I opened my eyes from my perch on the rocking chair. Henry wasn’t asleep yet. I hadn’t thought he was. Slightly, I smiled.
“Yes, Henry?” I whispered.
Henry cuddled the threadbare stuffed rabbit to his small chest. The stitching was loose and Mister Carrot was missing a button eye. I wish I knew how to sew so I could fix up the little animal.
“The adults are coming tomorrow,” he whispered to me through a mouth missing a tooth. I cherished his lisp like nothing else in this world.
I smiled again and leaned back in the rocking chair. I nodded. “They are.”
Henry frowned at me, seeming a little confused. He was trying to work something out. I had seen that look on his face when he tried sums and subtractions.
“Does that mean… I won’t have you?”
I cocked my head. “What makes you say that?” I inquired quietly.
His chin quivered. I heard sniffing. Without a second thought, I stood and tugged on his nightlight.
The rest of the orphanage was closed off from him and me. The perk to the life of a pariah was that Henry and I had every day to ourselves. Who needed them? All I wanted was Henry.
“Come here, child,” I whispered, opening myself to him. “Come rock with me.”
Henry pushed away the covers and retreated into me, and I pulled him up onto the rocking chair. He snuggled against me like any small child of four would, and I rocked the chair back and forth.
“I don’t want to be without you, Georgie,” he whispered, again falling to sleep.
I wasn’t allowed to go downstairs when the adults came in the morning. I stayed in our little room of isolation, my eyes closed as I rocked myself to serenity.
I would never have told Henry, but I was afraid for him. For weeks I had been hearing bits and pieces of conversation with the ward and that doctor who came in to check on my little friend. I had heard things like, ‘disability… chronic… mental… autism’. I knew they weren’t good.
But my Henry was a good boy, and a family would love him, I told myself. If I was able, I would adopt him without a second thought. As I heard the other boys and girls run downstairs to see their potential parents, I observed Henry trudge away from me, his soul as heavy as a weigh anchor. He didn’t listen to my pleas for him to cheer up, so I closed my eyes in defeat and went back to my rocking.
I waited an hour.
Almost the entire orphanage was silent. From the window I saw lovely couples leaving, happily holding hands with their new children. In that time, I hadn’t seen Henry leave. I was so afraid. What if these words I had heard were very bad? What if Henry was never to be happy?
I wanted nothing more than for him to be the happiest boy in the entire world.
I waited for who knows how much longer - I had dozed in between some time - but the door of our pirate hideaway was flung open so hard I feared it was torn from its hinges. I woke with an enormous yelp as Henry bursted in.
He was grinning from ear to ear!
“I got adopted!” he shrieked, his words whistling through his void tooth. He danced and twirled across the room until he made it to his dresser, where he snatched up a suitcase and filled it with his posters and Lord of the Rings action figures.
The words were gold upon my ears. If I could, I would have danced with him. I cried out with my own joy. “God heard my prayers!” I hollered. I rocked happily.
“Mom and Dad are Winifred and Harold Parson,” he explained quickly, holding high his Gandalf the Grey. The wizard’s moonstone staff shone in the daylight. “They’re pretty awesome. They have all the Lord of the Rings books- and new ones, too! We can read together every night!”
My smile slowly faded. I leaned back in my rocking chair.
Henry missed it. He kept on talking about how the Parsonses had ten acres of forest that we could play Hobbits in, and that we could find orcs to fight. Only after he sat back on his haunches - his suitcase was too full to pack his mini Sting and he had to assess the predicament - I leaned forward and tapped his shoulder. His curly-haired head faced me.
“You know I’m not coming?” I asked softly.
Henry frowned, as if it was absolutely absurd. “Why wouldn’t you?” he inquired innocently.
I took a big breath and let it out. “Henry, I belong to the orphanage,” I tried to explain.
I had been with Henry since he was a baby. How could I explain I wouldn’t be with him for the rest of his life?
Henry shrugged indifferently. “Miss Minchin’s not gonna miss a stuffed tiger, would she?”
At least he knew I was only that. I looked down at my bright orange and black body. I inspected my tawny paws. I looked up again at Henry and smiled slightly. “Once you’ve moved in with the Parsonses, I’ll be given to the next orphan,” I said. “I won’t be going with you.”
Henry frowned. He was indignant. “But I’ll love you better than the next orphan,” he protested. “Mom can fix your paw I accidentally tore. You’ll feel better.”
I laughed slightly, but my eyes stung. “Henry, I stay here,” I tried to be firm with him.
I had raised countless children, and I had watched them leave the orphanage. I had lived the lesser amount of a century and I had never looked after a child quite like Henry. I loved him so much that I was tempted to allow him to carry me away.
The orphanage had given me this job. I looked after the children, caring for them, embracing them, helping them fear no more.
That purpose would carry on in me.
Henry was crying in my lap, occasionally blubbering that he didn’t want to be adopted anymore, and that he wanted to be with me.
“Henry, listen,” I whispered, patting his head. “I will always remember you. You’re the brave boy who defied his sadness and fear and became the new member of a new family. I’ll remember how proud I was of you, and how proud your parents will be.”
“Henry?” a voice came from outside the door. “Honey, you ready?”
I guessed it was Mrs. Parsons. I took either side of Henry’s head and made him look up at me. “Go make me proud.”
The door opened and I was in position, sitting limply on the rocking chair, eyes closed and face contorted in a comical snoring expression.
I peeked slightly out of one eye as I watched Henry slowly pick up his suitcase and approach Mr. and Mrs. Parsons, who stood in the doorway. He didn’t look back at me as his new parents embraced him, tears flowing freely down their young faces.
As the affections were passed and they took his suitcase and his hand, Henry looked back at me, and with a lispy smile, he whispered, “Goodbye, Georgie. I love you.”
I love you, too, Henry Parsons.
A piece about adoption, written in the perspective of a beloved stuffed animal. This was originally a much longer piece (chronicling some of Georgie's 'children') and a bit more of the protest from Henry, as well as an epilogue. I shortened it for the sake of the vignette it was intended to be.