Ying Ying

The man dragged out the dummy panda again and put it in the middle of the yard. It was well oiled and for a few moments my body was readying even though I was like—no, intestinal vapors, do not rise and do not go to your battle stations, no no no—but then the grease globbed off, all melted in the sun and runny. This must be this dummy’s definition of romance, I thought, though I don’t think a real bear could control its thing if it wanted to because, well I don’t know. And I laughed, because I thought it was funny, though it was a little serious, too. I say serious because of the dummies.

It’s been a whole thing I’ve been going through with the dummies. 

As it had been doing on the days they’d put it in the yard before, the lathered dummy had me missing Shaanxi Province—the nice things, bamboo mostly, Ma and Ba. For some time after I’d been captured, the capturing was all I could remember. It was a big thing that happened to me—me, whimpering under the men’s net, and Ma’s head down in the leaves lying in a way with her belly on the ground and Ba coming up behind her for love, both of them looking at me with sorry eyes, but it was March when Ma’s vapors were up and I was two, so it would have happened like that anyway—it was pupping season, net and capture be damned. 

Thinking like that about Ma, Ba, Shaanxi, I went and knocked the dummy panda over, getting under it with my shoulder and some man somewhere I couldn’t see probably took notes.  

That night they plugged porn into the yard directly and only after hours had passed in big dark did they let the sounds fade and so then I moved into the deep of my cave den, and squeezed through a crevice and pulled myself up onto the ledge in the very back where I bedded because, I won’t lie, I had been watching up until then. “Hello, dummy,” I said because they’d moved the dummy in and laid it on its side and it gave off a warmth which made the rock seem bitterly cold and so I nestled down into its back, up against the fur. It was warm and nice. Nice enough to forget it was a dummy and that they had given it a heartbeat that went brrrr-doom brrrr-doom and then clicked every so often as if it were counting up to something and then counting up to it again.

Feeling it through its wood and fake fur must have done something to me because my dream that night was like a swift kick to the bottom of my inner bear. I was in Shaanxi in the mist and I could see the bamboo waving big dark and tall like the shadows of themselves in the moonlight and I wanted to let my voice go in a song because the grove was so deep no one would know, but then I saw the white and the black of a bear run across the edge of what was visible. And when I walked to where it went I saw a she-bear that grew and became a he-bear who gnashed at me. On it grew until it was too long to measure and it rose above the dark bamboo, so high that the clouds became its wings and I was scared because I didn’t know it was a dream and I knew that things happening like that in the real world were to be scared of. And it went on: a hot wind, bits of dust, forest creatures blew each other about—the sky looked very blue. And then I thought: Is that the sky’s real color, or is it just so far away and has no end? And then I thought: When the he-bear looked down he only saw blue, too. Maybe?

He was a she-bear and she a he-bear, on and on like that, changing up in the wide blue in its huge way, and I was looking up at it like a dope from the ground with the bamboo whipping over me when something grabbed me up into the air and I swam like in a river and tumbled in the air and floated on a pile of nothing as my insides did this thing like opening, my fur wet with the green heads of bamboo, then the stars. And the he-she-bear-devil was big up there, so big as to be the sky, thin and lit like a crystal palace, and within our own dimensions, both on the ground and in the air like bees about the hive in clusters, a buzzing sun, we, for a moment, stuck.  

It was like that. Loving in the air-water-land with my he-she-bear-devil-bird—the single greatest moment of my life. And then it was over. I was awake. My vapors were up again and when my eyes focused I was looking the dummy in its face. I know what you’re thinking, but I had just rolled in my sleep. I was on top of it, around it, but I had sleep rolled. It was thrashed, too. My limbs were deep in what would be a live bear’s insides, but this dummy had nothing, and its eyes lolled about in the water that held them as I shook its body off mine. Still, a lot of men somewhere I couldn’t see cheered. 

Oh, my he-she-bear-devil-bird, then came all the stuff that came next.  

I stayed in the cave for a few days with the dummy and then a few days without it. It disappeared when I was asleep and without it I slept better. During the dream that one dream night, I had broken its leg and ripped the loose fur down its stomach and turned the head in a way that should not have been allowed. The heater still worked inside of it and the brrr-doom brrr-doom click went on like all was fine. When they took it I missed the heat but not the counting up and counting up and counting up. I didn’t miss the man who came to poke me with a long stick neither, though there weren’t any more dreams because of the man, which was lucky. But still, waking up with cold on your eyelids and a stick in your back and the only thing rolling around in your head being “Why?” is nothing that you want.

All during that time, lying there in the cave, I could only think of one thing: A place far away with no noise of men and their dummies or real bears for that matter. Whoa, I thought to myself, what, hey, where? And thinking like that I would find my mind distanced, that place far away and in it was me, alone, eating chrysanthemums by the east hedge and looking up all sleepily and catching sight of the South Mountain so gorgeous in the dusk, flying birds returning wing to wing. And then, with flowers in my mouth, I’d think of a song that went “Oh! Oh! Oh!” like air blowing through a lot of things at the same time, but not instruments, more like things you don’t hear too often with wind in them like a bunch of rocks piled up. 

It was—daydream, bamboo, daydream, bamboo, sleep, and on again in my little cave, turning about.  

But then it was over. They came and got me. The usual stick man didn’t have his stick, so I thought “Hm. Okay. Weird.” and then another big big man appeared and I was thinking, “Oh! What! Wait! A net!” because I was delirious and didn’t have the energy to fight or hide or make it difficult, but I could see still and, yes, they had a net. So I was captured again like in Shaanxi but now I was older though just as weak and when they picked me up all I did was growl a bit until we left the cave and the sun burned my eyes and then I couldn’t control what I did because of the pain and they dropped me and ran.  

I had black dots in my eyes that bubbled like water where someone had dived, but I could still see. There was a bear with me on the place where I landed in the yard. It stood facing away from me like it didn’t care I had just been dropped or that I was a very dirty bear and just when I thought it was going to turn and look at me, it laid down on its front legs and I saw she was a she. It was a sign that some part of me read fluently like braille and its little bump-bumps that need to be felt to be known. And just like that I thought, “Whoa! Holy holy holy holy holy!” and felt my vapors going pheewwww and I said, “Hey,” like I was a very cool bear and not so very dirty or shaky on my paws as I really was. I was absolutely polar, big and dumb and powerful enough to swim the sea in search of blubber and blood. I was a lone bear on the open ice under the sun riding the glacial horizon, white and horrible in my day. Snuffling the air with my meat nose! White hot! I was rock old and hard, and waiting to be worked into small rock and smaller pebbles and powder and then nothing at all that a bear could see.  

Before I knew, I was on top of this young miss, whispering things like, “Hey, we’ll go walking.” And before I even got to where it was the walking would take place, I was over. It was crack of dawn hunting I thought, but then I remembered that I didn’t know what that was because I was a panda and pandas don’t hunt. They have a word for what we do in Mandarin and it’s “to panda.” But, whatever, it took it out of me. I was weak and shaking so bad in my back legs that I pushed her down and we both fell in the mess we had made. It was then with her pressed up against me that I felt something, an mmmmm-bop mmmmm-bop, like it was counting up to something and there was no mistaking it and whole mobs of men viewing on little computer screens in places far off in the world I couldn’t see wept with joy because they thought they’d fooled me with their new sexy, moveable, machine dummy with legs.

But then I went—what?—and realized I wasn’t lodged in anything. Like my thing wasn’t in anything at all. It wasn’t in the dummy and all that we were lying in was what I had made and not what we had made, because mainly it was a dummy that can’t make. I laughed then like laughing was all that I could do right then, like if another bear had come up and started sniffing around my thing I wouldn’t have said—hey, buddy, no—I just would have kept on laughing because I had won. And while I was laughing the men came up and scooped the whole mess into little clear dishes like it was the last hope in saving their dying mothers. And now whenever a man comes to my cage and ogles me with his big dumb glistening fish eyes, I stare right back.

GRAHAM TODD grew up in the tiny Pennsylvania town of Royersford and now lives in Oakland, California. He studied literature and creative writing at Stanford and received his MFA from Bowling Green. His writing has recently appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Isthmus, Matador Review, Passages North, Pembroke Magazine, and is forthcoming in Bayou. For work, he does a whole bunch of crap for Litquake, San Francisco's Literary Festival. He's currently writing a novel.