A Creator Who Cares about You


by Barbara Romanik

“…The career path you weren’t on is opening before you, whoever might win the election.” Teddy reads his horoscope, perplexed. In order to see out of the car’s front windshield, he’s sitting up on the stack of The Watchtower.

We’re addicted to bad astrology.

“What’s my horoscope, Teddy?”

“Because your favourite football player is traded to a team you’ve always despised, your life will spiral out of control. Also, it looks like you will marry a woman you don’t love.”

“What?! Well, she’s going to have to get in line behind the woman who feels sorry for me.”

“Fine print.” Teddy points to the column with his little paw. “Keep your eyes on the road,” he tells me. Compared to Teddy, the newsprint is HUGE. With its parachute risk of entanglements, I worry. I sneak a look out of the corner of my eye.

Three feet tall, Teddy is furry, stuffed and lovable: a robotic super-toy bear. There’s noway in hell he’s getting into heaven, but this has not curbed Teddy’s zeal. Despite my shortcomings, Teddy’s schooling me in the ways of Jehovah.

The first bungalow door is opened by a man in hockey pajamas and a white bathrobe. He stares at me severely, holding onto a coffee mug like he and the mug are about to be cannonballed out into space. What Teddy and I don’t know at that moment is that we would be lucky if this man was just another stay-at-home husband, classically sailing the Odyssean sea of middleaged baldness toward alcoholism. Instead, he is one deranged motherfucker named Cliff J. Eastwoof.

“Hello, we are visiting with our neighbours today. Some of them believe that there is a God but others don’t. How do you feel about it? Would you like to talk to us about the Creator for a little bit? My name is Randal.” I lean forward and place my foot inside the door.

The man reluctantly shakes my hand, introduces himself and zeroes in on Teddy with a curious (or what I later realize to have been pathologically hateful) look.

“Guess I have nothing better to do…” he says bitterly.

I pick up my bear pal, smile at him, and enter. We don’t usually get invited inside without haggling. But like old whores, we remain eternally optimistic.

Walking into a stranger’s house, all of the man’s junk in the hallways, makes me think of my own home and why I have taken a day off per week to do this in the first place. My wife, Alise, is a Jehovah’s Witness and beautiful enough to destroy any man, but she’s also paralyzed from her waist down. None of the treatments and surgeries have worked and we have given up hope she’ll ever be able to walk. In a moment of weakness, compassion or something like charity I volunteered to spread Jehovah’s teachings. It’s been close to six months since I started.

Last week, over cornflakes, Alise told me that two days from now she will undergo an experimental procedure which will either allow her to walk again or kill her.

I look at the Bible in my hands. Teddy and I have aid. We’re armed with booklets such as The Watchtower and my personal favourite Is there a Creator who cares about you? Teddy whispers into my ear to relax. I’m trying to decide between Psalm 19 and a passage from the Creator as I sit Teddy down on the couch beside me.

Cliff asks, “So how long have you, bear, been Jehoving?”

“My name is Teddy,” Teddy answers. “My work in the ministry of spreading the good news began four years ago with my first family who were Jehovah’s Witnesses.” He proceeds to explain that the father, one Germaine Dobson, would bring Teddy along with him on his door to door wanderings. Cliff smiles and tightens his grip on the half-empty coffee cup.

I try charging into Creator’s business with “Scientists deny that the universe was created by a higher intelligence yet they expect…”

But Eastwoof ignores me completely. “And you are no longer with that family?” he asks Teddy.

“No,” Teddy tells him, “Dizzy, Monique and Clarence are too old for toys now. I was going to be recycled so I called up our local chapter of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, explained my dedication to Jehovah and offered my services to them. Long story short, here I am—,” Teddy shrugs.

“I used to be a paper mill foreman,” the man tells us. “Part of my job was taking care of programming the machines that did all the manual work. That was until I was made redundant by them. And replaced. Replaced by computers that become obsolete and useless every year or two. Machines just like you,” he tells Teddy.

I know now we won’t be getting to the Creator for awhile, but I’m still dumb, smiling.

“When I started university, I was out of a summer job,” I say. “They had gotten these shapely-looking bots to dispense cotton candy at the amusement park, where I worked since I was fifteen.” Cliff looks at me furiously but I don’t let it faze me, I have a point. “We’re in the clutches of the computer age and have difficulty seeing beyond it. But we all know that even most advanced computers are primitive compared to the human brain with its 50 billion neutrons, a million billion synapses, and overall firing rate of 10 million billion times per second….”

Eastwoof’s on his own trip and won’t have any of it. “Our government cares less for the rights of its people than for fucking machines. It’s cheaper for them to replace us. It’s us who are dispensable!”

Hard to argue with the truth, but I make a valiant attempt at a bypass. “Which brings us to the question, if man were merely an accidental grouping of nucleic acid and protein molecules, why would those molecules develop a love of art and beauty, turn religious, and contemplate eternity? Could it be because there is a God?”

I seem to have a singular gift for enraging people in volatile situations. I can’t pick up any cues from Teddy because he’s sitting possum having decided that his silence might be our best bet.

Cliff goes on ranting while staring at Teddy, gesticulating with his arms about how he’s been out of work for two and a half years and all because of machines like Teddy.

I suggest that perhaps Teddy and I should leave. It is when I raise myself up from his couch that Cliff seizes Teddy. With amazing speed, for a couch potato, he pours the remainder of his coffee down Teddy’s little mouth. I grab the bear and make a dash right out of the house. When I’m inside the car, I realize Cliff has not followed us outside. Still I race off, spooked.

Teddy’s not doing so well beside me in the passenger seat; his eyes are rolling like marbles in his furry head and the right side of his body, his arm, leg, and paws are twitching uncontrollably. An electric sizzling noise is rising deep out of his body. In a broken voice he is repeating, “Ta-ke me to As-ha Du-dor…”

“Maybe a repair shop, why Asha’s?” I ask, panicked.

“Asha, A-sha, A-sss-ha…”

“All right,” I finally agree. Asha is one of the regulars Teddy visited in his early days with Germaine Dobson. He has taken me to visit her once or twice so I could practise my “Jehoving” on her. After fifteen minutes of my clumsy attempts to quote the material I had memorized, Asha took me and Teddy out to her garden and handed me a glass of brandy. I remember admiring her garden. It was surrounded with an eight foot high wall, escaping most of the city’s noise. Surprisingly her property, so close to the city’s centre, hadn’t been bought out by some large company or the city itself.

Asha is in her late seventies. Not old by today’s standards, but strangely antique in her mannerisms and wardrobe. Her long grey hair rests in a bun on top of her head and she wears overalls and cotton shirts. Unlike some older women, her features have not softened or sharpened in old age, no round child-like cheeks or a spectacularly beaked nose. Just sunbrown skin of an expert gardener. And an air of a capable woman, certainly more capable of taking care of Teddy than I am.

“As-ha,” Teddy sputters upon seeing Asha. All his systems go off.

“What happened?” Asha asks.

“Someone poured coffee down his mouth.”

Asha looks up at me quizzically. She picks Teddy up in her arms with the softness and attention a mother might use to pick up a child, a husband his bride. “My laboratory is in the garden shed; I should be able to fix and clean him up within an hour or two,” she says. I follow her to the shed, thinking I might be of help but once I see her equipment, the intricate computer parts I could never name, and her mechanical assistants, I give up and go sit in the garden to wait.

She calls me when she is nearly finished. I watch as she smoothes down Teddy’s right leg. Softly, hooking the middle finger beneath his knee, she presses lightly. The intimacy of the gesture embarrasses me. Then Asha closes Teddy’s front and pats him there.

Teddy sits up and looks around at both me and Asha and I have to laugh at the almost surprised expression on his face.

“Sorry for not having your back there, pal. Didn’t know what to do.”

“No problem,” Teddy says, “You did fine.”

I place my hand on Teddy’s head and let it rest there for a second.

But all is fair with the world and Teddy is loosed on Asha’s beautiful garden once more.

Asha and I should have horrible qualms when we watch his brown ears as he’s flickering between the lady’s delight and the white bleeding heart bush. Teddy walks with the gait of a man but runs the way a child might, stilted and quick. What does Asha, sitting beside me, think? Maybe she sees herself as a flawed creator, whose love is none the worse for wear, creating wonder—here in the garden—the flowers and Teddy’s exuberance. His brown body weaves through the greenery and baby’s breath and then he gets on his paws and knees to thread among the violets, sniffing at the flowers he cannot smell. His right ear perks up and he goes off chasing a white cabbage butterfly… I’m about to chase after him when I feel Asha grab my arm with the strength of a horse.

“I couldn’t help myself,” she confesses. “With the alterations I’ve made to him over the years, Teddy’s not simply another super toy…” I nod hoping this will shut her up. Prevent her from saying another word, implicating me. The terror in my face must be evident for she lets me go, doesn’t even laugh or smile, just dismisses me. She’s unable to confide, unable to find release from her responsibilities. And I follow Teddy among the azaleas and we chase each other around the garden like teenagers. Our lightheartedness borders on hysterical.

Asha’s Dream: A large house, long hallway with arches, exquisitely tiled floor, no bedrooms, long galleries and ballrooms. Young, in her thin tan coat, she’s following a group of three older men in black suits. They defer to her in a charming, bored way smoking and pointing, the way they might do if they were touring around someone’s daughter or a girlfriend, a pretty stranger. She follows one of the men into a lounge-like room with a TV, a black table and a green modern couch. She sits on the edge of her side of the couch while the man lounges on the other. They are watching a male comedy duo on the TV, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Physical comedy: old-fashioned sparring on black and white screen, Asha doesn’t get it. The man laughs; her eyes linger on him. They exchange looks and he continues to laugh, repeats the last punchline to her in an amused way. When she laughs softly but does not look back to the screen, he puts his drink on the table in front of them and lets her take a good look at him. The way his arms spread on the couch, he leaves himself open up to her scrutiny: every blemish and wrinkle in his skin — his shirt is open at his neck, his tie crooked. In his late fifties, he continues to age well, without sobriety. What Asha feels for this man is desire, unadulterated by love, guilt, or respect, just desire. In this room, perhaps beyond all rooms, Asha does not want love. She wants an equal sign. Give equals take, with this man the scale balances. And she nears him on the green couch, feels its plush felt, the fabric of her dress beneath her coat. Closer, feels the stiffness fading out of his collar with her hands upon it, her knee between his legs. And because this time the dream does not end here, because Asha doesn’t wake up, she smiles softly biting his lip. Asha knows she is dying.


Sitting diagonally on the bed and leaning against the wall, I look out of ours, Alise’s and my, second story window. From a height, the highway lights leading into the city appear connected, strung-up rows of Christmas strings. When we first moved in five years ago, we made love to their highway-strung nightly consistency. We appeared fearless in the dark, Alise and I. Perhaps we mistook ourselves for pilots of planes that criss-cross above the metropolis, seeing the world in a fast, red impulse. Getting seduced by black river tongues snaking below, we could’ve stood up buildings like matches. And the trains. We would always hear them in the night and in the morning but could never remember hearing any during the day. Now I fall asleep with them at 2:30 in the morning and wake with them at 7 am.

Our suburb, along with others, besieges the city at its limits. Train tracks lead to the city core. Uphill our neighbourhood climbs in the opposite direction. You can’t feel the steady incline in the car or when walking but try riding a bicycle up our street and you’ll feel a shortness of breath. I’ve often wondered if someone could mistake that shortness of breath for love. A silly girl might: riding her bicycle to see a boy, she might think the shortness and cramps in her belly had nothing to do with the steepness of the incline and the laws of gravity. Love, she might think. Maybe the heat would compound her confusion and she’d find herself lightheaded until yellow spots started appearing in her vision and she’d lose her balance and swerve into oncoming traffic. And then would wake, up to her waist, underneath the body of a car.

A month after she was able to walk again, Alise packed one suitcase and left. She said I was worse than a two thousand pound car. Pinning her down. But I couldn’t get used to her legs, moving beneath me. I had never made love to her before the accident and it felt obscene, like there was someone else in bed with us.

She claimed I wanted her to play dead. She said a great many things and I responded with many other things, which out of context can only be silly but in the space of two weeks meant the breaking of something that seemed cemented and unbreakable.

I hear someone standing in the door. I have a fright before I realize it’s Teddy.

“How’d you get in?”

“The door was open.”


“Didn’t mean to startle. I wasn’t going to wake you if you were sleeping.”

“What would you have done if I was sleeping?”

“I’d wait on your porch until a more reasonable hour and ring the doorbell.”

Teddy offers me his arm and I lift him onto the bed. He settles himself beside me looking toward the lights.

“What’s in the charts Teddy? What’s in the stars?”

“Dark ages ahead. Asha’s dead.”

“Uhm, no.” I make a guttural, lame-ass sort of sound that couldn’t even satisfy a supertoy bear. But Teddy does not call me on it. We spoke last a month ago when I told him Alise left me and I wouldn’t be Jehoving anymore. At the time, he mentioned that Asha was in the hospital and might appreciate a visit from me. I didn’t go.

“She left me everything.”


“Her house and garden, all her money. She left me everything providing I find myself a human guardian.”

“Oh.” I turn to the window wondering what Teddy makes of these lights, all of this. More signs of a higher intelligence, design, meaning?

“Thinking about your wife?” he asks.


Teddy places his right paw between my legs. “I can help.”

I look down, shake my head. “Keep your paws to yourself, you perverted robot.” I try to muster rage and indignation but can’t.

Teddy takes his paw back and we sit quietly as the lights shiver in the night.

“May I tell you something?” Teddy finally breaks the silence.

“Sure, shoot.”

“You have to first promise that you’ll still be my guardian.”

I nod my head, place my right hand on my heart but pull my left arm behind my back and cross my fingers. “Whatever you tell me Teddy, I’ll still be your guardian.”

“One, you don’t love your wife. Two, you’re a homosexual. And three, you don’t believe in Jehovah—so you won’t share in the heavenly Kingdom with Christ.”

“Uhm. Anything else, Sherlock?”

“No.” Teddy turns to face me. “Now can we go over to Asha’s house? I want to wake up from my first dream in her garden. And a drink of her pear brandy might do wonders for your disposition.”

“But you don’t sleep or dream.”

“Before Asha’s death she gave me a final gift, a program for dreaming.”

“Why didn’t she give me one?”

Teddy shrugs. “Maybe because you don’t need one.”

“Oh.” I scratch Teddy’s head and he blinks slowly.

In Asha’s garden there is no sign that Asha has died; everything seems to be keeping quite well. True, it has only been a week. Perhaps someone familiar with gardens would know better, perhaps even Teddy knows where neglect is creeping in. I hold a bottle of brandy and sing to myself softly. Lovely voice if I say so myself; I was in a boys’ choir until I hit puberty. Teddy sits on his Bible in the grass and watches the stars. He has built himself a bit of a shelter off the patio for protection from the elements. At least for tonight, he wants to sleep outside. I don’t want to ruin Teddy’s enthusiasm by telling him dreams are nothing worth having. The night is beautiful and I can’t imagine rain falling onto our drunkenness. There is clematis climbing up the patio railings and bell-full delphiniums growing tall. Peonies, hollyhocks and sweet peas are about to bloom and it’s enough to make a grown man weep and I do. It’s looking up at the stars, which should be obscured and dead in the middle of the city, but are not. Asha’s here in spirit. I stop singing and just listen to the insects and the night.


Teddy’s dream: He enters the garden and the irises – Asha’s favourite flowers – are in bloom. A dark, heavy black purple called black dragon sticks out his black beard at Teddy. It leans forward as if mouthing something, the way bearded irises tend to do. The flower’s horizontal standards and pendant-huge falls beckon. Teddy raises his arms and takes the blooming flower in his paws the way he has inspected Asha’s flowers before. Watching for change in colour and shape of the petal; lightly fingering the spreading crest. But something feels different about the flower. He holds it for a long time in his paws until he realizes he can smell it. He twitches his nose and he smells a sweetness; by all description this is what sweetness smells like. Teddy smiles. From there on he goes to a Piccadilly rose; here the scent is lighter but more acerbic. Teddy hugs the flower to himself, thinks if he’s lucky the thorns may sting and he will bleed. Or better yet, he may never wake up.

Excerpted with author’s permission from 10 Things to Ask Yourself in Warsaw and other stories by Barbara Romanik, Enfield & Wizenty.

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Barbara Romanik

Barbara Romanik’s collection of short fiction, 10 Things To Ask Yourself In Warsaw, was published in 2009, to acclaim everywhere except the Calgary Herald. And f*** them anyway.