A Bear Walked Into a Bar
by Channie Greenberg
A bear walked into a bar where I had taken the table closest to the window. He looked more familiar than other ursines I had met, but I was troubled as to why. When he brought his ale over to my table, it became my business to find out.
Seems that the chap had had a wife and a kid. Shortly after a burglary that had occurred more than a decade ago, the she-bear had taken Junior and had left, with little more than a growl as a goodbye, for the deepest part of the woods. The two were never again seen by my new companion, though he thought he had recognized the snout of a young adult bear whom he had met at his preferred berry bush as belonging to Junior.
Lady Bear had had it up to her ears with a partner who couldn't be relied upon to chase away a mere slip of a two-footed human female. She was also upset that the vandal in question had broken Junior's bed, eaten all of their bowls of porridge and had put a huge crack in her favorite chair.
Rather than offering compassion for her suffering, the he-bear had just growled back at her.
So, with a huff and some loud snuffling, Mama had taken their cub and had left. No one made oatmeal like Mama had. No one caned chairs like her. No one plumped pillows in her exact manner.
After many seasons of disappointment with other she-bears, Daddy Bear locked up their cabin and returned to roaming the woods. Except for that singular encounter at his most beloved berry bush, he never whiffed his family again.
For a while, he tried subsisting on roots and berries. That diet was bland relative to Mama's porridge. He tried bribing two-footers to cook for him, but girl after girl ran away screaming as soon as he approached. Eventually, he took up drinking.
That large furry face with glistening eyes and sharp teeth regarded me as he came to the end of his speech. “You're a girl. Why aren't you running away screaming?”
I pulled my hood back down over my face and slurped at my drink. “Seen worse.”
“Nah. You never saw a monster like the golden-haired one that ruined my life.”
I stopped slurping and stood. “Says who?”
The bear hung his head.
I sat back down.
He gulped the rest of his ale and gestured to the barkeep for another one.
I lifted my hood a little. The years had lined my face and had transmuted my hair (unlike a gal pal of mine, I did not change straw to gold, but gold to silver).
The bear continued to sigh into his cup. He did not recognize me.
“I heard that the mama bear would have left regardless of that visitor. Apparently, Papa had regularly forgotten to censor the use of his paws.”
I pulled open a pouch on my belt and extracted my badge. Inscribed in that metal were the words “Association to Protect Animals and Children.”
The bear looked from the dull brooch to me and back again. He still did not place my face.
His second ale arrived. He essentially inhaled it.
“They did better, afterwards, happy, even.”
“Mama and Junior. She became a bounty hunter who stalked trappers. The little bear grew up and had a family... many cubs and a loyal wife.”
The bear exhaled at that news, nearly spluttering all of the ale that he had just swallowed.
“Who are you that you know this?”
“The wife of a woodsman and the bane of most wolves.”
“Whatever. Personally, I avoid woodsmen.”
He stayed at my table, but said nothing more. After another half of a dozen ales or so, he left behind a pile of coins. Eyeing me, he instructed that the money was for the barkeep and the barmaid.
I weighed taking the money, anyway. Instead, I pulled my “emblem” back out of my pouch. It had been created for me by a blacksmith in exchange for two weeks' worth of storytelling; few visitors transversed his village and even fewer had tales to share.
Larceny was my actual vocation, but a girl did what a girl had to do. Sometimes, that included “borrowing” balladeers' wares. Sometimes, that involved thieving other girls' identities. Sometimes, that involved simply stealing porridge.
Copyright © 2018 by Channie Greenberg