“Betsy isn’t working!” Andre groaned.
He grabbed my teddy bear Betsy and hurled her into a bathroom stall. I nearly broke my neck to catch her. Behind me, Andre sobbed on the floor. I rushed to his side with Betsy in hand and helped him to his feet. I tried my best not to upchuck from the rank smell of vomit reeking from child and plush toy alike.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “For everything.”
I carried Andre and Betsy to the sink where I soothed the pair while cleaning off globs of yogurt and semi-digested fruit. Between Andre’s wailing and Betsy’s silent commiserations, I doubted whether I’d get through to either of them.The in-camera hearing had failed miserably. Andre had lasted a total of five minutes before he had hurled the contents of his breakfast onto Betsy. Mortified more by my barf-covered stuffy than the distress of my star witness, I had gathered boy and bear and dashed out of the judge’s chambers.
A month of trying, and a handful of continuances, and an exasperated judge meant that I was an inch away from having the case dismissed if Andre couldn’t testify. He was the youngest witness I’d ever worked with. He was only six at the time of a corner store robbery gone wrong, and he’d never shared what he saw with anyone except for me. Oh, and Betsy. His family had no chance for justice without his eye witness account.
“She’s not magic at all!” Andre said.
But she was. I knew the moment she was handed to me. I’d just arrived on a plane alongside dozens of orphans from Vietnam, and we’d all been given matching yellow fluffy bears. Each one had a small red vest embroidered with the words “Winnie.” She had coal black eyes, a huge black nose, and a broad, cheeky smile. I named mine “Betsy” after “Betsy Ross,” the first famous American woman I had learned about in my new country. Lots of things were new and hard then—like living in a city full of people who had lost their brothers and fathers to the Vietnam War.
The three of us sank down onto the floor outside the bathroom. I jiggled a damp Betsy in the air to dry her. Andre peered down the empty hallway. The judge must have called for a recess. Andre reached for Betsy and I hesitated before letting him have her.
“Where’s her mouth?” he asked, running his fingers over the empty space under her nose.
Betsy had lost her smile a long time ago. I tried a couple of times to sew a new one, but it never looked right. Mouthless and silent, she’d been the repository for all those untold things that had scarred me over the years.
I shrugged. “She keeps my secrets. I figure she didn’t need a mouth.”
Andre stood up. “Bears have mouths,” he said. “We have mouths. Everyone has a mouth.” He frowned, scratching at a half-moon shaped scar on Betsy’s thigh.
“What happened?” he demanded. I glanced at the cigarette burn.
“She can’t tell me, can she? She has no mouth.” He pushed her at me, waiting. How could I expect him to tell a roomful of strangers his secrets when Betsy…when I…couldn’t even tell him mine?
“Oh!” I pulled a sharpie out of my pocket and after some strategic maneuverings, with Andre clearly the more artistically inclined, we drew the outline of a smiling mouth on Betsy. The mouth was just a tad bit open, as if she was in the middle of a drawn-out story. Then Andre looked up.
I positioned Betsy in front of him. I let her give the filtered soundbite version of the day I’d shattered a perfume bottle which resulted in a series of reprimands from my adoptive mother. Her cigarette somehow sank into my bear and my left arm.
“Where?” Andre asked. I pointed to a small patch on my arm that was covered by my long-sleeved shirt.
“Did she get in trouble for doing that?” I shook my head.
“He shot her,” Andre said. His eyes twitched, and the memory of how he’d lost his cousin shadowed his face.
“I know,” I said. “Betsy knows.”
“But they don’t know.” Andre looked at the judge and the jurors as they populated the hallway.
Andre pressed Betsy close to his chest and took my hand. I led him back to the judge’s chambers where he climbed into a large leather armchair facing the judge and camera. His legs dangled over the seat’s edge, giving everyone a view of the green gum stuck to the bottom of his right sneaker. Andre held Betsy up, obstructing his view of the camera. He ran his fingers over the new sharpie-etched mouth.
“I’m sorry I threw up on you,” he said. “And that you almost got flushed down the toilet.”
I was still a little sore about that.
“I didn’t know liars could draw,” he whispered to me.
“Counselor, we’re ready for you,” the judge said.
“Sophie,” Andre said, “Betsy is scared.”
I could definitely see the trepidation in her eyes.
“I know. I am, too. But it’s alright now. She can tell her story. She’s got a new mouth. And you can, too.”
Andre nodded, bringing Betsy close, until their noses touched.
I resumed my questioning. “Okay, Andre, are you ready to tell us what you saw?”
In a courtroom one hundred yards away, I imagined twelve jurors glued on Andre’s face which was partially blocked by Betsy’s pear-shaped backside.
Andre took a deep breath and told his story. I exhaled and released mine.