Goldilocks and the Bear
by Theodora Goss
They met when they were children.
She was a thief,
yellow-haired, small for her age,
only twelve years old, already hardened
by poverty, already a noted pickpocket,
stealing into the bears’ house.
He was a rube, a rustic,
or so she said then. A mark
is what she called him —
to his face, no less.
He was the one who found her in his bedroom,
trying to climb out the window,
and hid her in his closet
while his father raged:
who had stolen the carved wooden box
filled with gold coins, the profits
of their honey business?
He would not let her keep the coins.
He was not that much of a rube.
But while his father was talking to the constable,
a comical fellow straight out of Shakespeare,
he returned the box, saying he had found it
by the kitchen door, where the thief must have dropped it
on his way out. They should look in the forest —
he could be a mile away by now.
That night, he told her the coast was clear
and let her out the window.
At the last moment, before she made her escape,
she kissed him on the cheek
and laughed. That’s the way she was
back then, fearless.
He got on with his life,
finishing school, then going into the business,
learning how to care for the bees,
how to keep them healthy,
taking extension classes on bee diseases:
mites and spores that endanger bees directly,
hive beetles that infect their homes,
wax moths that feed on honeycombs,
damaging the larvae.
He learned what to plant in the fields,
how to prune the trees in the orchard:
to produce lavender honey, and clover,
He learned how to mold the wax sculptures
sold in the gift shop.
His mother was particularly good at those.
Meanwhile, she worked with a gang
of child thieves out of a Dickens novel:
ragged clothes, solidarity pacts,
the possibility of incarceration.
She ended up in jail once, was broken out,
continued to steal until she was fifteen
and their leader suggested prostitution.
It was, he said, an honorable profession,
as old as thieving. And she such a pretty girl,
with that yellow hair: she was sure to do well.
He would, of course, take a small percentage.
The suggestion was punctuated
by his fist on the table, and a grin
she did not like the look of.
That night she climbed up to the bear’s window —
she had not forgotten the location —
and knocked on the pane.
“Help me,” she said when he opened it.
“I need help, and you’re the only one
who’s helped me before.”
He listened patiently, then angrily:
three years’ worth of exploits
and exploitation. She showed him her wrist
where the gang leader had once broken it.
She was still small and pale from malnutrition.
They dyed her hair brown with walnuts.
He got her a job in the honey business,
first in the gift shop, then because she showed interest,
taking care of the bees.
She had never seen anything so fascinating:
like a city of soft, furry bodies
moving in a mass, then in individual flight,
seemingly wild, erratic, but purposeful.
She loved to watch them among the lavender,
the dusting of yellow pollen on their fur.
There was something purely joyful about them,
and they were always making, making —
thieves, like her, taking the nectar,
but making wax catacombs, the golden honey
more precious, she thought, than coins.
He showed her how to work among the bees,
wearing thick cotton and a hat veiled with musin,
which he did not need, protected by his pelt.
Eventually, he asked her to dinner
with his parents.
His mother said she was charming.
His father had a serious talk
with him: you can’t trust humans, he said.
They’re not like bears. Think of that thief, long ago,
who tried to take our gold.
They don’t even sleep in winter,
which is unnatural, unbearlike.
If you have to fall for someone, can’t it be
another bear from a good family,
The bear explained that love
doesn’t work like that.
When he asked her to marry him
beneath the linden branches,
she said, aren’t you afraid
I might still be that girl?
That I might become a thief again?
You are, and you might, he said.
But I’m not my father. I’ve always been willing
to take risks, like letting you go that day
or trying new honey flavors. Look how well
the rhubarb honey turned out.
I’m not rhubarb honey, she said, laughing.
Close enough, he said, and kissed her.
Goldilocks and the bear lived to a grand old age
together. Their children could turn
into bears at will. One married a princess,
one joined the circus,
one took over the honey business.
They have five grandchildren.
Her hair is silver now.
Look how well her thievery turned out.
She got the gold, she got the bear,
she got the fields of clover,
the flowering orchard, the house filled with sunlight
and sweetness, like a jar of honey. The life
of a happy woman.
(The illustration is by Paul Woodroffe.)