The first time Bob saw the bear cub at the office was when he opened the bottom drawer of the file cabinet. The bear cub was lying on its back among the folds of a quilted blanket like an infant in a crib, looking up at him with cheerful brown eyes. The bear cub wiggled its meaty little paws at him.
“Whoa,” Bob said, quickly shutting the drawer.
Bob immediately forgot why he had opened the file cabinet. Was he getting something out or putting something in? He had no idea. By the time he walked back to his desk and sat down, he was beginning to talk himself out of the idea that a bear cub was occupying a bottom file drawer in the document storage room at his nondescript place of employment, which happened to be an insurance company specializing in fire and flood policies.
“Whatcha doin’ there, Bob?” Cindy asked from her desk next to Bob’s. She wrote the policies. Bob kept track of them. They’d been a work team for nearly a decade.
“I think I need to get a file,” Bob said.
“Okey-dokey, if you think so,” Cindy replied, her skilled fingers blurring over the computer keys.
Bob walked slowly back to document storage and stood before the file cabinet again. He studied the bottom drawer, which seemed to be moving in and out a fraction of an inch every few seconds, almost as if it were breathing. The drawer was labeled, “L – R.” Bob couldn’t think of a word for “bear cub” that started with L, M, N, O, P, Q, or R. Bob had always believed that things belonged in their appropriate places.
Bob sighed. “What the hell,” he whispered as he opened the drawer. Sure enough, the bear cub was still there, still wiggling its big bear cub toes and looking at him with what he could only interpret as affection. The bear cub was cute, no doubt, but Bob wasn’t ready to return its affection just yet. Bob knew that even cute things could be dangerous. Bob had seen many situations where being cute could be used as an excellent disguise.
Bob looked around the document storage room. He was alone with the bear cub. His twelve coworkers were in the main office only ten steps through the doorway. He couldn’t very well call out, “Hey, who left the bear cub in the file cabinet?” This wasn’t a moldy sandwich in the office mini-fridge.
Bob wasn’t angry about the bear cub. He wasn’t even quite afraid of the bear cub. The best word to describe the feelings the bear cub brought up in Bob was suspicion. He was suspicious of this bear cub. He questioned its bear cub purpose and its bear cub motives and even its bear cub existence. What right did this bear cub have to interrupt his workday? It was almost lunch, and he didn’t want to waste his lunch half-hour dealing with some random bear cub.
Bob got down on one knee suspiciously. Cautiously would also be an accurate term. This was a wild animal, after all. What if its mother happened to be in another drawer somewhere close by? Mama bears were most dangerous when someone got between them and their bear cub. Bob had read that on the internet.
The bear cub watched Bob’s kneeling approach. It seemed pleased to have company after being alone in the drawer for … for how long? Bob didn’t remember the last time he had opened this particular drawer, and he was the one who did most of the filing.
The bear cub gurgled deep in its little bear cub throat, almost as if it were trying to imitate a grown bear’s roar but didn’t know how yet. Bob had to admit that the attempted roar was the cutest thing the bear cub had done so far, but he still wasn’t ready to give the bear cub the benefit of the doubt.
“Hey, Cindy?” Bob called out, just loud enough for Cindy but not the rest of the office drones to hear. “You got a second? Something to show you back here.”
The small but insistent sound of Cindy’s fingers striking the keys stopped. “Coming,” she called out. Cindy’s heels clicked on the tile floor, and the alert little bear cub craned its neck a bit to look around Bob for the source of the sound.
Bob could see Cindy’s shadow move across the floor and touch the bear cub. She put a hand on Bob’s shoulder.
“Oh,” she said. “You found Little Honey!”
“Little Honey?” Bob asked.
“Yeah,” Cindy said. “That’s what I call him.”
Bob craned his neck to look up at Cindy. The overhead light haloed her face. Her husband was some kind of a teacher who often stopped in just to give her a random rose and a quick kiss. She was pretty, Bob knew, in a grown-up girl-next-door-at-the-next-desk kind of way. But at that moment, backlit by humming fluorescents, she looked like a literal angel right out of an art book that featured nothing but angels. Or maybe a television show about angels Bob had once seen as a child. The point is, she was glowing.
“Seriously?” Bob asked. “Little Honey Bear?”
“It’s a good name for him, don’t you think?” Cindy said, her words floating down to Bob as if from heaven.
Bob looked back at the bear cub. Little after-images from Cindy’s angel light danced around the bear cub in Bob’s field of vision. He had to admit that Little Honey Bear was a good name for the furry creature in the file drawer.
Bob started to stand, not the easiest maneuver considering his bad knee. Cindy grasped his arm and helped him up. Her grip was stronger than he would have expected. Once he was upright, Cindy kept her hand wrapped around his arm. Bob found her grip reassuring.
“How long has he been here?” Bob asked.
“Not long,” Cindy replied. “A few years.”
“A few years?” Bob marveled. “I file things here ten times a day. How have I missed seeing him?”
“Well,” Cindy explained, “he moves from drawer to drawer now and then. And not everyone can see Little Honey right away. Sometimes it takes a few tries.”
The two of them looked down at Little Honey like parents watching their first-born child.
“Who else knows about him?” Bob asked.
“Janice in HR. Phil the janitor. And LaDonna in marketing,” Cindy said. “You now Arthur from the bank? Comes for planning sessions every few months? It took him a few tries, just like you. He can be really serious sometimes, but Little Honey got him to open up a bit, relax, be himself.”
“Really?” Bob asked. “Arthur from the bank can see a bear cub in our file drawer? He seems so … sensible.”
“Yep. Last month, he stopped in just to see Little Honey with his wife and daughter,” Cindy said. “They could all see him. A family thing.”
“Arthur from the bank …” Bob repeated, mystified.
Cindy continued: “And, of course, my husband Ted can see him. Saw him the very first time I showed him. Bob even calls me his ‘little honey bear’ sometimes.”
Cindy blushed slightly. Bob stared at her.
“Here’s one that will tickle you,” Cindy mused. “My sister has a little cute little dog named Ruby. A Border Terrier. Great breed. She visited with Ruby one day last month, and that little dog went right for the file cabinet and scratched until we opened the drawer. She and Little Honey took to each other like they’d been family forever. Ruby sniffed and nuzzled and practically jumped into the drawer with that bear cub. Then she looked at us as proud as can be, like she was showing off her own big, hairy puppy. Damnedest thing I ever saw.”
“I just don’t know what to think of all of this,” Bob said.
“That’s how I felt at first, too. But now you can see Little Honey,” Cindy said. “which makes me happy.”
“Some people can’t see him?” Bob asked.
“Funny thing,” Cindy replied. “The smokers can’t see him. Dennis in IT. Eric the UPS guy. Rhonda from billing saw him the day after she quit and put on that big nicotine patch. Hasn’t taken a puff since she saw Little Honey that day.”
Bob found the information about smokers as baffling as the basic fact that Little Honey was there. But he was secretly pleased to know that the bear cub hid himself that way. Bob’s parents had died from smoking, and his last serious relationship before meeting his wife ended in large part because the woman had smoked and hid it from her children. If Bob really stopped to consider it, he might even say that his dislike of smoking was part of the reason he got into the insurance business—although he’d probably have a hard time explaining how.
“Why is Little Honey here?” Bob asked, now that he was coming to grips with the fact that Little Honey was really there and not the product of more imagination than he thought he possessed.
“No one really knows for sure, but I have a theory,” Cindy said. “I think he’s here to make us feel better about the world. It’s tough sometimes, what with work and getting old and dying and crazy people running the country. But Little Honey can take us away from that for a few moments each day. That’s his gift to us.”
Bob shook his head. He was just as amazed by what Cindy was saying as he was by the idea that there was a bear cub named Little Honey in the bottom file drawer.
The two coworkers watched the bear cub for a while, and then Cindy said, “Wait here a second.” She released her friendly grip on his arm and went to a cupboard on the far wall. From her tiptoes, she reached into the back corner of an upper shelf. She found a zip-lock bag and extracted something that looked like a doggie biscuit. As she put the biscuit in Bob’s hand and closed his fingers around it, Little Honey watched the exchange with intense interest.
“If Little Honey lets you give him a treat, he’ll be your friend,” Cindy said to Bob. Then her voice lowered to a whisper. “But if he bites you, you’ll never see him again and forget you ever knew about him in the first place.”
“Does he bite many people?” Bob asked.
“Remember that guy, Dave? He came with Arthur from the bank that one time?” Cindy asked.
“Vaguely,” Bob replied. “Kind of a jerk.”
“Now you know why he never came back,” Cindy said.
“Oh,” Bob said.
The bear cub’s eyes moved from Bob’s treat-holding hand to his face and back again. Bob drew in a deep breath and held it as he let the treat slip from his palm to a loose grip between his thumb and fingertip. Little Honey’s deep, dark eyes widened. Did he want to eat the treat? Or did he want to eat Bob’s arm? Bob had no way to know for sure.
Bob, (Robert James Mann, Jr.)—age fifty-one, married for twenty years, two teenaged kids, homeowner, the beginning of a bald spot, mows his own lawn, drives a six-year-old Honda Civic, B.S. in Business with a minor in Accounting and twelve credits toward an MBA he’ll never finish—had never been a man prone to fantasy. He filed documents by day and spent quiet evenings with his family. He slept soundly and usually didn’t remember his dreams. On weekends, he enjoyed quiet drives with his wife or going to the kids’ sports events where he cheered earnestly at half volume.
Bob wasn’t the kind of guy who took risks. But he slowly lowered the treat toward Little Honey, bending slightly at the waist, smiling, and cooing, “niiiiice bear, gooood bear,” ready for whatever might happen next.
Bio: John Sheirer (pronounced “shy-er”) lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with his wonderful wife Betsy and happy dog Libby. He has taught writing and communications for 27 years at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, Connecticut, where he also serves as editor and faculty advisor for Freshwater Literary Journal (submissions welcome). He writes a monthly column on current events for his hometown newspaper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, and his books include memoir, fiction, poetry, essays, political satire, and photography. His most recent books are a flash fiction collection, Too Wild, and a novella thriller, Uncorrected.
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