The idea for this story started at the zoo. Watching the polar bear swim was so enchanting I decided to draw him. Everything else took off from there. It’s in two parts because the story got a little longer than usual, and my patrons on Patreon voted to have the story come out in two parts. I hope you enjoy it.
On birthdays my mom lets us kids, that’s my brother and me, choose to do something fun, or have a party. On my 13th birthday, I wanted to go to the zoo with my best friend, Machelle (Machelle with an “A”). The prospect of spending a whole day without the other Michelle (Michelle with an “I”) butting into our conversations made me happy.
Mom, Dad, and I went to pick Machelle up at 10:00 but her mom said she wasn’t ready. I wandered back to Machelle’s bedroom. She squinted at a mirror while she applied mascara to her blond eyelashes.
I looked at her through the mirror. “Hey.”
Machelle and I were both small, but that’s where our similarities ended. She was the polar bear I was the black bear. She had fair skin, freckles and straight blond hair. In the last few weeks, she’d started complaining about it not staying curled. I had dark skin and super curly hair. Sometimes it was hard to comb through, but it had always been curly and always would be. I didn’t see much point in complaining.
She sat with her mouth open and her eyes wide while she brushed the black goop on her lashes. When she finished, she slid the brush into a pink tube. “Is it time to go already?”
“Yeah, my parents are waiting in the car.”
“Okay, let me grab my purse.”
Purse? Since when had Machelle carried a purse?
She must have seen the expression on my face because she held a bag up for me to see. It was purple with a cat on it wearing a rhinestone collar. “Cute huh! The other Michelle bought one too, but hers is blue.”
I tried to smile. “Cool.” It wasn’t, but I kept that to myself.
We told Machelle’s mom we were off and walked to the car. My parents greeted Machelle when we climbed in. We got settled and Dad headed down the street.
I turned to Machelle. Sunlight glinted off the sparkles on her purse and flashed in my eyes. I tried to ignore it. “What animals are you excited to see?”
“Does it matter? I’ve been to the Zoo before you know.” While she spoke, she pulled her new phone, also sparkly, out of her purse. She’d gotten the phone two weeks ago for her 13th birthday.
She typed. I watched. She finished and looked at me. “Sorry, what were you saying?”
“Um… we were talking about the animals.” My voice got quieter as I said it. Machelle’s attention had turned back to the phone.
She laughed. “It’s Michelle. She said to make sure we don’t get eaten by any lions.”
“Ha ha Funny.” I said, even though it wasn’t. I leaned back against the seat. It looked like Michelle would be interrupting our conversations even when she wasn’t here.
It looked like Michelle would be interrupting our conversations even when she wasn’t here.
The whole car ride went like that. By the time we arrived, I knew that Michelle was doing chores today, that she hated it, and that she couldn’t wait to talk to Mark Williams at school on Monday. I also learned she found a “super cute” hair clip to match her new purse and had gotten one for Machelle.
Things didn’t change at the Zoo either. When we saw the giraffes, I found out Michelle doesn’t like giraffes much because the tongues freak her out. When we saw the monkeys, I learned that Michelle likes the small monkeys but not gorillas. When we saw the elephants, I learned Michelle doesn’t like spaghetti, which didn’t have anything to do with anything. Between text messages, Machelle told me about Patrick, the boy at school who she thought was “super cute”. In my head, I compared him to a hair clip. Out loud I said, “I guess he’s cute but we’ve known him since second grade so what’s the big deal?”
Machelle put her arm around my shoulder. “You’ll understand someday. Maybe you’re just not mature enough yet.”
I scowled. Machelle was only two weeks older than me. How much more mature could she be?
Right before the bear enclosures Mom asked if we wanted ice cream. Machelle offered to help get it, and they walked toward a kiosk. Dad and I wandered ahead.
The polar bear’s enclosure came first. It held rocks and bushes on one side, and a giant swimming pool on the other. He looked majestic as he swam under the water. I stared at him even after Dad wandered toward the brown bears.
Being a bear must be nice. I leaned toward him. “At least you don’t have to worry about growing up and losing your friends.”
The bear paused his swim and looked right at me. “Everyone has to worry ‘bout that kid.” His voice boomed like you’d expect a from a giant bear.
For some reason, it didn’t seem weird to me that he spoke. “ You have friends?”
“Of course I do. I’m a bear, not a recluse.”
I laughed. “Well, it doesn’t look like you have friends. You live in a cage.”
“Shows what you know. Do you live in a house with all your friends?”
“Neither do I.”
I still wasn’t sure what the bear meant. I blinked at him while I tried to understand.
He sighed. “I suppose I’ll have to show you.” He climbed from the water and waved me over. “Come.”
“Uh…Are you going to eat me?”
He laughed. “A boney thing like you? Don’t be silly.”
I looked around. No one was watching. “Alright. I’ll come.”