by Mary E. Lowd
A Deep Sky Anchor Original
The bear’s paws were covered with honey. It dripped from her claws in sticky, amber droplets. It clumped her thick brown fur together between her paw pads. Everything she touched, her paw came away leaving a ghostly paw print behind, a gleaming sheen of sugar where it had been. She could touch nothing without giving herself away.
“Where are you?” the bear’s sister cried.
Sandra and Samantha had been playing together, until Sandra found their mother’s hidden jar of honey. Now Hide & Seek had become simply “Hide… and hope no one catches her before she finishes eating all the honey.”
Sandra had finished eating the honey. The jar lay discarded on the floor, rolling a little on its side. But the evidence. The evidence clung to her paws, and Sandra could shake, scrape, or smear it off. Though, she’d tried, and left rainbows of shiny sugar smears all around the kitchen.
It was all her mother’s fault. Mother should have known better than to hid the sugar so poorly. Behind the boxes of cereal in the cereal cupboard? Really? Even little Samantha could reach that cupboard. So, it was hardly Sandra’s fault if she’d found the hidden stash, and once you find a hidden stash of honey, you simply must eat it. No other option. None at all.
Sandra snaked her long tongue around her muzzle again, trying to lick off the last vestiges of sugar there. She’d already tried licking the honey off her paws, but it was just too soaked in. Soaked in sugar down to the skin.
Sandra felt like a honey baked ham, ready to be roasted and basted in brown sugar.
Oh goodness, Sandra would love to roll around in brown sugar sauce like the holiday hams her parents cooked. Though, she didn’t think she’d so much enjoy getting shoved in the oven, carved into slices, or eaten up beside piles of mashed potatoes afterward.
Just the rolling in sugar part.
She’d never eaten this much honey at once before. Mother always doled it out in small amounts. A little dollop on toast. A few drips in the mint tea. Never mouthfuls. Never a whole jar. Sandra’s giggles erupted into full blown belly laughs, as she rolled on the floor beside the empty jar of honey.
Sandra was the jar of honey now, because all the honey was inside her.
Did that make the empty jar Sandra? Had they switched places?
Sandra’s laughter quakes quelled down to aftershocks as a shadow stretched out over her. Samantha had found her. “This isn’t a very good hiding place,” the little sister bear said, paws firmly planted on her hips. If she hadn’t been so short and cute, it might have looked intimidating. Instead, it was just funny, and Sandra started up her giggling again.
Samantha rushed off, and when she came back, this time, she had their mother in tow. A much bigger bear who cast a much bigger shadow. Perhaps, this time, Sandra should have been intimidated. She knew she wasn’t supposed to have eaten that much honey. But the laughter just kept bubbling up inside her, as if the honey was being converted directly into laughter inside her belly.
Perhaps that’s what sugar really is — hilarity in vaguely nutritious form.
“Oh dear,” mother bear said. “You’re giddy.”
“She’s eaten all the honey!” Samantha exclaimed, nearly squeaking in outrage. Though, it wasn’t clear if she was outraged that Sandra had broken the rules and behaved badly… or if she was just outraged that she hadn’t been included.
A little bit of honey probably would have gone a long way in mollifying Sandra’s outraged little sister. Ah well. Sandra didn’t need a little sister. She had a belly full of honey! And she felt like she could do anything!
“Let’s get you outside,” mother bear said, gently placing around Sandra’s shoulders and coaxing her up from the floor.
“Sticky…” Sandra complained, managing to force the word out between fits of laughter.
“Yes, you certainly are,” mother bear agreed.
“So sticky!” Samantha agreed. Although she hadn’t touched Sandra’s sticky paws, so what did she know about it? “Too sticky!” Really, she just liked the chance to be included in admonishing her older sister.
Mother bear lifted Sandra up onto the kitchen counter and washed her little paws under the tap, complete with a horrible green gooey soap. Sandra would never touch that stuff is she could avoid it. It was like the most evil opposite of honey. Instead of tasty and golden, it was horrendous and sickly green.
“Ugh,” Sandra complained. “I liked it better when they were covered with honey.” The horrid soap had quenched her giggles, like throwing a pot full of water on the remnants of a campfire. All the was left was hisses and smoke. The sad remains of what had been a glorious, burning fire of joy and laughter.
Though the aftereffects of the sugar were clearly far from gone. Sandra could feel a twitchiness in her arms and legs, like the sugar had worked its way into them, and she needed to run, climb, crawl, zoom, and generally just move and move and move until she fell down dizzy.
That’s probably why mother bear shepherded her outside. Samantha followed, chasing along, trying to pretend as if she had sugar running through her veins as well. She didn’t. All she had was envy of her older sister and an absolute determination to keep up, to not be left out, not again.
So, once they got outside, Sandra ran circles around all the nearby trees. She climbed over decorative rock walls in the neighbor’s garden that she’d been told — in no uncertain terms — to leave alone and not climb upon. And then she scrambled her way down to the nearby creek bed and hopped from one rock to the next, trying not to get her hind paws too wet. Samantha was less good at climbing; and she wasn’t enervated by unnatural amounts of sugar, so she ran fewer circles around the trees, followed along beside the decorative rock walls complaining, “Hey! You’re not supposed to climb those!” and chased along the bank of the creek, not quite daring to cross over the rushing waters to the big rocks that Sandra kept hopping on.
By the end of the hour — or however much time had passed; bear cubs aren’t very good at keeping time — Samantha was totally exhausted, and Sandra was still buzzing from the sugar in her belly, as if the honey had turned back to bees inside her, and all of them kept stinging her over and over again, insisting that she keep moving, keep climbing, keep rock-hopping, and keep giggling at every stray thought that passed through her head.
It was exhausting. Fun, exhilarating, the best thing that had ever happened to her during her short bear cub life so far… but…
Mother bear, with a tired little sister bear riding on her shoulders, found Sandra at the edge of the creek, staring at her own reflection, eyes as glassy as the clear surface of the water.
“Well, you look beat, little one,” mother bear said.
“Beat,” Sandra agree. Saying the single word felt like a huge effort. The honey was long gone from her tongue, but it felt heavy and sticky anyway. Even moving her tongue felt too hard now that she’d run all of her sugar rush off.
“Sugar crashing is no fun, is it?” mother bear asked in a leading tone, as if she thought there was any chance Sandra might learn a positive lesson from this experience.
Sandra hadn’t. She wouldn’t. She would absolutely, definitely, definitively refuse to learn a positive lesson. The honey had tasted good on her tongue, had bubbled up as joy and laughter inside her belly, and had filled her limbs with restless energy. She’d had more fun this afternoon, filled to the brim with honey, than she’d had during whole weeks of her life lived on a scrimping, measly, reasonable amount of sugar per day.
“No,” Sandra insisted. “It’s fun. It’s all fun. Everything about eating honey is fun.” It was a lot of words for a little bear who felt like her arms, legs, neck, and yes, tongue had all fallen asleep. But she would stand by those words any day.
“I see,” mother bear said.
“I want a jar of honey,” Samantha complained. It seemed fair. Only reasonable — if one sister ate a whole jar of honey and ran around like a maniac until she slumped over in a grumpy funk by the side of a creek, then certainly the other sister was owed an equal amount of honey. It could hardly be fair for only one sister to get such a valuable learning opportunity that she planned to completely refuse to learn from.
Mother bear sighed. Some lessons can’t be learned by being told. Some lessons can’t even be learned from experience. Some lessons… just can’t be learned. Because unfortunately, having a bear cub hopped up on ungodly amounts of sugar is far harder on her mother than on the bear cub herself.
Mother bear scooped Sandra up in her paws and trudged back home with two tired bear cubs draped over her, thinking all the way back about a better place to hide the honey.