Flash fiction, short stories, poetry …
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Cephony’s Bear

T

he bear waved.

Cephony looked up, down, left, right and then – glowering, chin down – sped up a bit …

This was the only scary thing to happen on Saturday.

Three days later, on her way to the big washing machine for people, the bear waved again. It was loitering by a snack machine.

Cephony inched round one of Teresa’s white trouser legs and folded some fingers up and down very slowly. Her one eye stared, the other was pressed into a fold of warm material, crushing her eyelashes. Teresa was sipping from a small paper cup, while bubbles rumbled up in the fish tank. This was all during a detour on the way to the man with the beard and glasses and the little brushes up his nose.

Teresa looked down. “You’re not … wiping your nose on my clean trousers are you, Cephony?”

“Nope. I’m waving to the bear.”

“That’s all right then.” They continued on their way, Teresa clump-thumping along.

The third day the bear waved, Cephony held Teresa’s hand and waved back, big style. She didn’t let go of Teresa’s hand, though she did lean out on it really far like a skydiver. Her smile had at least three teeth in it.

Day four, and she and the bear were on speaking terms. More-or-less. Cephony said: “Hello bear.”

She and Teresa and had been playing slides on the white floor in the white house.

The bear had waved back cheerily.

“That’s a very nice bear,” she said to Teresa, almost twisting her head off to look back.

“Yes, dear,” said Teresa. Teresa was tapping her pen on her armpit board. The paper was crinkled.

“Why do you have a bear?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Why do you think we have a bear?”

Cephony pondered this, finger to her lip, eyes rolling up to the neon lights. “’Cause … um … bears are funny?”

“That must be it then.” Teresa squinted at her watch. “Are you hungry?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe bears are funny, or maybe you’re hungry?”

“Um, yes.”

Teresa smiled, though her lips weren’t coloured in. “How about chicken in a box?”

“Can I just has the box?”

“I’m afraid not. No chicken, no box.”

“Oh.” Cephony twisted her lip, then pointed. “Why do my eyes go funny when I look at them? I can see green bits and blue bits.”

“They just do.”

Cephony nodded. A moment or two later, she was holding her arms wide, working out how wide they’d need to go to hug a bear. The answer was, ‘wider than this arm and this arm and another arm’.

They went round the corner and the bear was left behind. It was reading Yoga pamphlets.

The next day, Cephony was playing at being a dolly with the snap-on hair, just like Mindy-Mae. She had a choice, and she wanted pink bunches. Teresa had looked at Gillian, then, but they’d plumped for Golden Corn. Gillian jushed it up a bit and tied on a ribbon. They looked at the packet together. “See, that’s what it says, ‘Golden Corn.’”

Cephony thought Golden Corn sounded mighty fine. She looked in the mirror and saw another little girl, just like her, who looked quite princess-like, except she was dragging around the Pishka Machine. The Pishka machine went Pishka. That’s what it did.

“When you stick the blood out and back in. Where does it go?”

“Into this tube,” said Teresa. “It’s dirty, then it’s clean. Then we pop it back in.”

The bear nodded thoughtfully. It was watching Cephony’s red stuff going round and round.

“Hello bear”, said Cephony.

“Hello Ceph,” said the bear.

Teresa was fiddling with the Pishka machine. It had needles, and tapes, and lots of tubes, and the Pishka bit, of course. Meanwhile, Gillian – wearing blue gloves – spirited away a gauze pad with a spot of blood on it. The blood was all hashed up like a pretty tartan dress.

Cephony was often informed she was a very brave girl when dealing with the Pishka machine, but it was kind of okay, really. And it did mean sweets. Twice a week ‘analyzing’ meant two strawberry pop-pops, in crinkly wrappers with strawberry men on. The strawberry men were smiling – they were giving two thumbs up to all the happy boys and girls. Even so, some of them – like the boy in the bed next to hers – cried quite a bit.

“Um, do you want one?” said Cephony. In truth, she’d kind of gone off strawberry pop-pops.

“No thanks, Cephony. I’m all lollied-out. Thanks, though.”

“Okay.” Cephony didn’t have the heart to say she’d meant it for the bear.

When the big day came, and Cephony’s mummy was crying, Cephony heard it had been ‘a million one ants’.

“It was a million to one chance darling. A million to one!”

Piles of black, red, and wet hankies were gathering around her like multicoloured snowballs.

“What’s a millions one ants?”

The bear hunkered down. “Another little girl had to die, so that you could live, Ceph.”

“Why?”

“She was in a car, and the car crashed.”

“Oh.” She looked in the bear’s huge brown eyes. “Did she know what’s dying?”

“Not really.”

“What’s this?” It was the beginning of a familiar game…

“Your sternum.”

“What is it really?”

“It’s your chicken chest bone.”

Really?

“Really.”

“This?”

“Medial malleolus.”

“Really?

“Your ankle poppers.”

Cephony laughed and slapped her knee.

“You’re so silly!”

She thought some more. “What’s a kidley? Where’s that?”

“In there,” said the bear, pointing at her pink t-shirt with a claw. “They’re what you’re after. Your old ones are broke.”

Cephony pulled out the pink material and frowned. It had a daisy on it. “Broke?”

“Yes. Broke.”

“Um, why broke?”

“They just are.”

“And the girl kidley?”

“The other girl? Hers are as good as new.”

“Oh.” Cephony looked around with interest. “Will there be a million one ants, now?”

The bear held out a paw. “We could go see, if you like.”

“Okay.” She took the proffered paw, feeling warm kiwi fruit and blisters.

“Is the man with the brushes –”

“Dr Anderson.”

“Yes. Does he have the ants?”

“Well, he’s doing his best. Your mother is there, her friend from her poetry night class, and your sister, Claire. That’s the other girl’s mum and dad. They’re all waiting to see.”

“Waiting to see?”

“To see if you have the ants.”

“That’s good,” she nodded. “That’s very good.”

12 comments

1 Aidan Fritz { 01.30.11 at 7:42 pm }

I love the combination of the seriousness of the medical illness and the silliness of her outlook not quite understanding. It makes for nice conflict in the dialogue.

2 Stephen Hewitt { 01.31.11 at 9:36 pm }

Hi there Aidan – glad you liked that mix between silly and serious. Tricky because I didn’t want to trivialise, but equally didn’t want things to be bleak. Thanks for popping on a comment. St.

3 Joan { 01.31.11 at 12:57 pm }

Yes, I liked this, Stephen – at first I wondered if Ceph was the bear – but just some confusion, probably on my part. I liked the way this story built – couldn’t make it out at first, you (as a reader) wonder what is going on, what it’s about – and then, gradually, it dawns. Very well done in that respect. This is why, probably, it’s important to make sure it’s clear who is who speaking and doing things in the beginning – there is enough wondering about where the story is heading (which is the point of it) to have anything else to question. Minor point, though, and it may just be me.

4 Stephen Hewitt { 01.31.11 at 9:43 pm }

Hi there Joan – any confusion is almost definitely caused by me. I remember somebody pointing out that it wasn’t clear how old the main character in ‘The Old Woman Who Eats Kids’ until a little bit in. I think sometimes I hold too much back, in the desire to grow a story. So I agree, I do need to set the character and place a little better right from the start before I start playing with it. I’ll probably do the same darned thing again, though — I can’t help myself (laughs). This was one of my midnight stories, rather than early morning. It did take a while to get cooking. St.

5 Harry B. Sanderford { 01.31.11 at 9:37 pm }

I liked Cephony being shy at first with the bear but by day four old friends. Great job keeping the childs perspective right through the serious business. Wonderful story!

6 Stephen Hewitt { 02.01.11 at 1:00 am }

Hi there Harry – glad you liked the story. Developing Cephony’s perspective on the bear was fun, and the child’s perspective seemed to work out well, especially as it would’ve been a rather dark tale otherwise. I wanted the bear to directly offer her the facts and have Ceph be pretty much okay with that. After all, she has no real context for worry.

7 Brinda { 02.05.11 at 6:51 pm }

Hi Stephen I thought the bear providing the explanation worked very well.Thank god for teddy bears and dolls and what not, that comfort little kids : )

8 Stephen Hewitt { 02.07.11 at 11:25 pm }

Hi there Brinda – I’m glad the bear worked out.

Though I’m not of a religious persuasion, I did start to wonder what type of angel kids might imagine for themselves, and that straight-talking bear kind of popped into my head 😉

9 Mike Robertson { 02.08.11 at 10:30 pm }

This whole piece works its magic perfectly on me, Stephen. Incredibly courageous of you to even try to tell a story from the point of view of a child that young, and you held the POV throughout, gradually revealing her situation without ever losing the humor and good nature of everyone involved. Quite an accomplishment sir. Quite.

10 Stephen Hewitt { 02.10.11 at 10:51 pm }

Thanks Mike — I was glad it came out as it did. One of those stories where I found it interesting to see where it would go. The result, strangely, felt entirely optimistic. Thanks for kind comments 🙂

11 Susan May James { 02.09.11 at 4:04 pm }

This is a fantastic piece! I’ve started a new list of my favourite reads for each week. Hope you don’t mind but I listed this as ‘Monday Marvel’ on my blog.
;0)
I have to say, the bit with the bear ‘loitering by the snack machine’ really struck me. I could see him so clearly! You found a great balance with this story. Well done!

12 Stephen Hewitt { 02.10.11 at 11:03 pm }

Hi Susan — well, you can definitely come back again. lol.

I’m honoured you put it in your favourite reads. Thank you very much. It’s good to know you liked it enough to recommend to others. And yeah, that bear loves of the snacks, even though they’ll probably give him a big bulgy behind. 🙂

St.

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