- Aperture: f/11
- Focal Length: 55mm
- ISO: 400
- Shutter: 1/250 sec
- Camera: Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL
Inspired by a little bear somewhere in Cambridge, Massachusetts — and another, waiting in Tuscaloosa, who was always there.
Plip-plop, plip-plop, slip-slop-ssssssplat!
What a dreary day, Tristan thought to himself as he watched the rain play tag along the window ledge.
The house was quiet with his family gone. Mr. Leary had taken his big umbrella this morning to the tall glass bank building downtown. Mrs. Leary was a painter and was meeting her friends in the Square for brunch. And Anabelle was at school, probably curled up in the library where she liked to read on rainy days.
Her birthday was tomorrow and Tristan didn’t know what to do. He loved her dearly and wanted to give her something special. She was a good, kind-hearted girl with soft brown hair and big brown eyes that made his heart nearly burst when he looked into them.
For as long as he could remember, they’d been together. When she went to the doctor, he went with her, folding his soft paw tightly around her hand and smiling his secret smile so she wouldn’t be scared. There were trips to the grocery store, where they had to take the escalator all the way up to the third story, and Saturday train trips to the beach, where he and Anabelle made elaborate sand castles and strolled along the Boardwalk, eating cotton candy. On Sundays, the whole family went to the Public Garden, where he drowsed in the sunlight as Anabelle carefully smeared orange marmalade on English muffins for them while Mrs. Leary hummed to herself, painting, and Mr. Leary read interesting bits to them from the morning Globe.
It was a fine life, being a city bear, and what better place to find a birthday present for Anabelle than in the city?
Of course there was the problem of the rain. Bears don’t particularly like to be wet. Rummaging around in the toy chest, Tristan found a yellow mack and a pair of bright red Wellies just his size. Anabelle had gotten them when they went to London last year.
How dashing he looked!
Crawling through Charlie the Cat’s door, he hopped down the brick path, past the petunias and daisies and beyond the mailbox, where he and Annabelle sometimes waited for the postman in hopes of a letter from her pen pal.
He wasn’t quite sure where to begin.
To his left was the big college where all the students laid out on blankets, reading in the grassy yard. There wouldn’t be anything for Annabelle there. He’d have to take the subway across the river to the big shops downtown.
Hopscotching through the puddles, Tristan felt like a very big bear indeed. He wasn’t scared at all, not when a yellow dog woofed at him from beyond a garden gate, not when he almost tripped over a fat pigeon, squabbling with her mate.
How surprised Anabelle would be when she found out what he had done.
All of a sudden, he stopped, almost tipping over in his haste. There, straight ahead, was Mrs. Leary. She was standing in front of her easel, paint brush in hand, laughing with the other painters as they captured the wet streets, the taxis lining up in front of the fancy hotel, the shoppers scurrying past, their arms laden with bags. He would be in SO much trouble if she saw him here.
But what to do?
If he was going downtown, he had to take the subway, and the entrance to the subway was right where Mrs. Leary was standing. He paused for a moment, his ears drooping, his head hanging down. He hadn’t counted on this. Squeezing his eyes shut as tightly as he could, he pictured Anabelle’s face and heard her whisper, “Don’t be scared, Bear.” He always felt sort of warm and silly inside when she called him that, and the thought made him smile.
Suddenly he started running as fast as he could, down the sidewalk, past the man selling flowers from a cart, past the hot dog lady and the newspaper man and toward the black hole of the subway. Stopping to catch his breath, he looked back at Mrs. Leary. For a minute, he was almost sure she was staring at him, but he couldn’t let himself worry about that right now. He could hear the train rumbling below. He was too short to reach the token machine, so he’d have to slip in with the crowd.
His legs were getting very tired and his tummy was starting to growl. For a moment, he wondered if this was a bad idea. Before he had time to think, he was swept up in a sea of legs and feet, pushed onto the escalator and down into the dark, steamy tunnel. Anabelle never liked the tunnel. She said it was scary and always squeezed him tightly to her chest until they were inside the train. Then they’d stand on the seat and hold the shiny metal pole, laughing as the car whipped around the corners, swaying from side to side.
Hopping a ride on a man’s suitcase, Tristan closed his eyes and tried to imagine he was already on the train. Anabelle was right. The tunnel WAS dark and scary.
Shortly after he made it inside the car, he felt a hand grab his ear and swing him rapidly into the air. Oh no. This couldn’t be good. A greasy-haired boy was tossing him across the aisle to a burly baseball player, who tossed him at a girl, who was reading a book and swatted him to the floor.
“Cut it out, Bri,” she said, but she was laughing and Tristan realized it had all been in fun.
Still, he tucked himself as tightly as he could into a corner and tried to figure out how many stops it would be before he reached downtown. When the doors opened and he smelled buttery popcorn, he remembered — the popcorn man. This was the stop.
Back in the dark tunnel, back up the escalator, and out onto the street. Whew. The fresh air felt good. Carefully, he inspected each paw, extending his legs and arms as far as he could, peering around to check his stubby little tail. Tentatively, he gave it a wiggle. Yep. Everything as it should be.
Things were quite merry for a while after that, and Tristan enjoyed wandering the city, browsing the different shops. He looked at shoes and scarves, paint sets and books, but nothing seemed right. When he saw a sign for a French exhibit at the museum, he thought that might be just the thing. Anabelle was studying French in school and the whole family was going to Paris next summer.
After a dizzying ride through a revolving door and a harrowing brush with museum security, he found himself inside a big room, staring up at a tall, somber painting of an old lady sitting in a chair. She looked sad, with her hands folded so tightly in her lap, clutching a handkerchief. Sinking down into the lush grey carpet, Tristan looked at the painting for a while. The museum was very quiet and in the stillness, he heard his stomach growl again. There must be food here somewhere.
Wandering down the hall, he saw amazing things. A bronze statue of a man, poised and ready to leap, his fingers and toes curled in anticipation. A marvelous floor to ceiling display of silvered gossamer strings that changed colors as a little wheel turned below.
The gift shop had equally wondrous things: hand-held fans with paintings on the backs and real tassels hanging from polished ebony handles, night lights with Van Gogh’s famous blue-swirled masterpiece that Anabelle loved so much, and little globes with tiny worlds inside, all disappearing into a blizzard of snow when shaken.
Tristan thought Anabelle might like some of these things, but they all seemed very expensive. He only had a quarter, and though he couldn’t count too well, he was pretty sure he couldn’t afford anything here.
Trudging past the back door of the museum’s restaurant, he felt something smack him in the back of the head. Ouch! He rubbed the spot gingerly and looked at the odd-shaped brown object lying at his feet. It appeared to be some kind of food, though what kind he wasn’t sure.
“Yo, Cheddah! That was mine! Paws off!”
Looking up slowly, Tristan found himself staring into the biggest green-gold eyes he had ever seen. Oh no. This definitely wasn’t good. It was a sleek black tomcat from Southie. Another cat appeared, and another, and another. The cat speared the lump with a dangerous claw and dragged it away.
It suddenly occurred to Tristan that he was very far from home and might never see Anabelle again. And then he did the unthinkable. He started to cry. Tears welled up in his great black eyes and began to spill over onto the orange fur, leaving wet, dirty streaks. The cats looked appalled. Swishing their tails slowly, they furrowed their brows and tugged their whiskers.
“You can have it if it means that much to ya,” said the tomcat, kicking the dry lump back in his direction, a few bites missing now. “I like my pate with brie and crackers anyway.”
“No, no, it’s not that,” Tristan said, tears still falling.
In fits and starts, he told them about Anabelle’s birthday, and how he wanted to find a present for her. About the dog and the pigeon and the college kids on the subway. About the store where a lady had stepped on his paw and the curb where a speeding taxi had splashed mud on his coat.
Most of all, he told them about Anabelle. How tiny she was as a baby, how proud he had felt when Mr. Leary snuggled him into her crib and said, “You look after her, Tristan.”
He told them about the terrible first day when she went to school, how they had both cried and cried when Mrs.Leary said he couldn’t go, and of that wonderful first afternoon when they were reunited again, sharing giggles over a plate of warm cookies as Annabelle chattered happily about the new friends she had made.
He told them about Charlie the Cat, and how they both took turns watching over the house at night, making sure everyone was safe. And he told them about Christmas and how he and Charlie and Anabelle had stayed up late, drowsing in the glow of the twinkling Christmas tree lights, waiting for Santa to come.
A hush fell over the alley and Tristan realized that it was almost dark. Rush hour traffic had faded to a dim hum and the cats seated in a semi-circle before him were silent.
“You’re lucky to have a family that loves ya, Cheddah,” said the Southie. “You ought to go home now.”
“But I still don’t have a present for Anabelle,” Tristan said sadly.
“Yeah you do,” said a silver tabby, her emerald eyes glistening. “Just go home.”
“It’ll have to appear by magic, then,” Tristan replied.
The cats said nothing, they just looked at each other and nodded wisely. Wearily, though, Tristan had to admit that it was getting late, and he should begin the long journey home.
Slowly, he walked past the popcorn man, who was slamming the silver doors of his cart closed and locking them with an enormous padlock. Silently, he closed his eyes and felt his way through the great dark tunnel, even darker now that it was night. Carefully, he picked his way among the shiny black shoes of the businessmen, who were reading their papers and gazing out the train’s black windows at nothing.
The newspaper man was dozing on a bench, his papers spread around his feet. The hot dog lady was gone, as was the flower vendor. One by one, the lights came on in the buildings, spilling pools of orange and yellow onto the cobblestone lanes. It was past his bedtime. He was so very, very tired.
When he got to the mailbox, Tristan stopped and leaned against the post, yawning.
“Think… I might… just… lie… down,” he whispered, and was asleep before he could say another word.
He didn’t know that Annabelle had gone to bed crying. He didn’t know that Mrs. Leary had spent all afternoon looking for him.
He didn’t know how Mr. Leary stooped down beside the mailbox so carefully, sitting his brown briefcase down and pulling him into his arms so gently, so very gently, and giving him a squeeze before picking up his briefcase again, bounding up the steps, sweeping Mrs. Leary into a hug and saying, “Look who I found.”
All Tristan knew was that the next morning, when he woke up, Anabelle was looking down at him with the brightest, happiest smile he had ever seen.
“Oh Bear, you DID come back!” she murmured, happy tears dripping off her nose and mingling with his own. “This is the best birthday ever.”
And as his little bear heart overflowed with love, Tristan realized that it was indeed, very much, without a doubt, like magic.
Music: Amtrak Shuffle by Dale Miller, One of These Things First by Nick Drake, Take Five by Dave Brubeck, Wash Away by Joe Purdy