BY JAMIE LIVELY
The Rusty Toque | Issue 1 | Fiction | July 2011
I suppose I should have been more upset when the man absentmindedly swung his arm into mine, spilling the takeout cup of steaming coffee over the front of my blouse. I believe that I winced as the skin simmered underneath.
“I’m so sorry!” he exclaimed. The man looked pained by the sight of the damage. It was a familiar look. He ran to the counter of the café and pleaded for ice while I went to the bathroom and unbuttoned my shirt hurriedly. The cool water relieved the stinging pain temporarily, but the burn returned with a blazing vengeance each time until I gave up and let the heat win. Meanwhile, I ran my shirt under the water, hoping to rinse the stain out before it set, but it was too late. The fabric would always remain discoloured.
Turning to use the hand dryer, I caught the reflection of healing claw marks across the right shoulder blade. I frowned and slipped the blouse back on, neatly covering all the redness of damaged flesh. Outside the bathroom, the man stood there looking guiltily at the tiled floor while the cup of ice melted in his hand.
I went for the door, but he headed me off, besieging me to let him compensate for the damage. I insisted that the coffee washed out as I hugged my winter coat over the ruined shirt. “Please, at least let me replace the coffee I spilled. What can I get for you? Latte? Frappuccino? Name it and it’s yours,” he persisted, adding a charming smile.
I smiled demurely in return. “I really must be going,” I said, slipping around him and making my exit.
“What? Couldn’t wait for one cup of coffee?”
“I have to go home and feed my bear.”
I regretted saying it, but sometimes these things just slip out. Certainly he imagined that I was trying to brush him aside with such an absurd statement. The truth was that the bear was hungry, and I hate to think what condition the kitchen would be in if I didn’t get home in time. The truth would only bring more questions.
I did not come to have a bear in the way one might suppose. There was no abandoned cub whose mother was struck down by merciless hunters. My bear was once an ordinary man before I came into his life. Given this is not the first time that such a transformation has taken place, I have come to the conclusion that there is no one but myself to blame.
My last boyfriend and I moved in together when we were both human. He was so gentle in those days. It seemed there was hardly a disagreeable bone in his body. Things began to change so gradually that I hardly noticed. He became more reclusive and increasingly irritable. The mild hair on his body grew denser, and he had to shave more often to compensate. By the time he grew pointed teeth and claws, I no longer recognized him.
Living with a bear is rather hazardous. They don’t like to be disagreed with and have ways of making you change your mind. After a few incidents with my last boyfriend-turned-bear, I packed up and left. In those days, I blamed him for the ferociousness that came to characterize our relationship. All my friends agreed that decent men do not become bears and that I was right to leave him.
My husband and I married three years ago. I suppose I should have seen the signs before the wedding, but the transformation is always different. Last time, the shift from walking on two legs to four was characterized by an increasing distance between us. My husband, however, only pulled me closer. Too close to see the small tail growing at the base of his back or notice how small the whites of his eyes were becoming. Too close to be aware of the growing danger.
I am slowly learning what is necessary to keep a bear happy, though. Like any animal, one must keep the bear well-fed, hydrated, and groomed. Bears, of course, don’t clean up after themselves, so that is another burden of being married to one. They have emotional needs, as well, just like a human husband. Giving them attention and affection on a regular basis is a must. All of these tasks can be quite time-consuming and often conflict with other social engagements. Still, there are rewards. Bears make for very cuddly companions.
The next day I returned to the café. The same man was there, seated at the window barstools. My heart fluttered as I imagined that he was waiting for me. At his insistence, he paid for my coffee, and we sat down at one of the bistro tables. I tapped my foot nervously as he asked polite questions. Finally, he requested my number and I paused, wondering what it would be like to date a human again. My good sense won out, and I revealed the wedding ring under my gloved hand. He apologized and I was glad, for his sake, that he would be leaving me alone. He was much too nice of a man to be turned into a bear.
JAMIE LIVELY is in Honours Specialization Political Science with a minor in Social Justice and Peace Studies. Last semester was her first creative writing class, but she has long aspired to write fiction and hopes to be a published novelist in the future.