The Girl and The Bear

The Girl and The Bear

flash fiction by Amy Schneider, age 15

A little peaches-and-cream hand, stained with violent violet patches, emerges from where it was tucked beneath a warm chin nuzzled next to a fuzzy green frog. A finger stretches out, pressing the gleaming slippery glass, the imprint of the tiny fine lines smudging the reflective surface. The plump black nose smushes, pushes against the glass, bubbles escaping from the black holes of the nostrils. The finger hesitates and withdraws, unsure of the temperament of this great beast. The nose pulls away, cautious of rejection.

Warily, they eye one another. The face belonging to the finger, the owner of the frog, has eyes like flaxen baskets with tightly woven strands of hazel and gold, bursting to the brim with intrigue and wonder as well as a sort of unusual perceptivity and awareness unfitting for one of her age. Two hands and the fluffy frog rest under the sanctuary of the protruding chin, which juts out like an old man’s. “Clickety-clack,” the cherry red boots whisper to fill the strange silence, as they tap, skittish, on the cement ground. Close to the glossy wall, a little button-nose rests, creating little puffs of breath that mar the sleekly perfect surface.

The ebony eyes of the bear on the other side of the glass watch the small girl with her oversized hand-me-down coat, with her tippity-tapping red boots. The bear’s immense white paw raises slightly, as if to wave at the girl, but he cautiously drops it, fearing the disapproval of this tiny child and her oddly contemplative countenance.

The girl, carefully placing her frog in her lap, takes her hands and presses them against the glossy barricade, the ache from the bruises on her wrists numbing, feeling the zing of frost bite at her skin. Eye to eye now, the pair can see each other.

Her hands yearn to break through the glass and touch the vast expanse of fur, the soft mass of fluffy warm snow. She squints her golden eyes, peering through narrowed slits at the reflective glass. With eyelashes blurring the image, she can imagine away the partition – there! it melts away; there is no glass, only a girl and a bear, reaching out to each other…

But the bear gives a sort of huff, gently drawing the girl out of her illusion. The shoulders in the hand-me-down jacket slump dejectedly. Because she does not feel the need to, she says nothing; because he cannot, he says nothing. Because she does not want to leave, she stays there; because he cannot leave, he remains there. But what difference is there between the two, other than situation?

Perhaps it is that her hair is strictly limited to her head, with a distractedly-made ponytail sprouting up from the crown, fastened with a pink hair tie; meanwhile, the feathery fur is all over the great bear’s body, covering him in a milky satin fleece. Perhaps it is that she has a small, button nose, eager and earnest to experience new things, while his nose is black and big and blunt. Or, it is likely that it is that she holds that fuzzy green frog: yes, that is the striking difference.

The girl is holding an object of comfort, an object reminiscent of safety, of security, whereas the bear’s hands are empty. With similarly empty eyes, he asks her why. Sorrowfully, the slight swing of the messily made ponytail tells him she doesn’t know why. She doesn’t know why she has only this frog for comfort, rather than a frog; a competent, loving mother, and a present, attentive father. Eyes scrunching up, she recalls the seemingly infinite nightly occurrences of smelling the sour alcohol on her mother’s breath, wondering why she’s being hit instead of hugged goodnight, and stoically taking the beer-induced beatings without too many tears. A few escapees always manage to get through, no matter how tightly she forces her lids shut.

Her desperation is echoed in the muted terror in his expression; his isolation is this ice replica of his proper homeland. There is no fuzzy plaything, no soothing trinket for him to hold onto in his moments of loneliness.  It’s ironic that the bear, who has no family with him, should not have such a thing, whilst the girl, who at least has a mother, albeit a rather shameful excuse for one, wearily and obliviously resting in the far corner, has this slight comfort with her.

Fancy that the two should be able to grasp, to appreciate the other’s woes so much more clearly than any of their own species. Fellow bears in the lonely zoo were born there, unlike this magnificent creature from the wild, whose family he can no longer even imagine. The girl’s peers at school, they cannot fathom the dreadful magnitude of maltreatment; how could they, when their own parents hover over them continuously, doting and fulfilling every whim and want?

The bubbles slowly float from the big black nose, shaking the girl from her thoughts. They are out of time. Little by little, the great paws swipe in the water, pulling his body up to the surface. A mammoth padded paw extends, barely grazing the glass against which the small button nose still gently rests. Lids fluttering against a flurry of heartache, the golden eyes close, content only so long as the furry paw and its comfort linger. A look of deep apology spreads across his admirable countenance, as the paw withdraws from the glossy barrier, leaving the hands and the nose and the life of the little girl in the cherry red boots.

A hem hem in the corner tears the girl’s speculative gaze away from the slowly ascending figure of white, as the girl’s mother clears her throat. “Kit,” the lined mouth prods crossly. This, she thinks, this should satisfy the requests from the CPS, who demand her to “engage in a fun activity with [his/her] child.” What a load of crap, the indifferent mother thinks. Dull brown eyes, exhausted from the seemingly meaningless day spent with her child, reflect not even a thousandth of the contemplation and wonder shining in the wide golden eyes. Time to go, the fatigued expression seems to repeat the mouth’s words: time to go. When the cherry red boots don’t budge, the mother pulls, yanks, tears the girl away from the wall of glass. Clop clop clop go the ruddy red boots, walking away, away.

The bear slowly sinks back down from the surface, only to find the silence of a deserted exhibit in a closed zoo.

2015 Scholastic Writing Awards Gold Key, Gold Medal

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