The Leaving of the Bear

If you have time to read something over a cup of coffee or lunch one day, here is a short story of 2,000 words that you might enjoy. It is called "The Leaving of the Bear" and is about the separation of a family, in particular, a grandfather and his granddaughter, There is also an environmental message thrown in as well for good measure. To get maximum effect from the story, have "Romance of the Telescope" by OMD ready to play on your music streaming service when you get to the end. This will make sense when you read the story. Hope you enjoy it

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Anthony Carr stood inside the front door of his house in Greystones, Co Wicklow watching his daughter Jennifer, his son in law Tom and their daughter Melanie coming towards him. It was a beautiful April morning with an almost cloudless blue sky. The temperature was warm enough to dispense with coats for the first time that year so Melanie’s pink princess dress was clearly visible as she skipped up the driveway with her favourite teddy, Elizabeth, in her hand.

Jennifer was the youngest by eight years of his three children and the only girl. Everyone knew that she was the proverbial apple of his eye. As his two boys had grown up by the time Jennifer had turned nine, Anthony and she had formed a close bond. Encouraged by Anthony, she had embraced some traditional male dominated activities with enthusiasm. Anthony displayed her fly-fishing trophies in his living room with pride.

“Hi Dad,” said Jennifer and Tom as they reached the polystyrene decontamination unit and ushered Melanie into it.

Melanie pulled down her face mask. “Hi Granddad”. Jennifer immediately admonished her to pull her mask back up.

“Hello guys,” he said warmly. He pressed the button releasing the chemicals that would eradicate any pathogens and toxins from them before they entered the house. He grimaced as a yellow tinged mist descended upon them. When the light on the unit turned green, he opened the door and finally was able to hug them. This took a little longer than usual as he paused to breathe deeply. The now familiar smell of Jennifer’s favourite detergent made him smile as it assaulted his nose. He never had gotten around to telling her that the ‘Alpine Rose’ detergent smelled anything but like an Alpine rose.

“Come on let’s go in to see Sheila,” he said.

The four of them went into Sheila’s downstairs bedroom which had previously been used as Anthony’s study. The staff of the nursing home where she had lived for the previous two years had been evacuated so Sheila had been sent home. When he collected Sheila, Anthony had thanked the staff for everything they had done for his wife since she had been admitted in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. Like all medical staff, their evacuation had been scheduled as late as possible, the same as the patients they were taking with them. Because Jennifer was a heart surgeon, her family had also been scheduled to leave last.

Jennifer and Tom walked over to Sheila and kissed her, and Melanie came over to do the same. Melanie had always been very fond of her granny, her chocolate biscuit cake was by far her favourite treat, and she gave her a long hug and a kiss.

Anthony had dressed Sheila and did her hair as best he could. He had decided after one now legendary attempt at applying make-up in the nursing home, to leave her face in its natural state. Sheila looked around in a panic, but when she saw Anthony she relaxed.

“Mum still recognises you,” said Jennifer.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” said Anthony. “I think that she likes familiar surroundings. If she sees anything she recognises, I think it helps. It’s not just my pretty face!” Anthony laughed at his own joke. “Let’s get onto the family photograph.”

Anthony was a keen amateur photographer. He had an excellent time delay system on his camera, so he slowly arranged a family shot without having to run to avoid being caught out of position. When Anthony was satisfied with the fifth attempt, he printed one copy, took the memory chip out and gave it to Jennifer.

“Pity you can’t take my camera equipment with you,” he said.

“I know,” said Jennifer. “There is so much stuff we had to leave behind already. The baggage limitations per family are strictly enforced, so there is no point trying to bring an excess.”

Anthony went into the kitchen and made coffee for the adults and hot chocolate for Melanie. He brought the cups into Sheila’s room and, as soon as he sat down, Melanie clamoured into his lap. “Granddad, can you tell me a story?”

“Of course I can Princess Melanie. What one would you like to hear?”

Melanie thought for a moment. “The stormy night, please.”

Anthony smiled broadly. “Your wish is my command, your highness. It was a stormy night with strong winds and lashing rain. The roof tiles were jumping up and down making a lot of noise. The trees were swaying and creaking. Your granny was at an astrophysics conference so it was just your mother and me in the house on our own. Jennifer would have been about your age. Early in the morning, my bedroom door slammed open and Jennifer launched herself plus her favourite bear on top of me. ‘I’m scared’ she screamed and started to cry. She could not be persuaded to go back to her own bed. I went down to make a hot lemon drink which we drank while we chatted for a while. She explained to me in detail that it was very difficult managing three boyfriends in her class, which I agreed with her must have been difficult. Eventually, Jennifer fell asleep. As a dad, you never know when your child will decide that they are old enough to sleep on her own. I slowly snuggled down beside her and lay there without moving for two hours with her back pressed into my side just listening to her breathing. When she finally woke up, she asked me why she was in my bed, hugged me and demanded bacon and pancakes for breakfast, my speciality.”

The story abruptly halted when there was a ding on Jennifer’s mobile phone signalling the arrival of the bus outside the house. Their transport had been arranged to leave from his house. The shuttles to the waiting evacuation ships were departing in two hours from Dublin Airport.

Melanie started to cry. “I love you Granddad, and you’re going to miss me so much!”” She placed her small hands onto his face. “You won’t know where we are.”

Anthony smiled fondly at the innocence of his granddaughter. “Of course, I will. Look at the ceiling.”

Melanie looked up. “Wow. What is it?”

“It’s a chart of the Milky Way. The blue circle is our solar system, where Earth is. The red circle is where you are going, a planet named Evac 24. The line between them is the route you will take. Every day, I will mark how far you have gone so I will know exactly where you are.”

Melanie brightened up. “I’m so glad, Granddad, I don’t want you to be too sad.”

Jennifer hugged Sheila for the last time and whispered her final goodbyes to her mother. She then took her father’s hand as they left the study together and walked to the front door. “Are you sure that you won’t change your mind and come with us?” said Jennifer. “There is still space for late deciders. Many people in your position have chosen to go, you know.”

“No, Jennifer, it wouldn’t be fair on Sheila,” said Anthony. “I know she doesn’t really know where she is, but that doesn’t make any difference. I want to stay here with her.”

“I understand,” said Jennifer. “I’m probably being selfish. I just don’t want to lose you too.”

Anthony stopped and took his daughter’s hands in his. “You don’t have a selfish bone in your body. I am the one being selfish by staying. As well as not wanting to upset Sheila, I just don’t see the point in carving out a new life for myself and Sheila on board the evacuation ship. I am just too old to do it.”

“Jennifer,” said Tom. “We need to get on the bus now.”

Jennifer started crying and clung tightly to her father. After a few moments, Anthony gently unwrapped her arms. They pulled up their face masks and then Tom and Anthony took one of Jennifer’s hands in theirs. Anthony held Melanie’s hand. They walked four abreast to the bus.

Before Melanie got onto the bus, she held out her teddy. “Granddad, Elizabeth will keep you safe.”

Anthony barely maintained his composure. “Thank you, Melanie. I will look after Elizabeth for you.”

Anthony clutched the teddy to his chest as hugged and kissed them all. He moved back a few paces as the bus door closed. He waved enthusiastically and was rewarded with wild waving from Melanie as the bus pulled away. He strolled into his house with tears streaming down his face, inhaling the familiar smell from the bear. It was very difficult to watch the last of his family leaving for an uncertain future far away from Earth. He’d already watched his two sons and their families leave. It would have been easier if he knew for sure that the evacuation ships would reach their assigned destinations safely.

He looked in on Sheila and saw she was asleep. He went into the kitchen and turned on the radio. There was only one station left functioning: Evacuation FM on RTE. Anthony had always thought that someone could have come up with a better name than that. He liked ‘New Beginnings FM’ and had emailed RTE with that suggestion but received no response. He listened to the music. He was almost asleep when a song was interrupted by a recorded announcement.

‘The last evacuees have departed from Dublin Airport. Thank you to everyone who has listened to us during the evacuation. To those who remain behind and especially to those who had no choice, we wish you the best of luck. Music will continue to be played, so please leave your radios tuned into this station.’

Anthony took a beer from the fridge. His thoughts turned to the detention facilities. People who had been refused evacuation permits and had tried to board a shuttle anyway were held there. As any remaining guards had boarded the last shuttles, he assumed that the centres were descending into chaos.

He brought his beer and Melanie’s teddy into his garden. He reckoned that the shuttles would have transferred their passengers to the evacuation ships by now. He breathed in deeply. It was the first time he had done so in the open, without the hated face masks, since the pollution levels had gone into the red zone worldwide. Shortly after, he saw flashes in the sky as the evacuation ships triggered nuclear detonations. These would build up the required velocity to bring the ships to their designated planets. Extensive research had been carried out to select planets that would be capable of sustaining life. It was still a calculated risk.

“Bye, Princess Melanie,” he said, waving the bear somewhat foolishly in the air. He started crying again. Anthony started tearing away the plastic sealing strips from the windows before he re-entered the house and opened them. He collected his phone and portable speakers and brought them into the study to connect them through Bluetooth. He had pre-selected the music he wanted to listen as the contaminated air began to circulate into his house.

His choice for the first song was easy. Anthony was a fan of 80’s music. His first date with Sheila was OMD in concert at the National Stadium on the South Circular Road in Dublin. The closing song from the gig was called ‘The Romance of the Telescope’, which was very apt since they were studying Physics with Astronomy and Space Science in UCD. It had become their song.

Anthony pressed play. He lay down beside Sheila, placed Elizabeth Bear between them and put both his arms around her. He listened as the choral melody of the song started and, despite the circumstances, he smiled at the happy memories that it brought back to him. This was where he wanted to be. After a few minutes, he closed his eyes.


The End

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My Blog Posts

The Leaving of the Bear

If you have time to read something over a cup of coffee or lunch one day, here is a short story of 2,000 words that you might enjoy. It is called "The Leaving of the Bear" and is about the separation of a family, in particular, a grandfather and his granddaughter, There is also an environmental message thrown in as well for good measure. To get maximum effect from the story, have "Romance of the Telescope" by OMD ready to play on your music streaming service when you get to the end. This will make sense when you read the story. Hope you enjoy it

If you have time to read something over a cup of coffee or lunch one day, here is a short story of 2,000 words that you might enjoy. It is called "The Leaving of the Bear" and ...

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Reviewed for Galway Daily by Briain Kelly, February 22, 2021

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Having written the second book in the series first, I don't have the pressure of writing a second one! The second book is provisionally entitled "Creation Revelation" and is set ...