Now, said Amanda, how will I get this bear into my car?
The bear stood with four paws on the sidewalk, burly and uncompromising.
It was a big bear, a brown bear, and it had been hanging around the neighborhood, right in front of Amanda’s house.
As far as she could see, the thing to do was to get rid of the bear, but it wasn’t the kind of thing you could put out with the weekly trash. She was wondering if she could drive the bear to the middle of nowhere and leave it there, the way the cops do with local drunks.
Could she tie it to the roof?
No. It was almost certainly heavier than the car.
The bear sat down on its ridiculous nub of a tail, lifted its head into the air and yawned. It spread its broad body across the concrete and used its long yellow teeth to pull at a tuft of fur on its hind leg, snapping its jaws.
That’s enough for today, Amanda thought, and went inside. She watched the bear from the height of her bedroom window, pretending not to look.
Several people walked by. The people—in their comfortable t-shirts and shorts—glanced at the bear, but didn’t seem to think much of it. They crossed the street to avoid the bear and went on walking.
The bear had taken a particular liking to Amanda’s front yard, and now she was responsible for doing something about the “bear problem” as one of her neighbors put it, underlined, on a little yellow note left politely under her back door.
But Amanda did not know what to do about the bear. She leaned out the window and looked at it, admiring the high hump of its back while wondering what it could possibly want.
And for a little while nothing happened. Then the bear shook to life and slowly walked towards her house, sniffing at the air. The bear’s breath was deep and animal and Amanda felt hunted—she took careful retreating steps away from the open window. The bear stood up on its hind legs, and pawed—first at the air, and then at the side of the house. The foundation shook and a claw casually curled over the edge of the windowsill. The bear stretched—and then sneezed, and then dropped back down to earth.
Amanda walked through the rooms of her home, feeling like she was somewhere else. The sun began to dim, and she welcomed its descent. She closed her eyes to everything that was happening outside.
The next morning Amanda crawled over to the window. Already, she thought, this bear is making me more bearlike—what am I doing down here on all fours? She put her chin on the polished pine windowsill and looked out. There was the bear, lying in its usual spot on the lawn, looking up at her. Its shoulders sloped, as rounded as eroded mountains, and heavy shadows hung from the dark dots of its eyes. Clearly this bear could not be relied upon to go away. She went downstairs and opened her front door.
“It’s time we came to an agreement,” Amanda said.
She propped open the door and backed away. Her house faced east and as the bear stood up it loomed in front of the rising sun. It took all eight of the porch steps in one stride and followed her into the hall. It sniffed around the baseboards and rubbed its back against the walls. It moved through her house with ease and familiarity, like it had planned this all along.
That night Amanda woke to heavy breathing on the back of her neck, rolled over very slowly and saw in the moonlight that the bear had laid its big boxy head on the pillow beside her own. She got up as quietly as she could and went downstairs to sleep on the couch. She wrapped herself in a scratchy blanket that didn’t quite cover her toes. The darkness brought not sleep, but a brightness of thought. The bump of her body barely interrupted the smooth surface of the cushions as she worried over her sorrows and doubts. She wanted life to be a deal of some kind, where she could ask what it was that it wanted from her, and what was being offered in return. But around her, there was only the low rumble of the bear breathing in and out.
The next morning Amanda woke up and thought—for god’s sake, why hasn’t this bear eaten me yet?
She tiptoed upstairs. Sunshine fell on the bedroom floor, triangular and bright. She could see the bulk of the bear, curled up tail to nose, mouth half open as it softly snored. What kind of bear was that? She sighed and showered, got into her car and drove to work. The bear followed her. She spotted him in the rearview mirror loping along through the fields like some absurd mix of a lion and an ape, those silly round teacups for ears topping off its sunken head.
She parked in her usual place, turned off her car and waited, listening to the clicking and humming of the engine as it settled down from the drive.
The bear limped across the lot, a giant string of drool hanging from its panting jaw. It lay down behind Amanda’s car—practically dead.
“This is unacceptable.” Amanda said.
She went inside and sat down at her desk. The office windows all faced away from the parking lot and there was no way to know what was going on with the bear, out there in the back. Amanda’s coworkers sat and typed and got up to fill their coffee cups, complaining about the time of day, the same as they always did.
No one said a word about the bear. Isn’t that strange, she thought.
At lunch time, Amanda ate a cold sandwich and tried not to think about the bear alone out there on the hot pavement beside her car.
When she finished eating, she went to the communal kitchen and filled a plastic salad bowl with water. She carried the slopping dish step-by-step out to the parking lot and placed it in front of the bear. The bear was asleep. This was a terrible disappointment. Amanda had hoped for some recognition. She watched the rise and fall of its fur for a few minutes and then walked back through the steel door, down the corridor of florescent lights, and sat at her desk.
That night she drove back slowly with the bear striding along beside her.
When they got home, the bear lay down on the living room floor like a living breathing rug. She sat close by, not quite brave enough to rest her feet on the ledge of its legs.
She decided to call the bear Eric.
Eric, it turned out, was the kind of bear who liked to go for a walk at the end of the day, right before bed. He also liked to rub up against parked cars like a cat and had a habit of going down to the lake in the wintertime and coming home with his fur heavy with ice.
Living with Eric was a quiet kind of life—not the kind Amanda ever would have expected. But time passed and Eric grew older. Lately Amanda has noticed that Eric is having a hard time walking around. There is something sinister about his frailty as he hesitates at the bottom of the steps. He leans to the left and uses one leg as a crutch for the other three. He is old but not yet dying. When he does die, Amanda will think back to those early days, when he was young and in bed with her, his breath heavy on her neck while she waited and wished for him to eat her so that things would come to a definitive end.
Special thanks to the literary magazine «American Chordata» for permission to translate and publish this tale.