Her hands burn in water, ignoring dishes, while she waits for the bear. Her son, 4 and possibly spoiling, for too long watches television in the next room. She’d planned to be painting paper plates by now: “We’ll paint a garden,” she’d told the boy, setting him in front of the television. “And plant it all around the house for daddy.” She even laid out the cheap plates, his paints, his brushes, popsicle sticks for stalks.
A month ago she saw the bear while washing dishes.
“Unconcerned,” she told her husband that night.
“He looked utterly unconcerned.”
“Unconcerned?” he said. “Nothing else?”
“Utterly unconcerned,” she said, picking up her wine glass and leaving out to the screened porch: The reason we bought the place, they told everyone. Furthest thing from the apartment.
“Jesus,” he said from the table inside. “Where are we?”
“Bring the monitor if you come out,” she said in darkness, testing glass with her teeth.
She looked at the soapy water and up and there was the bear, walking along the row of arborvitaes at the edge of their yard. He took a moment to register as a bear and by then was through the trees, like walking through a wall. That was all—a few seconds of his ambling. If she’d been scrubbing a dish, he wouldn’t exist.
She looks at the soapy water and up and no bear there. His body lost, surviving only in her auguring, only in her readings of his hauntings. Sometimes the bear is mounted as a painting: Her son on his back, riding away through the trees—“If I see a bear, I will hug him and ride him,” he told her. “You will go quickly to the house,” she told him back. Sometimes the bear arrives as a fever: Her hands soil green, pulling rank weeds from the garden in front of the arborvitaes, while she kneels, asleep to the world. Heat on her neck and the smell of fermenting berries and grass wake her, and she, panicked, turns to see the two closest trees, slamming like a door forever closing.
DAN HODGSON is a writer and teacher, living in Connecticut, spending all the time he can chasing his son around parks, woods, and fields and reading books with lots of pictures.