There was a bear stretched to its full standing height, up on its tiptoes, shaking the branch of a tree. Zoey wished she could say exactly what kind of a tree but being a city kid she couldn’t. The bear was shaking the branch for whatever reason that would undoubtedly make utter sense to a bear but the thing about the bear that was truly noteworthy (and made her assume at first she was dreaming) was its t-shirt. The message on the t-shirt was clear in the early morning light, script arranged in three fat lines like a stoner’s haiku, bulging across the barrel contour of the animal’s chest. That Which Does Not /Kill Me /Pisses Me Off.
Because of the animal’s great height (Zoey wasn’t a wiz at estimating lengths and distances but it had to be nine feet tall) the dirty t-shirt appeared to be a cut-off and gave the bear, with its exposed belly (coated in rills of articulated grime like tire-ridged curbsnow), a vaguely Gay appearance. Not that there’s anything wrong with a Gay bear. She would have to get off her own belly and climb out of the sleeping bag and peek from a better angle to determine the bear’s sex with any certainty and common sense advised against it. Not that curiosity wasn’t berating her with its distant, cat-killing, megaphone voice.
Her recent cafeteria argument with Aaron Waldauer about bears and periods suddenly came back to haunt her with a vengeance. A lingering fingernail of moon was visible behind the bear’s ear and that plus several rindy clouds and the thickening spume of a vapor trail made Zoey think of debris in a swimming pool and that time she’d spotted a ring on the blue tiles at the bottom of the deep end and frog-kicked down to scoop it up and bring it to the surface with the naive grace of a pearl diver. Only to present it to Judy wrapped in lavender tissue (appropriated from their gift basket) and have Judy lose it in the bar, which was attached to the pool, in record time.
Mom (who’d announced long ago that referring to her as “Judy” was perfectly acceptable, though Zoey, after toying with the option for a day or two, had reverted to the standard with a shiver of wise relief) was busy avoiding the bear in one of her comas. Screwed so deep into the mass of her dreamless sleep and nosing-up, from above a mouth like a sprung valise full of gold, the knotted Marlboro and Merlot-flavored silks of her own snore. Zoey decided against waking her. She was glad they’d been good campers: their synchronized bloody garbage deposited in a proper receptacle downwind. She hoped that the air horn, the primordial fire extinguisher and the Taser (on loan from a possessive Mountie) were all where she thought they were (except the fire extinguisher, which was in the car) in the tent.
A shower of pine needles from the bear-bothered branch glittered in the bright air, a static display that continued to function after the bear (satisfied, frustrated or simply bored) ambled off. The bear hadn’t been gone for five minutes before Zoey began doubting what she had clearly seen and wouldn’t remember again until coming to, in a fog, in her flower-puffed hospital suite, after the mastectomy.
—–January 1 2007