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The Bearable Lightness of Being

"Bear and Girl start to get to know each other, with some surprises along the way."
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Author's Notes

"These stories are dedicated to Em. They started as a series of very short stories, intended to help her get to sleep after stressful days of danger and pain. They have evolved into something much more – a symbol of our friendship."

When Bear returned from getting his lunch and marking the boundaries of his territory, Girl was again asleep in the rocking chair. One hand was trailing down the side, her head lolled against a shoulder, and she was drooling slightly. He stopped to look at her, and again shook his head.

“Poor kid.”

He gently picked her up and carried her into the great room of the cabin. She stirred, smiled, leaned her head against his chest, and put her arms around his neck – or at least as far as she could reach – but didn’t open her eyes. He carefully deposited her on the old leather sofa in the great room, once again laid the old, soft blanket over her, padded back out to the porch, and sat down.

When she awoke, the sun was getting low, and the light was reflecting off the mountains visible through the front window. She stretched, and gingerly got up, noting that although she still ached, it wasn’t as bad, and her head didn’t feel anywhere near as muzzy as before, but there was still pain, especially in her face.

She thought for a moment, then carefully stood up, waiting to see how steady she was on her feet, then walked slowly out to the porch, once again finding the Bear sitting up and gazing at the mountains.

His head swiveled, and he turned to face her. “Hello, there. Feeling better?”

She nodded, then winced slightly, and put her hand to the top of her head. “I…I think so.” She didn’t realize that her face looked much worse, with deep purple splotches around her eyes. All she knew was that she felt a little bit better.

She looked at the Bear, then back at the mountains, then smiled and said, “Enjoying your family heirloom?”

“Always. And it’s always there.” He turned back to look at the view.

The Girl gingerly sat on the rocking chair, and, without realizing it, started rocking back and forth. It was almost as if the chair impelled its inhabitants to perform this ritual.

The two of them sat for a while, looking at the mountains, and the mountains sat patiently to let them. Finally, the Girl said, “Are you waiting for something?”

The Bear turned to her and said, “Such as?”

The Girl stopped rocking, nonplussed. “I…I don’t know! What…what do Bears do?”

The Bear chuckled, “Well, for one thing, they shit in the woods.”

The Girl, caught completely by surprise, threw back her head and laughed aloud.

“Oh! You caught me off-guard, Bear!” She covered her mouth and giggled. “You’re a bad influence!”

“My mother always told me so.”

The Girl sobered up, and almost asked where he had grown up – then decided it wouldn’t be polite. She thought for a moment, looked at the Bear, who looked back at her, grinning.

“Uh…I mean you’ve been sitting here for…how long?”

The Bear shrugged. “A while.”

“What…what do you do while you’re sitting?”

The Bear smiled at her, “Forgive me, but I thought ‘to sit’ was a verb.”

The Girl shifted slightly in her chair, then said, “Well, yeah, it is but…you’re not really doing anything when you’re just sitting!”

The Bear thought for a moment, then said, “You know, I think the Buddha, as well as the entire body of Zen practitioners, past, present, and future, might just disagree with you.”

Just then, the Bear’s head went up, as if alerted to something.

He held up his paw and listened, then got up and turned towards her.

“Humans. They’re coming this way. Get into the cabin, and for God’s sake, be absolutely quiet.” He herded her into the cabin, then softly closed the door, and locked it.

“Come with me.” He led her into an internal storeroom that had no windows, carefully shut the door, and indicated to her that she should sit.

He leaned forward, and whispered, “Be completely quiet. They won’t be able to see the cabin, but they can hear us as if we were out in the open.”

She looked at him and opened her mouth…at which point, he put a claw up to his mouth, as if making a shushing noise.

They waited for a while, and nothing seemed to be happening, then she heard the sounds of shoes on grass and gravel. It was almost as if she was hearing someone not far from her, out in the open. She looked quizzically at Bear, but he just shook his head.

The footsteps stopped, then they heard a male voice that sounded not very far away. “Geez, Mac, how much farther do you wanna go? I mean, we didn’t see any trace of her by the road, and if the wild animals got her, then that’s good, right?”

Another voice, sounding annoyed. “So how come there wasn’t any blood? If an animal got her, there would be blood and other signs. No, she’s around here somewhere, and I’ve got to make sure she doesn’t get away. She could spill the beans on me. Can’t allow that to happen. Not gonna allow that to happen. So, we keep looking.”

“Look, Mac, I understand you want to find her, but … well the only thing we’ve seen were those bear tracks back by the highway.” There was a pause. “I mean, hell, look at this place. How the hell are we ever going to find someone lost in the mountains?”

There was a pause, then the second voice spoke, sounding more subdued. “I have no freakin’ idea, but we’ve got to try.” Another pause, then the sound of a belt clinking, as if he were hitching up his pants. “Okay, let’s keep going. It’ll be sundown in another couple of hours, and we can’t be out here after that. Too dangerous, even with shotguns.”

The sounds of footsteps moved away.

Bear held up his paw, urging her to stay still and be quiet for what seemed like a long time.

“Stay here,” he finally whispered.

He quietly opened the storeroom door, and disappeared, returning about two minutes later. He exhaled, then said, “I think it’s okay. They’ve gone down by the lake. I don’t think they’ll be coming back this way – it’s a long uphill hike, and there’s an easier route back to the highway. You can come out now – but don’t make any loud noises, okay?”

Girl nodded, then stood up cautiously, and stretched. She was feeling stiff and, now, sore from her extended stillness. In a much-subdued manner, she walked out to the porch, and sat down slowly on the rocking chair again, looking down, and deliberately not looking at him.

Bear returned to his porch perch. His head swivelled towards her. “Friends of yours?”

She shook her head. “No.”

“You don’t want to talk about it, do you.”

She shook her head again. “I think…I think I’d better leave you.” And she got up from the rocking chair.

Bear stood up to his three meters in height. “No.”

She looked startled.

“If you leave now, you could well lead them straight back to me. So, I need you to stay here, at least for tonight, okay?”

She looked startled again, then sat slowly back down. “Oh, right. Well, tomorrow then.”

“What’s your hurry, Girl?”

She bit her lip and looked away. “I’m…I’m endangering you.”

Bear slumped back onto his haunches on the porch, then chuckled. “Actually, reports to the contrary, polar bears are not yet endangered, although their habitats are becoming so.”

He looked out at the mountains, then back at her. “Girl, where do you think you’re going to go?”

“I…I don’t know, but I can’t put you in danger. It’s not fair. You’ve done enough for me already.”

The Bear turned and stared at her for a long time. She glanced up at him, then down again, and fidgeted.

“You don’t realize it, Girl, but you may be saving my life.”

She looked up, shocked. “H…how? I mean, what do you mean?”

Bear looked at her for a while, then looked down. “Who is there for me to talk to, Girl?”

She looked at him. “I…I don’t know.”

“Neither do I,” and he looked back at the mountain peaks beyond.

~~~~~

Bear stalked off a while later, ostensibly to find some food, but also to check on the humans who had gone off down to the lake. Meanwhile, he told Girl to make herself some supper.

He came back a couple of hours later to find the Girl waiting for him in the rocking chair, looking out over the mountains. He stopped just inside the clearing to look at her, a warm feeling in his heart for the first time in…he couldn’t remember how long. Shaking his head, he padded up to the cabin.

“Evening, Girl.”

She started, as if awoken from a dream. “Oh, hi Bear! You startled me.”

He seated himself at the end of the porch in his usual spot, and she resumed rocking. After a time, she said, “I think I understand now.”

“Oh?”

She rocked some more, then said, “I understand what you are doing when you are ‘just sitting’. This…” She waved her hand at the scene before them, “…seems, well, magical. I could sit here for hours, doing nothing.”

Bear nodded his head. “I know. I have. I do.” He turned back to face the reddening peaks with the sunset line creeping up the mountains, bottom to top.

When the last light vanished from the highest peak, the Girl sighed.

“It’s hypnotic, isn’t it?”

“It is that.”

“But Bear…”

“Yes, Girl?”

“Wait…why do you keep calling me Girl?” She sat up straight, and tension returned to her body.

“Because you are a Girl.”

“Bear, I’m sixty-three years old. I’m not a girl.”

His head swivelled to look at her, his mouth open in what she interpreted as a grin. “So? ‘Girl’ is easier and, in my mind, better than ‘Old Woman.’”

“But I’m not…Oh! Why do you keep doing that?”

“Moi?” he put a paw to his chest, and managed to look insincerely innocent.

“Yes, you! You’re infuriating!”

“I try.”

She stopped, then threw her head back and laughed.

“So, why do you call me Bear?”

She stopped laughing. “Because…”

She stopped and looked puzzled. “Well, you present as a bear.”

She looked at the mountains for a moment, then said, “Besides, I don’t know what else to call you. What would you like me to call you?”

Now it was the Bear’s turn to look out to the fading mountains. He heaved a heavy sigh, “I like Bear. Call me that. Please.”

She nodded. “Do…do you have another name you’d rather I called you?”

He shook his head. “Not anymore.”

She sat quietly for some time, thinking. “Bear…”

“Yes?”

“When you’re ready, I’d like to hear…you know.”

He nodded, although by this time it was getting dark enough that she could barely see him. “Thank you.”

She grabbed her shoulders suddenly. “Brrr! It gets cold here quickly, doesn’t it?”

Bear stood up, “Yes, it does. Let me get you the blanket.”

He padded back into the cabin, and returned with the blanket in his mouth, dropping it at her feet. She picked it up and wrapped it around herself.  “Why don’t we just go back inside?” she asked.

“Because you’re about to see the opening of the greatest show in the known universe: the night sky.” He swivelled his head to look at her, “I’ll bet you haven’t seen it in years, have you?”

She considered for a moment, then shook her head, “No, not really. I mean, you can see maybe five stars in the city at night.”

“And some of those are planets, not stars,” Bear added.

The two friends sat together, watching the stars emerge in their crystalline thousands. Finally, Bear got up. “Follow me,” and walked off the porch.

The Girl followed him, but put her hand on his back to guide herself, watching the ground to keep from tripping. It was very dark.

He walked for a few minutes, then sat, and waved his paw at the sky. “Look,” was all he said.

She looked up, then turned in a circle and gasped. “Oh, my God!”

“Probably,” Bear said.

 

 

 

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