Joy was a stuffed grey bear who lived at an amusement park. She spent her days propped up on a shelve, watching the crowds walk by the booth. She shared her shelve with the other prizes. Any human capable of throwing three colored rings onto three silver bottle necks could take home any of the prizes on the shelves. Joy couldn't remember when she first joined the booth. She only knew that the shelve was her home.
Joy liked to see the children herded by the big humans. She liked the little girls with their braids and bubble gum, skipping next to their fathers. She liked the little boys with their sticky cheeks and chins, eating cotton candy and candy apples. She liked it when the children jumped and chanted "Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease". Joy always wondered why they were so pleased. "They must be happy to be at the carnival", she thought.
Every summer, for as many summers, Joy sat on her shelve and watched the humans pass by. Whenever someone walked up to the booth and handed Gus the green paper and flicked the colored rings towards the bottles, Joy prayed and prayed that they'd succeed and pick her for a prize. As time went by, summer after summer, Joy learned the habits of the humans. Families with little ones never stopped at the booth. The big humans held the hands of the little ones and hurried to the petting zoo. The big ones lured the little ones away from the booth with promises of ice cream. No one, big or small, stopped at the booth during the noon hours at all. Sometimes couples came to the booth. The males tried to fit the rings around the bottles to impress their dates. But those couples never chose Joy. They always attempted to win three times in a row, placing nine rings over nine bottles, and picked a prize from the shelves up high. Joy couldn't see the toys on the highest shelve from her shelve below. All she could see was the excitement on the face of the humans as the ninth ring landed over the silver plastic neck of the ninth bottle. Their eyes glistened as they gazed high above Joy, their hands darted left and right and a finger protruded to locate the coveted prize. Joy tried to stretch her neck and scooch to the edge of the shelve to get a look at the prizes above.But try as she may, she could never move her fiber filled body. She only saw glimpses of fluffy fur in Gus's hand as he handed the toy to the giddy human. Only then could Joy see those toys from above. "What is so special about them?" she wondered. They were big and chunky. The humans could barely carry them, nevertheless cuddle them. Joy kept count as long as she could, with each high shelve toy carried away, one by one. She counted 60 pandas, 15 Giraffes, 27 Koalas, and 9 tigers.
The little human boys and girls were the ones who tried to win only once. When they successfully placed three rings over three bottles, Gus told them to choose any prize they wanted except for the ones up high. "You'll have to try two more times, if you want any of the toys up high", he'd say. The children tilted their heads towards their parents and gave them inquisitive looks. The parents would shake their heads side to side, signalling the little ones to selected a prize. All the little boys chose the bags of water with a yellow fish. "Don't they know the fish will die?" Joy wondered. The little girls chose purple horses and orange kangaroos. It seemed that no human, big or small, noticed Joy at all.
Summers came and went. Dust collected on the shelve around Joy. Her nice grey coat was shinny no more. Her black button eyes still stared at the humans who walked by, until the left one came loose. It didn't fall off completely. It hung loosely from Joy's head, giving her a permanent view of the lines of silver bottles below. Each summer arrived with fresh boxes of toys. Gus placed them on the shelves, the big ones up high and the others cluttered with Joy. One day Gus opened a box of pink bears. As he clutched each puffy pink toy and extended his hand to sit it down, Joy panicked. She tried to jump. She tried to shout, "Don't do it Gus. Don't hide the crowd. How can they pick me if I'm not around?". But her mouth didn't move and her legs remain seated. Gus kept adding pinky after pinky, crowding the toys. With each addition, Joy edged to the back of the shelve until she was completely sheltered by a clump of pink fuzzy hair. Under the curve of a pink round ear, Joy's one good eye peeked out to see the humans pass by. She told herself, "One day stinky pinky will be carried away and humans will see me crammed on the shelve. Some day a human will pick me too. I hope it's a nice little boy who will hug me to sleep, or a cute little girl who will make me some tea. Boy or girl, it's all the same. It won't matter as long as they love me."
All the stinky pinkies were carried away. Little girls and little boys held pinky's hand and twirled him around as they skipped away. Joy looked on as each prize departed the shelve. Her heart wept as she said goodbye to them. She wished she was stinky pinky. She wished she was the panda. She wished she was the koala, the tiger, the giraffe, even the yellow fish in the bag of water. She wished a little human would twirl her by her arms. Her heart cried because her button eye could not. Her heart cried because it knew that Joy was destined to spend forever on the shelve. Her heart knew that Gus would place other toys in front of her. Even if Joy wasn't hidden by the other toys, her heart knew that no human will ever choose her as a prize. "No heart, you're wrong. That cannot be. Why would I be the only toy left? Why wouldn't any human want to play with me?"
More summers passed and Joy remained unclaimed, hidden behind layers and layers of new toys. "Okay heart, you win. I admit, I shall remain on this shelve for ever. I will never know how it feels to be hugged. I will never bring Joy to anyone. Cry as much as you need Heart, I finally understand. But it won't be long. My coat is no longer shinny, nor is it grey. It's dirty and dusty. A hole in my back has let most of my filling escape and my one good eye is hanging by a thread. Hopefully some day soon, Gus will clean the booth and throw me away, then I won't have to watch the other toys get carried away".
Many summers passed with Joy sitting on the shelve. She no longer kept count. She no longer watched the humans. She just sat there waiting, passing the time.