Molly sat in the train across from a great brown bear. He had a monocle in one eye, which he squinted through to examine a pocket watch perched cautiously in his claws. A blue jacket stretched too thin fit snuggly across his torso.
He snuffled to himself, twisting the gears in his watch and listening intently to the distant tick tick tick. Molly sighed softly and looked out the window.
She had a very long ride ahead of her. She was traveling across country to visit her sister and family in the big house (the big house, as the kids called it, and as it grew to be called by everyone else). It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go. She just wasn’t looking forward to it.
Molly was a young woman who felt very old, and knew how utterly sad that was. She was mousy in looks, and cripplingly shy. She worked at a used book store owned by a very fanatic woman who had once been a nun, or so she had often explained. Molly didn’t even deal with customers. She just catalogued the books and did the accounting. She had watched a lot of people come and go, but she had always stayed.
Now she was visiting her sister who might have been mousy but whose happy life was too bustling to let anyone sit on a back burner. Her husband would be there, the unbearably sweet and handsome one who left Molly feeling dumb, and the kids that left her feeling breathless. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go–she just wasn’t looking forward to it.
Not boring–Molly had thought about it, and she didn’t feel boring. She just felt blah. Blah blah blah.
The train shrieked and heaved itself into motion. The car rattled and rocked around them; the bear grumbled, snorting in exasperation as he was forced to stop with his tinkering. He looked up, squinting at Molly through his monocle.
“Beastly, these train rides,” his rough voice echoed. “I never liked them.”
Molly stared, only giving a quick nod. She never knew quite what to say when spoken to.
“I was a trainer with a circus, you see,” the bear continued, as if she had asked. “Rode the train constantly with them. I taught the bears there. I wasn’t a circus bear, oh no, those louts. I come from a long line of royalty–we danced in the Romanov’s court. We know something about entertainment. But those bumbling circus fools? Impossible.”
Molly shifted uncomfortably, wondering if his stop was closer than her own. The train fell into a steady pattern of clacks and sways, and the bear grew comfortable enough with the rhythm to turn back to his watch.
“That circus, what a joke, and they knew it too. That’s why they asked me to come and help–I’m quite famous. Hearty royal blood.”
He didn’t seem to care if Molly was listening; rather, he spoke as if he expected she would. “Those bears! They were such slow learners. Impossible to teach them anything. Took them days to digest any piece of information. And that ring master, huh, like he was somebody, had the nerve to yell at me because we were on a schedule. Can’t teach a dumb animal, that’s what I told him.
“But wouldn’t you know it, one night I caught them ordering takeout online, pigs, and I knew if they could use a computer device, or whatever those contraptions are called, they could easily be doing what I was trying to show them. It was as if they were testing me, as if they had something to teach me by being so slow. Maybe I’ve been going fast, or not fast enough.”
The bear grinned. “Well, doesn’t matter now. I’m a retired man, and I build these watches. Fix them up, make them work again. Now I make time, and keep it, controllable, in the palm of my hand.” He winked, obviously pleased with himself, but Molly said nothing, only managing the smallest of smiles.
“You don’t say very much, do you girl?” He snapped the watch shut, mumbling something about a “quiet little thing,” and placed it in his breast pocket.
He stood, hulking in the train car, struggling to open the door. Molly slunk deep into her seat, trying to escape a brush with his fur or a snag on his coat. “There must be food on this ride,” he grumbled. “Can’t expect to starve a man now can they?”
The door at last gave way, and sniffing hungrily at the air, he staggered out into the hallway, barely fitting.
Molly squeezed her hands in her lap. What a very strange bear, she thought.
Read next month for the continuation of The Unordinary, Never Extraordinary.