1 comment

Coming of Age Sad Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

 The bear was big. Big enough to hold her draped in his arms like men held pretty ladies on the television. Ladies in white dresses carried through front doors. Ladies in fancy nightgowns carried up fancy stairs. Hurt ladies carried away from the things that hurt them.

The girl slid an arm under the neck of the stuffed toy and curled her legs up across its sunken, formerly pot-bellied midsection. She saw herself held, loved, carried. She laid her cheek against the hard plastic of its black nose, feeling warm flesh. Slid her head down into the crook of a matted white fur neck beneath a yarn-stitched mouth and felt a soothing kiss pressed to the top of her head. She imagined her rescuer holding her tightly and taking her away.

Sleep came as it did every night: borne on the wings of a fantasy born of longing.


The night the girl opened her closet to find only empty space where the bear should be, it took all her courage to pad into the kitchen. Once sent to bed, she dared not come back out. Actions had consequences. And if her father were home, a switch to the back of the legs was the consequence for this particular action. But he wasn’t home, only her mother, and her mother never struck her.

Only let her be struck.

“Mommy?” She could barely hear herself and wasn’t certain if it was fear strangling her voice or the ringing in her ears overpowering it.

“Why aren’t you in bed?” Her mother’s gaze remained focused on the clouds of cigarette smoke that dimmed the room.

“I can’t find my bear.”

Now her mother shifted, laid the cigarette in the notch of her ashtray and cleared her throat. When she finally met her daughter’s eyes, her own were hard with peremptory rebuke. “I donated it. With some clothes you outgrew. It was a ratty old thing anyway.”

The ringing intensified. The girl’s breathing grew shallow. Her mother’s face twitched.

“Look, there are kids that don’t have even one stuffed animal. You have a bunch. It’s good to share, right? Just think how happy that bear is going to make some poor kid who has none.”

“Like the kids who are starving in Africa?” The girl felt her gorge rising as if she were right that moment staring down at reheated liver and onions for breakfast. The consequence of not finishing the previous night’s dinner.

“Exactly like that.” Her mother was relieved. No further explanation would be needed. 

The girl returned to bed: a vast, cold mattress, the wasteland of which was hardly mitigated by the stuffed dog she dragged beneath the covers. It was the largest of her remaining animals, but still only half as big as the lost bear. It couldn’t cradle her. It couldn’t carry her away. Day was breaking by the time she slept, just as she and her trusty dog companion arrived in Africa to intercept a plane full of donated toys.


The girl was a woman and the man was big. Big enough to cradle her in his arms like Rhett Butler sweeping up the stairs with an initially reluctant but eventually compliant Scarlett O’Hara. He was big enough to take her away. He was big enough to make her love him. Like Han Solo and Princess Leia. Like Indiana Jones and that woman he subdued with a kiss, whatever her name was.

He took her away to expensive restaurants where he took away her embarrassment by ordering for her from the indecipherable list of ‘amuse-bouches’ and ‘mignardise.’ 

He took her away to exclusive designers who took away her discount mall-wear and replaced it with the satin and silk becoming of a woman in his company.

He took her away from the dirt and grime and struggle that had marked her life since childhood and offered her instead a world of orderly ease.

He took her away from all the things she wanted to leave behind, and when he carried her across the threshold of his house she wore a white dress. Arm slung round his neck, she nestled her head beneath his flawless visage, feeling tatty white fur against her cheek.

The dream that began with a bear had come true.


The girl was small and the room was big. Big enough to feel lost in, as the woman often did. The girl sucked fretfully at a wrinkled fist, adrift in the immensity of the oversized crib. The woman had been a girl once, and her bed had nearly always been too big; it still was. Now she stared down at this tiny human in her own too-big bed and wept.


The man was big. 

Big enough to take away her car keys. 

Big enough to take away her cell phone.

Big enough to take away her self. 

Big enough to take away the girl.

When he took away two of her teeth with the base of a tumbler, she thought of her mother. Of how many times her mother had been struck before her father found a fresh, young outlet for his rage. And she thought of the girl: small, unobtrusive.

So far unharmed, but perhaps not always so.

When the man broke her arm, she thought of how it had curled around his neck that day of the white dress. She thought of the bear. Of dreams become nightmares.

She thought of the lie.

Had her mother before her believed it? Had the angry chainsmoker who never lifted a hand to protect her once been a girl with dreams of salvation in the arms of a man?


The morning the woman opened her eyes to find the man’s wrath turned toward the girl, it took all her courage to pad to the door of his study. She dared not enter this sanctum uninvited. Actions had consequences and a single well-placed kidney punch was the consequence for this particular action. It had happened just the once.

She was a quick study.

“Honey, what’s going on?” Her voice was soft and sweet and submissive. An offer to help, not a challenge.

Never that.

“What’s going on is this girl has ruined a ten thousand dollar rug. What’s going on is you let her ruin a ten thousand dollar rug. What the hell is she doing in here?”

The woman saw now: purple juice soaking into the aged fibers. Her fault. She wasn’t watching. 

“I’m sorry, I’ll get a towel. Sweetie, come with ma-“

“Leave her.” His tone allowed no room for argument, but she had to try. 

Had her mother ever tried?

“You shouldn’t have to deal with-”

“You don’t tell me. I tell you. Leave her.” Not yelling. Controlled, low. 

Dangerous.

As she turned away, he delivered one last command to her—“Bring back a wooden spoon”—and the first of what she knew would be many promises to the girl—“This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”

That day the woman knelt on the rug sopping up silent tears and grape juice as the man disciplined the girl with the spoon the woman placed in his hand.  

When the rug had been salvaged and the girl was released into the woman’s care, when all the tears were dried and apologies duly rendered to the man, when a lovely lunch had been proffered and accepted and the woman could see the time was right, she knocked gently at his study door. 

“Enter!” A jovial invitation, not a command. The man was always generous in the wake of his ferocity.

“Do you think it would be nice for you to have the house to yourself for a bit? I could take the little one shopping. Pick up fresh produce. Make you something special for dinner? Anything you like.”

He considered for an infinite moment before opening his desk and removing a set of keys. She crossed to the desk with haste, fearful he might change his mind. But as she reached for the keys he pulled them back just a bit. 

“I know what the odometer reads and I know what it should read after a trip into town.”

“Yes, of course.” Her lips automatically curled into a reassuring smile and he let the keys drop into her outstretched hand.


“Look, a bear!”

They were passing a thrift store in the same complex as the supermarket when the girl tugged hard on the woman’s hand. Turning toward the display window, she saw the impossible: not a bear, the bear. It was unmistakable. It was a sign. It was the woman’s turn to tug.

“Come on, let’s go in.”

The bear had seen better days. She paid too much for nostalgia and antiquity and let the girl pick another plush toy. The bear was hers.

In the car, the girl played quietly with a stuffed dog. The bear was securely wrapped in its own bag, up front with the woman.

“I want the bear. I found it,” the girl pouted.

“The bear isn’t for you,” the woman replied, and the girl relented, visions of the wooden spoon still fresh in both their minds.


Dinner was splendid. The man had no criticisms. He engaged the girl as though she had never ruined his rug. As though he had not left welts on her legs just hours ago. The girl, eager to be loved by the only man in her life, responded warmly and without reservation.

“We got stuffies, Daddy! I got a dog and Mommy got a bear! The bear isn’t for me.” Was that an accusatory tone the woman detected? Was the girl already learning to court the strong by setting herself against the weak?

The man cocked his head at the girl. “Mommy got a bear” made no sense. He looked to the woman.

She put the girl’s manner out of her mind. “It’s just a ratty old thing I picked up for a project I’m thinking about.” 

“Ah,” he said, asking no further. Her activities were of no interest. 


That night the woman mixed a special drink: the last drink the man would ever enjoy. She waited until he was sound asleep before slipping away to her own room. Rooms.

Quarters, she reminded herself. Here she had quarters. 

And in those quarters she had secreted the bear. She pulled him now from the thrift store bag and stared into his button eyes. Ran her hand over the hollow of his once-pot belly. Felt again the soft comfort of the decrepit fur that once cradled her fetal curl. Remembered the promise of safety and escape. 

There in the cavernous solitude of the life she had allowed herself to be taken to, she saw the bear’s innocence. It was not he who had lied, but the world. She couldn’t blame the bear for playing the part she, herself, should have taken long ago.

The woman rose, and the bear with her. She strode to the man’s quarters, crawled into the bed, unconcerned that he would stir. 

She slid her arm beneath his neck, ignoring the pain of the old break. She crooked her knees and lay atop him feeling tiny and vulnerable rather than safe and loved. The bear between them, she listened as the man breathed steadily, peacefully.

Relentlessly.

The woman rolled, spreading her legs to straddle his hips and pressed the bear to his face. Softly at first, then harder. Scampering up his monstrousness to kneel on his broad chest and lean into the old friend who had found her when she most needed him.

It was hard to know when the breathing stopped; the man never struggled. But when she was sure his life—if not a lifetime—must have passed, she collapsed beside him, panting.

“That hurt me more than it hurt you,” she echoed. 

And laughed.


The mother pushed open her daughter’s bedroom door and took in the king-sized bed that engulfed the five-year-old.

“Sweetie? You still awake?” She wasn’t. No matter. The mother went to her and caressed the unlined forehead, the plump, rosy cheeks, the gossamer tresses spilt across the pillow. The girl stirred.

“You wanna come sleep in mommy’s big bed?”

“Really?” Lingering sleep couldn’t disguise her delight. 

The mother lifted her, careful of the welts the spoon had left behind, and the circle of her daughter’s arms about her neck had never felt so right.

As they nestled into the mother’s bed—a bed which no longer felt too big, but just right—she pulled her daughter close, spooning the tiny curve of her back and tucking the bear into the little arms.

“I was mistaken,” she whispered, “The bear was for you after all.”

April 02, 2022 00:39

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Micah Hughes
15:27 Apr 07, 2022

Loved it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.