Season of the Bear

The old man is there as usual, haunting the stained and narrow doorway. He hunches over his bony knees in layers of newspapers and dirt and ragged linen. Skeletal wrists dangling over the crusty blanket on his lap. A small wiry dog lying next to him whines uneasily and raises his head as the bear walks by them.

Straightening, the old man reaches out to the bear. The bear, black and shaggy, flinches back involuntarily and almost overbalances on his hind legs. He huffs angrily as a group of hooded teenagers walk by them and laugh.

The old man shuffles towards him on his knees, arms outstretched, baring his cracked hands palms-up like two tattered white flags. He clutches at the bear’s leg and hoarsely cries, “If the world is on fire then why are we laughing?”

The bear roars and shoves out with his meaty arms and the old man falls on his side. The dog shrills like something mortally wounded and noses the writhing form.

“We are blind!” The old man howls after the bear.

The bear marches home the way irate old women march, in a furious protuberance of movement, trundling forward with bent head and thick-jowled glowers. His short, stubby arms swing closely to his sides. Barreling down the crowded sidewalks, he does not appear to see the world around him; the florid and artificial surroundings, the people crowding along the concrete paths. But then his nostrils twitch and his shaggy head turns and his eyes follow a passing group of long-legged clicking heels. His arm is jostled by an elbow and the shadow attached to it turns around to say something, then looks up at the bear and walks away. There is something blazing in the large heavy face, something arcane and bestial.

The bear finds himself on a bridge on the outskirts of the city. He is hesitant, in this crepuscular hour of silent footsteps and stirring street shadows, to roam into unknown territory. There are signs in the sky that tell him to run and run until the breath heaves in his side and all color and light leaches overhead. He hears multitudinous sounds of pursuit. And feels a humming of the highest frequency that is redolent of den noise, the thrum of routine and repetition and dormancy. It both beckons and warns him to flee; flee and seek shelter elsewhere, and break free of this sonorous lull. Near him, a mountain of steel walls are emblazoned with huge spray-painted words in neon green that look like newly budded branches, and he smells the bitter sap released from the tortured forms of oak trees that line the street, imprisoned in unyielding concrete.

His body tenses and he starts to lope in the direction of mountains, on all fours now, towards a dim thrum of color and sound hundreds of miles to the north. But then the wind carries to him a piercing honeyed musk. He smells the warm wafting droughts of golden syrup, sweet mammalian secretions. In sharp bursts of snorts and whuffles, his keen nose catches hold the stinging pheromones—a calling, or an invitation. He abruptly rears to change directions and with heavy tread, returns to the source of the scents.

The air in the house is almost as chilly as the night he inadvertently brings in with him. The source of the coolness stands in the entrance of the house, arms crossed, heavy lines along her mouth already twitching in anticipation for the flood of words about to escape. She pushes back a tuft of earth-colored fur from her forehead impatiently and it springs back. He leans forward to brush it away gently and she steps back fiercely. The cubs are sprawled around in the living room ignorant of the plummeting mood of the atmosphere, or indifferent to it.

The female looks up and reads the taut mask of her mate’s face, the yearning in his shiny, black eyes. She bites back her words. She holds out her paws to him, palms up, unaware that it is not the first hopeless, supplicating gesture that has been proffered to him that day. Outside, all colors slowly bleed out of the sky. The darkness closes in and triggers the artificial lights to turn on and drapes a sheet of sickly orange light over the stirring street creatures in their bundled up swaddling of rags and quiet despair. The lights flicker on throughout the concrete wilderness, and the lights in the sky dim and fade entirely.

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