Bear Essentials short story by Iris Carden
The sign on the small shop said, “Bear Essentials” and the window display was full of bears of all kinds.
Inside the shop, shelves were filled with bears. There were no other types of toys in the shop, only plush bears. There were pink bears and blue bears. There were yellow, brown, and white bears. There were bears with bows and bears with clothes. There were bears as big as a child, and tiny bears which would fit in a little dolls’ house.
In one corner, bears were having a teddy-bears picnic. In another a huge bear was reading Winnie the Pooh. On the counter beside the cash register was a smallish, very worn, bear, with a small sign saying, “Not for Sale”, as if anyone would want to buy such a bear with all the other magnificent bears on display.
Behind the counter sat Cara. She was the owner and only worker in the shop. Cara drank coffee and read a book, occasionally saying something, appearing to talk to herself.
The bell over the door rang, as a woman and a small girl entered the shop. The woman was saying, “We’re just looking, not buying, and we look with our eyes, not our fingers.”
Cara smiled. “Hello,” she said. “Let me know if I can help you, or if you want to know anything about the bears.”
The young mother, nodded, and said, “Thank you, we’re just looking.”
Cara noticed the mother and child both had worn clothing. At least the child’s was second-hand, perhaps the mother’s was too, although they could just have been very old. The clothes were clean and well-cared for, but old.
The little girl looked, wide-eyed at all the magnificent bears on display. She squealed with delight at the teddy-bear’s picnic. She chattered to her mother about the book the big bear was reading, and asked if they could find it in the library. Cara noticed she kept her hands behind her back so she wouldn’t be tempted to touch.
Then she saw the old bear on the counter. “Excuse me,” the girl said, “but why does that bear look like that?”
Cara smiled. “This is my own bear,” she said. “Bear and I have been best friends since I was a little girl. When bears are loved a very long time they start to look a little ragged, but they are still beautiful, don’t you think?”
The girl looked at the bear. “Yes,” she said as if she’d just made a firm decision. “A loved bear looks lovely.”
“Oh, I think so,” Cara answered.
“That bear looks especially lovely too,” the girl said, and pointed to a bear on the shelf behind the counter. It was a handcrafted, one-of-a-kind by highly respected toymaker. She sighed, “I wish I could have a bear like that.”
“Would you like a closer look?” Cara asked. As she took the bear down from the shelf, she tore the price tag, removing “00.00” from the end of the price. She placed the bear on the counter, where the girl could look at it more closely.
“It’s so beautiful,” the girl said with absolute awe. “It’s the most beautiful bear I have ever seen.”
Cara looked at the mother. “Just for today, it’s on sale for five dollars,” she said.
The mother looked confused at first. She had seen other prices, and realised the bear could not be worth so little. “Did you say five dollars?” she asked.
Cara smiled at her. “Yes, five dollars.”
The mother paid the five dollars. The small girl had a massive smile as she skipped out of the store with her new bear. As the door closed behind them, the bell rang again.
“You’re a terrible businesswoman,” the worn bear on the counter said.
“I know,” Cara answered.
“You’ll never make a profit doing things like that,” Bear said.
“No, I won’t, but I will make children happy, and bears will be loved.”
“Well, I personally don’t need to eat, so it really doesn’t bother me, but you need to think about the realities of life.”
“When I was little, my parents would never have been able to afford a bear as magnificent as you. My mother used to spend a lot of time with an elderly neighbour who was lonely. That neighbour gave you to me. Customers will come who can afford the more expensive bears, but very few of the bears they buy will be as loved as that one will be, or as you are.”