and then Janine’s pet tree frog Reggie started to sing. “Hey, do you know that poem ‘Hyla Brook’ by Robert Frost?” I asked, as JohnBear stopped jumping on the bed and put his paw on my shoulder.

“No, but we learned “The Road Less Traveled” in class last week. You should come with me some day—I bet you know more about Frost than she does!”

“Well, when I go back, I’ll have to go back to Miss O’Neil’s class, but my parents don’t think I’m ready yet. I can learn more by exploring and doing my own experiments and reading my books than I could by sitting in a classroom, anyway. Stop that!"—this to JohnBear, who was tapping on the aquarium glass.

“So, what does he look like?” Janine asked, squinting at the place she imagined he might be.

“Um, one of his eyes is missing—but he can still see really well with the other one. He’s covered with soft brown fur, of wool, worn off in lots of places. He’s still soft, though.”

“How tall is he?”

“He’s taller than me now, but he was only this big—” I held my hands about a foot apart “—when my Uncle Matthew gave him to me. I named him after a character in a French folktale.”

“Like Perrault?”

“Earlier than that, I think.”

“Well, he seems pretty special.”

“Yes, he is. He keeps me safe.”

“From what?”

“I don’t know… nothing. I just like to have him around.”

“Well, I’m glad he’s around, too,” she said, smiling. “Hey! There’s a lunar eclipse tonight, and my papa’s setting up a telescope—do you want to watch it with us?”

Just then, Janine’s mom called her downstairs. “C’mon, you can join us for dinner!” Janine said and taking my hand she led me through the door. JohnBear took my other hand, so we formed a line as we went down the stairway.

Janine’s mom came in from the kitchen, with a mint basil tofu dish—I love the way it smells—and Mr. Fairweather followed behind with drinks. “Mama, Charlie’s joining us for dinner, okay?”

“Sure!” she replied, and then, addressing the space to the left of Janine, said, “Good evening, Charlie! How are you doing today?”

“Mama, he’s already sitting at the table!” Janine said, rolling her eyes.

“Ah. I stand corrected.” And so Mrs. Fairweather served everyone, while JohnBear stood behind me, his paw on my shoulder.


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Hermester Barrington

Author image of Hermester Barrington Hermester Barrington is a retired archivist, a haiku poet, and a deliberately genre-ignorant artist whose most recently published ficciones have appeared in Kzine, Fate Magazine, and Peculiar Mormyrid. For over four decades, he and his impossibly beautiful wife Fayaway have traveled the round earth’s imagined corners in search of invisible books, hitherto unrecognized protozoans, and paranormal phenomena. He and Fay are writing a biography of pop singer Mrs. Miller, tentatively titled Soul of Iron, Heart of Gold, Voice of Fluttering Quicksilver. From sundown until cockcrow, he roosts at Facebook.

© Hermester Barrington 2022 All Rights Reserved

The title picture was created by compositing images generated by Micah Hyatt using DALL·E 2 and a rights-free image by Valeriia Miller, then regenerated using Stable Diffusion.

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