The Bear

June 27, 2017

It was 6:30 in the morning, and the bear was in the kitchen eating Jello out of the fridge. It was red Jello with chunks of pineapple in it. Ray hated red Jello with chunks of pineapple in it, but it was the last thing Sharon made before she left and he had been saving it.

He pointed his gun at the bear and said, “Get out of my house.”

The bear stood up on his hind legs and put his paws in the air. He was a black bear with a long snout and round ears that stuck out from the top of his head like a couple of satellite dishes, giving him a comically confused expression. There was a piece of pineapple on the end of his nose.

“Good morning,” said the bear.  “I didn’t know you were awake.”

“Well, I am,” said Ray. “And I want you out of my house.”

“Of course,” said the bear. His claws clicked awkwardly on the linoleum. He was small by bear standards, but he was still a large animal. Ray cocked the gun. The bear took a step backward. “Okay, okay, let’s not get carried away,” said the bear.

Ray snorted. “You break into my house and eat my food, and I’m the one getting carried away? I don’t think so. A man’s got a right to protect his family.”

The bear cocked his head. “But you don’t even like Jello with pineapple in it.”

“That’s not the point!”

“Then what is the point?”

“The point,” Ray sputtered, “is that you’re trespassing. This is my home. Do you understand that? My property. I own it and I have a right to privacy.”

The bear’s long tongue whipped out of his mouth and snatched the piece of pineapple off his nose. The bear chewed thoughtfully. “Well, to be fair, the bank owns the house. Isn’t that right, Ray? How far behind are you on the mortgage payments? Four months? Five?”

Ray clenched his jaw. “How did you know that?”

The bear looked down at his feet. “To be honest, I go through your trash. Just for table scraps, of course, but sometimes there’s mail in there and I can’t help myself. I like to read while I eat.”

“Jesus,” Ray said. “Is nothing sacred? Yeah, we’re a little behind. So what? This is still my property. I have every right to defend it. I could shoot you right now and no one would blame me. Hell, they’d probably give me a reward for stopping the killer bear.”

The bear rolled his eyes. “Killer bear? Please. At best, I’m the trespassing bear, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. I’ll admit I’ve overstepped here, but your reaction is a little extreme. You know this is why Sharon left you, right? Your anger issues. All this toxic masculinity. It makes you difficult to live with.”

Ray’s face turned red. “Toxic what?”

“Masculinity. It’s a result of the pressure put on men by society to adhere to various masculine stereotypes, like violence and risk-taking. You’re a classic example, Ray.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

The bear chuckled. “You’re right. I’m off topic. Listen, all I’m saying is that you should learn to relax a little bit. Don’t try to solve everyone’s problems. Maybe see a therapist.”

“Right,” Ray mumbled. “Relax. Calm down. Be the cool guy who does yoga and eats kale. Maybe I’ll grow a ponytail. Meanwhile, I got some twenty-year-old kid riding my ass at work because I don’t know how to use the new computer system, I’m dipping into our 401(K) to pay the bills, my wife moved out, and a bear just ate the last thing she made for me!”

Ray began to cry. He tried to fight it, but that only made things worse. The sobs came in short bursts, accompanied by flying saliva and snot.

“Oh, man,” said the bear. “Oh, shit. I’m such a dick. I should have realized you wanted to save it. Ray, I’m sorry. I’m always doing stuff like that. Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

Ray sniffed and wiped his face with his sleeve. “Nah, don’t worry about it. I mean, you’re right. I hate  Jello with pineapple in it. I really do. The flavors don’t blend well together, and the pineapple leaves little pulpy bits in your teeth. She knows I hate that stuff. It was like her final ‘fuck you’ before she left. So in a way it’s probably good it’s gone.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t make it right.” The bear lumbered over to Ray and put his arms around him. “Come here, big guy.” Ray buried his face in the bear’s chest. It was warm and soft, and he could hear the enormous heart beating deep inside his rib cage. The bear smelled like dirt and pine. Ray wanted to stay there forever.

Finally, the bear let go. “I have an idea,” he said. “Why don’t you come live with me for a while?”

Ray laughed. “Shut up.”

“No, I’m serious. You have a ton of camping gear in the garage. It’s spring, which is like…oh, man, you should see the woods in the spring, Ray. It’s awesome out there. It’s all just foraging and swimming in the river and catching salmon. You’d love it!”

Ray looked out the patio door. The property was in a suburb next to the mountains. There was the back deck, a covered swimming pool, a hundred yards of cleared land, and then the woods. It went on for miles, dark and damp and silent.

“Are you messing with me right now?” said Ray. “Because you know I’m in a fragile state.”

“You know I wouldn’t do that to you. This will change your life. I promise.”

“Isn’t it dangerous out there?”

“Not if your best friend is a bear, stupid. Come on. What have you got to lose?”

Ray slowly turned around, taking in the whole house. There was the kitchen island with the keys to his Subaru on it. There was the stainless steel sink with the dirty cereal bowl that had precipitated his last fight with Sharon. There was the chicken-themed potholders and decorative towels. There was the IKEA furniture and the Rothko print hanging on the wall. God, how he hated that painting.

“You know what? Let’s do it. I’ll go get my tent.”

“Yes! That’s what I’m talking about. Get some beef jerky, too.”

Ray started for the garage, but the bear stopped him. He nodded toward the gun in Ray’s hand.

“You know we can’t take that with us, right?”

Ray looked down at the gun. He suddenly realized how tight he had been gripping it. The muscles in his arm were strained, and his tendons felt like they would snap. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to put it down.

“But what if we get in trouble?” Ray said.

The bear put his paw on Ray’s shoulder. “That’s always a possibility. We’ll have to take our chances.”

Ray nodded and put the gun in the sink next to the dirty cereal bowl.

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