Jessica Alexander ~ The Bear at the Door

When the bell rings and the bear pulls Henry through the door and off the stoop, I know it is not me that has been tak­en because Henry and I don’t have that kind of rela­tion­ship. That’s not to say I don’t love Henry ten­der­ly, though I wouldn’t call it rap­ture exact­ly. I do things dif­fer­ent­ly so he won’t leave. I select, for instance, genial shades of lip­stick, blous­es with mol­li­fy­ing designs, slacks that say, “My husband’s at the ball game.”

The bear at my front door is enor­mous. I am sure. That’s what Henry kept telling me, “Susan, it’s enor­mous. Susan, come see!” Henry was look­ing through the peep­hole. The beer was ring­ing the bell. I had no inten­tion of com­ing and see­ing. I lost one arm to the bear already. But my love then was a stone­fish dis­turbed. Now it is dif­fer­ent.

I try not to get angry. For instance, I know now throw­ing a snow globe, a framed pho­to, a record play­er out a win­dow is not affec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Some ways and places to sleep or not sleep I once thought were expres­sions of love. I know now they are not.

The bear has torn the door off its hinges. Amused no longer describes the emo­tion Henry’s cries sug­gest. Perhaps, dis­tressed. It’s pos­si­ble I expe­ri­ence some­thing sim­i­lar to a lesser degree, but far be it from me to assume we feel the same thing.

Different sen­ti­ments, I’m sure, were inspired by our com­mon atmos­phere. The heater. The ceil­ing. The sky­light. The grey out­side. The win­ter pil­ing more and more sky on us. It was a good indi­ca­tion that I had been in the house too long and the house began to feel small. I often felt as if my insid­es expand­ed while the skin around them was con­tract­ing. Like water, freez­ing in a bot­tle, right before the glass cracks. I know now this is not our com­mon ail­ment. I can tell the dif­fer­ence between the things I think and the things I say aloud. I know Henry can­not hear me think­ing. I know I was not tak­en by the bear. I know that was not me at the door. That was anoth­er per­son entire­ly, a per­son who lived, five months, albeit alongside, though ulti­mate­ly and irrev­o­ca­bly out­side of me.

This made com­mu­ni­ca­tion imper­a­tive. I asked about life before me. I didn’t expect to be a sec­ond com­ing. I asked who left whom? I said he didn’t have to tell me every­thing. I know there were things he didn’t tell me.

The door, yes, is clear­ly clean of hinges. The splin­tered wood is swing­ing. The bear is run­ning across the front lawn with Henry slung over his shoul­der. I turn away from the door. I mount the stairs to our bed­room. I’d like to be alone now and think things over. Even in the bed­room I can hear car horns blare and Henry’s scream. I cov­er my ears. I say aloud to the uni­verse: I want to be alone now, and think all this over.

He said it was mutu­al or she left him or he left her. He said she writes. He doesn’t answer. He was altru­is­tic in bed but ulti­mate­ly inef­fec­tive. He watched Scar Face every night for three weeks and sobbed in the back of the emp­ty the­atre. Then he left that city. It was good he did. I sup­pose, it was good to get to know some­one, to be known. Someone to form, for instance, opin­ions about the way I do or do not respond. Someone else to tell the neigh­bors I am or am not the sort to sit in the dark and look in their win­dows. And hav­ing some­one else cer­tain­ly does make one, in a very gen­er­al sense, less sus­pi­cious.

Outside it is snow­ing. Two cars, aban­doned with the driver’s doors ajar, have crashed and there are var­i­ous foot­prints between the street and forest.

I know Henry would not describe his feel­ings towards me as rap­ture either. But it is not as if I nev­er expe­ri­enced this. From six­teen to may­be my mid-twen­ties, I seemed always to dis­cov­er some one or oth­er with whom to prac­tice rap­ture. People then seemed always to give back to me some part of myself I was stunned I’d lived so long with­out. It seemed, then, I’d nev­er live again with­out them, but I was mis­tak­en. The bear took them and I lived.

~

Jessica Alexander’s work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, Dreginald, and Fence among oth­er places. She is a PhD can­di­date at the University of Utah and is cur­rent­ly a fic­tion edi­tor for Quarterly West.