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by Susan Condon

All these years later and she still attended mass. That was where she saw the young child with the teddy bear. It was hugged close, appearing like a child peeping over its mother’s shoulder and looking right at her.

Kate closed her eyes tight. The priest was talking about forgiveness. Ironic, she thought, tears pricking her eyelids. She blinked furiously, before running the side of her fore-fingers beneath her long lashes in a vain attempt to prevent her mascara running.

“Will I tell you a secret?”

The golden-haired bear with the black eyes stared. Beads of perspiration formed on her forehead. Breathe, the voice in her head shouted, returning after all these years. The congregation stood. She tried to rise. Her body, at first, wouldn’t obey. It was a special mass for the children who had recently made their first holy communion. Instead of the usual forty minutes it could easily run to over sixty. The priest always made a fuss and invited them onto the altar. Today was no exception.

“Let’s give them a big round of applause,” said Fr O’Dowd.

The congregation came to life, smiling and clapping. No doubt, there had been numerous rehearsals, with teachers and parents drilling into them the importance of the sacrament. Most likely, all the children would care about was how much money they’d make on the day and what they’d buy with it afterwards. They were ushered to the back of the church and lined up two-by-two. The haunting sounds of the Ave Maria reverberated around the walls and everyone turned to watch the procession of white-veiled girls and suited boys, like miniature brides and grooms, as they made their way up the aisle.

“I love you,” the gravelly voice said.

Kate’s head snapped around. Keening, she slid forward and knelt with her forehead resting on interlaced fingers. She prayed as fervently as she had as a child when he’d first visited her room. The teddy bear he’d bought for her communion gift had looked on silently, seeing her shame.

Her mother would scold her every time she tried to lose it.

“You need to be more careful, Katie, we might not have found Teddy. And then you’d be sad.”

Katie was always sad. It was just that her mother never noticed. Her mother didn’t notice lots of things. But Katie was a good child. She didn’t answer back. She didn’t have tantrums like her only friend, Tara. She always did as she was told. She would nod and put Teddy back into her room.

But she had never named the teddy bear, no matter how much her mother coaxed and cajoled. And she was always very careful not to touch his paw. The bear could talk. But it spoke with his voice and all these years later, just like her, it still kept his secret.

“Remember me.”

Katie lifted her head and stared straight ahead.

She remembered alright.

Uncle Joe.

How could she ever forget …

Susan Condon has won a number of short story competitions including the Jonathan Swift Award. She was longlisted for the RTÉ Guide/Penguin Short Story Competition for the past four years. Publications include the Circle & Square Anthology, My Weekly, Ireland’s Own Anthology and South of the County: New Myths and Tales. Susan blogs at www.susancondon.wordpress.com and Tweets @SusanCondon. You can find her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SusanCondonWriter.