Elsie held the little porcelain figure in her hand and regarded it thoughtfully. She'd always hated it - ever since George had first brought it home on her birthday and laid it proudly before her, like a cat presenting an expired mouse to its horrified owner.
"It's horrible" she'd growled, contemptuously. "Whatever made you buy that?" she spat, without even the slightest attempt to season the cold nakedness of her words with a hint of gratitude for the thought behind the gift. Elsie was the kind of person who called a spade a spade and was proud of it.
George looked pained... crestfallen... devastated. Like a small child receiving an unnecessarily sharp rebuke for a relatively minor offence. "I... I thought you would like it" he stammered, trying to conceal his hurt. "Look - it's a little bear - with a hat - and a collar and tie. I thought it was cute" he ended, lamely.
"I'm not having it in the house. I don't want the ladies from the guild thinking I've no class, cluttering up the house with cartoon ornaments. It's junk - get rid of it!" she ordered. And that was that.
Or at least, it would have been... had George not been made of sterner stuff than his wife gave him credit for. He just couldn't - wouldn't - discard the porcelain testament of the love he held for the unappreciative Elsie. Over the ensuing months, he would tuck it away, half-hidden, behind a picture-frame or a vase until, inevitably, she would discover it and the game of 'hide-and-seek' would begin anew. Many a time she wondered why she simply didn't throw it away or 'accidentally' drop it, but there was something about its irritating 'please love me' expression that mysteriously prevented her from doing so. That was impossible, but she hated it - hated it with a passion. "Blast the man!" she would say.
And so it went. Until the fateful day she received a call from George's office. The voice on the 'phone sounded like that of a concerned parent speaking to a little child. Was she sitting down? They were terribly sorry. There had been an... 'incident'. It was so sudden. He wouldn't have felt a thing. If ever there was anything they could do, it said. She put down the 'phone, slunk into the chair beside it - and let the tears explode from her soul. She cried for two hours, then put on her best coat and went down to the hospital mortuary. When she returned, she was clutching a bag containing her late husband's personal effects. Along with his watch, wallet and wedding ring was a little porcelain bear which was found in his pocket when he died. For a moment she wondered why, but other concerns drove the thought from her mind. She made herself a cup of tea, watched 'Coronation Street', then went to bed. Elsie never cried again.
A few months later, the sum total of poor George's life lay in an assortment of boxes and carrier bags in a corner of the hall. In one of the boxes, lying on top of George's best lambswool sweater, was the object of Elsie's loathing - smiling inanely at the ceiling as if it expected the ceiling to smile back. "Hark at me" she thought. "It's almost as if I thought the blasted thing was alive." She laughed at her foolishness and consoled herself with the knowledge that, from tomorrow, it would be gone forever. Sam from next door had offered to drive George's things down to the charity shop in the town. Then it would be time to forget the past and move on. A new optimism had recently begun to permeate her soul and she looked forward to the future with enthusiasm. Life with George seemed almost like a dream.
"This all there is?" Sam asked when she opened the door to his knock the next morning. He took the carrier bags first, then carried out the boxes one by one, puffing and grunting as he did so.
"Last one" he said. As he stooped to pick it up, Elsie's eye fell upon a small porcelain object and a strange sensation suddenly welled up within her. Feelings of grief, loss, pain, remorse, pity - a Kaleidoscope of emotions that threatened to engulf her. "Wait a minute" she heard herself saying as she plucked the figure from atop the sweater. "That's it, Sam. Thanks very much for all your help" she said, in a slightly bewildered tone.
Elsie held the little porcelain figure in her hand and regarded it thoughtfully. She had always hated it - but - now she was astonished to find that she couldn't stand the idea of being parted from it. She couldn't explain why, but that's how she felt. Sometimes people are surprised to find that they are not as hard, or as heartless, or as unfeeling as they imagine themselves to be.
And so it was with Elsie. She looked at the little porcelain bear and thought of George - and remembered how much she'd loved him - and realized just how much she missed him. Tenderly, she caressed the small figure, kissed the top of its head, and then placed it on the top shelf of her very best display cabinet where visitors would be sure to see it. Then she smiled to herself, made a cup of tea, and sat and thought of all her wonderful years with George. "Bless the man!" she sighed. From its prize position in the display cabinet, the little bear sat and smiled at Elsie.
And - wherever he happened to be - no doubt George was smiling too.