There was a girl, and she had six bears.  She was a very little, and very odd girl.  Her mother and father never quite knew what to do with her, because she called them “mother” and “father” in the same way she’d address royalty from a foreign country whose titles she didn’t understand very well.  She talked to other children the same way; trying to be friendly, and trying to fit in, but never quite understanding what it was she was supposed to be doing.

Needless to say, she didn’t have many friends.  She had six, to be precise, and they were her bears.  She’d gotten one a year, every year, on her birthday.  She talked to them, and asked them questions about things she didn’t understand, and they talked back (but only to her, when no one else was around) and told her what they thought about what she asked.  So she always had six answers, and she could figure out what she thought was right, and what was silly.

On her seventh birthday, two terrible things happened.  Neither one was supposed to be terrible, but they both were, because they couldn’t have been anything else.  She wanted very badly to blame her mother and father for them, but couldn’t quite manage it.  They hadn’t done either one meaning it to be terrible, only through a great misunderstanding that couldn’t quite be explained.

The first terrible thing started like this: her mother cut the cake, and she ate a piece, neatly.  Her father and mother both sang the birthday song to her (after the cake, but she supposed there was some leeway in how these things should go), and then she opened presents.  There were books, and a calculator, and a wooden pony that rocked back and forth.  Mother and Father could never quite decide what age they thought she was, so presents had a tendency to orbit around her chronological age in a three to five year span.  This suited the girl just fine, because she didn’t put much stock in ages.  They led to people treating her as though she were silly or stupid, which didn’t make any sense.

But every year, she could rely on a bear.  She was looking very forward to this year’s bear – she had Monday Bear, and Bear Tuesday, and Thursbear, and The Friday of Bears, and Significantly Saturday, and Son of Bear.  She was only missing one, and she knew (as the child places in every mind knows, with a certainty that is more sure than gravity itself) that she was missing one.  She only needed one, and now she would have all the bears she ever needed.

So, of course, the first terrible thing was that there was no bear.  She couldn’t even rummage through the wrapping paper to see if she had missed it somewhere.  All the wrapping paper was folded neatly and put in a trash bag as the presents were opened.  There was no bear.

“You’re a bit old for bears, don’t you think, darling?” Mother said, too brightly. “And, well, we know you talk to them when you’re supposed to be in bed.  So it’s for the best that you don’t have any more, you see.  It’s time to move past bears, dear.”

And the girl nodded, and very quietly set about not crying.  This is not at all the same as when she didn’t want to cry.  Now it was work not crying, and trying not to think about crying.  Crying wouldn’t make there be a bear, and even if it did, it would be the wrong bear.  She knew it.

The second terrible thing was an accident, and it wasn’t supposed to happen like it did, or when it did.  It was supposed to happen, just in an entirely different (and, theoretically, much less terrible) way.  Father and mother got into a fight.  They fought pretty often, and it had gotten worse.  They used to be loud fights, with yelling and doors slamming and all sorts of noise.  Now they were quiet fights, and the quiet fights were worse.  The silence could fill up the whole house and make everything quiet, in a dreadful way that was the sound of people waiting for a terrible thing to happen.

There was a quiet fight, after dinner.  The silence poured into all the rooms and pushed out all the air, so everyone felt like they would suffocate, even the bears.  The silence filled up everything, and didn’t leave any space.  Then, when there was no space left for anything, the sound of the front door closing clicked to itself out on the front lawn, where it had space to click in.  The girl heard it, through her window, and saw her father get in his car and leave.

Then the silence was embarrassed by what it had done, and pulled back a very little, as much as it could when it was all stuck in the house and was too big to get out.  It left just enough space for the sound of her mother crying, quietly, in the front room.  It was a very little sound, huddled in the tiny space the embarrassed silence had made for it.

 

Now, let the years roll over the terrible things, and make them fuzzy and less painful.  Let them be memories, with much less power left to them.  Let the silence leak out of the house, and be replaced with voices that are too bright and brittle, trying to talk to each other in the same language that isn’t the same at all, really.

Seven years, all of them full of minutes and seconds and hours and things, with time in them for the girl to grow up, but no less odd.  Years where she learns not to let her mother know she still talks to her bears, and listens to what they tell her.  Years where she still has only the same six friends, but learns to pretend there are more.  Years where every year, the orbit of age that her father and mother think she is gets bigger and bigger.

 

So, now that the years have worn away at the terrible things, there is another birthday.  She knows her father is not invited to this one, after how he was drunk and angry when he showed up to the last one.  She knows her mother is punishing her father, but does not really understand why, or care.  So he has sent presents, by mail.  Each one of them has a card, with a little sentiment in it, trying to show her love at a distance, when she never understood it in person.

There is a bear.  It is the right bear – the one that should have been there years ago, but got lost on its way to her.  It’s had a rough seven years.  It is gray with washing, and missing one eye, and the fur is all worn down until it is smooth and soft like velvet.  But it is here now, and has found its way to her.  It looks like it’s winking at her all the time, and perhaps it is.  The card with it says “I know you love bears, pumpkin.  I hope this one will do; it’s got a lot of history and love in it already.  I hope you’ll love it too.  Love, Dad.”  He’s always called himself dad to her.  “Your dad,” he’d say, or “her dad,” and mean himself.

The bear doesn’t talk during the party, of course.  It doesn’t talk at all until she takes it up to her room, and sets it down by the other bears.  They are all shinier than it is, better cared for and less worn.  They don’t smell, vaguely, of dog.  The other bears don’t say anything about the new bear.  They’re putting off their own sort of quiet.  It’s a waiting, watching, nervous and hand-wringing kind of quiet, as though they’ve afraid they’ve been slacking off and the teacher just walked in and asked to see their work.

“Hello, creature,” said the bear, in a gruff and growly bear voice.  “We’ve been waiting a long time to meet, haven’t we?”

“Yes,” the girl says, quiet and wondering.

“You are called Wednesday by the people who made you, so I will do the same.  It’s a strange sort of name for a creature like you, but it fits.  I am a Wednesday too, as you know – so you may call me Mr. Wednesday, to tell the difference.  Very pleased to make your acquaintance.”  He is smiling, and she can hear it.  It’s a charmer’s smile, a snake’s smile, and one she at once immediately trusts and would not believe for an instant.

“Hello, Mr. Wednesday.  How do you do?”  This seems like a good start, for a new bear who is not new at all.

“I do very well, Wednesday child.  Now, let’s see what we shall do about this fine mess you’re in, hmmm?”  And he seemed to wink at her, still, and she leaned very close to hear his voice, which had gotten very soft and gruff indeed.

Mr. Wednesday bear whispered all sorts of things to her that first night, some of them very silly and some of them seeming very smart.  And the other bears didn’t say a thing, all night long.  A very long night it was, and the sun overslept and left the dawn for what felt like very late indeed.

Mr. Wednesday rode to school in her backpack that day, so she could listen to him whisper.  He did just like he promised, and told her things all day long, even when other people were around, so long as she didn’t say anything back to him.  She learned a very big lot that day, and wasn’t sure if she liked it or not.

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