Zoe pressed her face against the cold glass and stared into the water. She could see air bubbles floating through the too blue water and a swirl of movement on the surface above. Clutching, Barley, her favourite teddy bear and strongly aware of her parents with her baby brother, Alex, standing behind her, she awaited eagerly.
A crackle of static over a nearby loud speaker caused her to jump. Zoe looked up as a boisterous female voice began speaking through the hiss of white noise. The voice welcomed them all to the Arctic Zone and to the Polar Bears, then carried on reeling off a speech that Zoe could only half understand. She let the voice slip into the background noise that was all around her and carried on staring through the window before her.
The water suddenly seemed to cave in on itself and Zoe gasped loudly, drawing the attention of her parents. They carried on watching as the water divided apart and a dead fish dropped into view quickly being chased by a large white bear. Zoe, squeezing Barley tighter, stepped back and her heels catch her daddy’s feet. She felt his large hands press down on her shoulders reassuringly, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the polar bear.
The bear opened his large black mouth and snatched the fish up before it could hit the floor of the tank. With larger than life legs and paws, the bear stretched and swim back up. He’s ice white fur moved like a mermaid’s hair with a life of its’ own. His paws swirled the water around him and he disappeared back up.
Zoe rushed back to the window, tucking Barley into her elbow as she pressed both her hands to the glass. She looked up and saw the belly of the polar bear almost above her. She heard him break the surface of the water and even felt a little splash of wetness on her face. Zoe sank down to the little ledge jutting out and put her head all the way up. Her view was distorted by the turbulent water, but she could make out the polar bear getting out and scrambling onto the fake iceberg land.
The water took a long time to settle and the voice over the loud speaker was still going on. Zoe bite her lip and wondered if the polar bear would return. She wanted to ask her parents, but was too worried that she’d miss seeing him again if she did so. Hugging Barley in both hands, she watched the hypnotic dancing of the air bubbles.
When the water began surging again, Zoe held her breath. She saw a paw then the rest of the polar bear. He seemed to be swimming towards her. A tremble of fear shot through her and she felt frozen to the ledge. The bear was getting closer and closer. She could see his shiny black nose and eyes, which seemed to be watching her.
Zoe twisted Barley in her hands and let out a small squeak of fear. She felt a brush of warm air from behind her and her daddy’s soft voice in her ear. She felt his hand on back and he was whispering to her not to be afraid. The polar bear wasn’t going to eat her, he was looking for more fish. Zoe’s lips quivered, but she couldn’t speak nor take her eyes off the mighty white bear.
Another dead fish dropped into view behind him and Zoe thought her daddy was right. The bear would go for the fish, he just needed to turn around. Still holding that breath, she waited. However the bear didn’t turn, but dropped to the floor and actually walked the few steps towards the window.
Zoe felt the urge to scramble away, but her body had turned to jelly. Instead, she focused her attention on not crying and repeating her daddy’s words. Her mommy’s voice excitedly called them to turn for a photo. Zoe give a little shake of her head then became aware of her mom using the camera anyway. She felt her daddy trying to turn her around, but she wasn’t sure she could.
Finally, she turned her head, painfully aware of the polar bear pressing his face and paws to the window and gave a ghost of a smile to her mommy and the camera. Photo taken, she snapped her eyes back to the glass and met those of the bear. A scream shot to her throat, but she swallowed it as her Daddy hushed her with calming words. Zoe bit her lip and tasted the bitterness of blood. She raised Barley to her face and hide behind him. From the corner of her eye, she saw her daddy signalling her mommy over and her leaving Alex in the push chair to join them.
Her mommy scared her why she was so scared? The bear couldn’t hurt her, he couldn’t get through the glass. Zoe, sucking on her lip, mumbled something that her parents missed. Her daddy tried to wrap her into a hug, but she wouldn’t move. Her mommy rubbed her arms and tried to comfort her. Zoe pressed Barley into her face and chocked on the sob.
Her daddy won the battle of moving her and swept her up into a hug. She moved Barley out of the way and pressed into his shoulder. Zoe took breaths and felt herself getting calm again. Slowly, she pulled her head up and looked over to the window. The polar bear had gone leaving a swirl of water in his wake.