How the Children Saved the Bears

by Kate Glahn

The children warned the bears to say nothing. The bears nodded, pushed back deeper in the closet. Behind the silky evening dresses, the suits, back into the corner reserved for exercise clothes, a pair of pants worn for house painting.  

Wandy put on her bonnet and walked out of the closet, spoke to her parents directly.  “We’re taking care of them now.”

Her parents were surprised at first. Then angry as only parents can be.  There’s a loss of humility in some parents, the minute they first hold their infant.  It’s as if they’ve finally found something in the world to be bigger than.  Wandy’s father was like that and he stepped forward toward her. Not close enough to touch her bonnet but close enough, he knew, that his face would be lit by the orange of the bathroom light.

“They are not yours.”

“They’re ours,” Wandy’s mother added, speaking from the shadows, her voice authoritative and tinged with hope.

“We’re taking care of them now.”  Wandy’s little sister now stepped from the closet and shut the door behind her.

The bears were comforted then, by the thin piece of wood that separated them from the family scene taking place in the hallway.  The children understood them, of this the bears were sure.  And they’d been frightened of the parents. Frightened of the invitation to climb inside the car. Frightened by the dark ride up and down city streets. Even frightened by the bowls of ice cream, cool and delicious but tainted by a promise, some sort of complicity that the bears could only sense.

Wandy went forward and took her mother’s hand.  “You are not meaning to do harm, Mother. You are only confused.”  At this her mother smiled, for she could feel the truth of the words deep in her chest, not in her heart, but more in the place where her balance resided, more in the place that kept her upright.

Wandy’s mother put her hand in Wandy’s hair and the little sister, at first suspicious, slowly crept beside, then took her mother’s other hand.  There they stood, the three women.  And Wandy’s father had to ask himself.  Which was more valuable? The bears or the three girls that stood before him – the one he’d chosen and the two he’d worked to make.

He did not like to back down but he did.  Shrugged his shoulders and walked to the kitchen. Reached high in the cabinet for the bottle of cheap scotch and poured himself a small drink. Not enough to cloud his judgment, just enough to warm his heart.

Wandy’s mother went to the bedroom, to make the bed, straighten the sheets before she and her husband climbed in.  Wandy’s mother felt better than she had in a long, long time. She felt cared for.  She felt like the world was no longer on her shoulders. She felt that something could break, say the blender or the toaster oven, a window or the alarm clock, and that life would surely go on.  

The girls were confused by their victory.  They opened the door to the closet and reached in.  Wandy’s hand closed on the fur of the mother bear who, at Wandy’s urging, came slowly out into the fresh air of the hallway.  The baby bear trailed behind, trudging his feet slowly as if he were walking in snow.

Wandy led the bears to her parent’s car and drove carefully, her foot just reaching the pedal.  There were only a few turns, the mother bear pointed them out, and very soon the bears were climbing out, back on the city street where they’d met the parents just an hour before.

The bitter city air had never felt so precious.  The baby bear smiled. Although it was hard to see, Wandy and her sister could feel it.  It lit the stars for just a minute, brighter.  Then the bears, wild things that they are, were gone.  Silent and into the night, swift and stealth.

Wandy looked at her sister.  Both knew they’d forget this moment.  Wandy forgot first, the night after her ninth birthday. And when her little sister brought it up (only a few times more until she, too, forgot), Wandy would deny the whole thing had ever happened and, if she was feeling a bit cruel, would tease her little sister for even having the idea.  And slowly the familiarity of the story faded away, into the cells of her body, where children’s stories are kept.

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Kate Glahn writes when she feels brave, tries not to complain, and should probably drink more water.
 
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