The Bear Essentials

I was moved to write this little story by a report from a fellow Tweeter of a misspeled mispellt misspellt incorrect sign in a local shop. When you’ve read this, go to her blog. It’s fun.

I don’t usually commit short fiction to this place, but this somehow felt right. Be gentle. It’s my first time.

* * * * * *

I couldn’t see them at first. I just heard a soft, polite voice.

“Excuse me.”

I stopped, turned round, saw nothing but a small dark alleyway. My eyes adjusted to the darkness. I could just about make them out now, two pairs of eyes glistening darkly in the surrounding gloom.

One of them took a small step forward.

“We’re very sorry to bother you,” came a surprisingly deep voice. “We were just wondering if you could do us a small favour.”

I was wary. I don’t take kindly to beggars. There is a system in place for the disadvantaged, and as far as I’m concerned it’s their business to avail themselves of it. But something in the voice intrigued me.

It was so polite. Humble, almost. A gruff, unassuming voice, belonging to someone who meant well.

“Perhaps you could both step out into the light so that I can see you a bit better before I agree to anything.”

There was a shuffling, and the two of them moved to the edge of the shadows. Their exact forms were still indistinct, but small details began to emerge.

Short and dumpy. Golden-brown fur, slightly tousled. Sticky paws.

I softened.

“What can I do for you two, then?”

The taller one, the one wearing the hat, stared at me.

“It’s like this, you see,” he said.

There was the merest trace of an accent. Maybe Portuguese? Spanish? Not quite.

“Do you see that shop over there?” he continued, pointing to the Kostless Food & Wine Store over the road.

“Yes,” I said.

“They won’t let us in,” he said.

“Why ever not?” I asked.

“That’s what I ask myself,” said his companion thoughtfully. “I ask myself, why ever not?”

“And do you get an answer?”

“Sometimes. But mostly just silence.”

“They discriminate,” said the first one. “They are prejudiced against…our kind.”

“That seems very unfair,” I sympathised.

“It is,” said his friend earnestly. “Most unfair. They don’t discrimiwhatsit against rabbits. Or pigs. Or owls. Or don-”

“We’ve got money,” interrupted the first one. He took off his hat and unveiled a grubby five-pound note. He held it out to me. “We’re not afraid to pay our way.”

I looked at them. A fine-looking pair, looking up at me hopefully. They exuded a mild air of faded grandeur, a vague impression that life had not always treated them like this. Yet their pride and dignity were intact, shining like a beacon from their earnest eyes.

They don’t make them like that any more, I thought, surprising myself both with the cliche itself and with the realisation that it was true.

“There’s no need for that,” I said, giving the money back. “I’d be quite happy to help. What can I get you?”

They told me.

I crossed the road to the shop. Pushing open the door, I noted with amusement the various signs taped to the inside of the glass.

“No more than 4 scoolchidren at a time.”

“No chage.”

“We do not sel travellcads.”

It was a grubby shop, no doubt about it, with largely bare shelves. As I made my way along its narrow aisles, I noticed with amusement that, despite the bold claim held within the name of the shop, they didn’t stock any wine at all. Representing Team Alcohol were just a few apologetic bottles of ‘five star’ brandy, some cheap gin, and an incongruous magnum of Moet & Chandon. Taped to the middle shelf of one of the empty fridges was a note scrawled on lined paper.

“Sory. No bears.”

Smiling to myself, I collected what they had asked for, paid, and left the shop. They were still there, over the road.

“Here you are,” I said. I turned to the taller of them, who was peeking out at me short-sightedly from under his hat. “Marmalade for you, and a jar of cocoa. And for you,” I said to his friend with a smile, “a pot of honey. And…a little something else. I don’t know if you like condensed milk?”

His eyes lit up. I could almost see the saliva forming.

“Oh! Yes, well…,” he said gruffly. “That’s very kind.”

He took the two jars gratefully, tucking one under each arm. We stood awkwardly for

a few seconds.

“Well…,” I said. “Good luck.” I turned to leave.

“We’re really very grateful.”

I turned back, looked from one to the other. The shorter one was already prising the lid off the honey jar and dipping his paw into it. I addressed the taller one.

“I do hope you’ll forgive me for asking, but I’ve been trying to place your accent.”

He gave me another stare. It could only be described as hard.

“Peru,” he muttered.

He turned round, and the two of them pottered companionably down the road.