Johnny America


Pur­sued by a Bear


The lo­cal news had been re­port­ing an in­crease in bear sight­ings around town, so when a fur­ry brown fist rapped against the pas­sen­ger’s side win­dow as I was about to pull out of the park­ing lot at the whole foods co-op, I was­n’t as star­tled as I might oth­er­wise have been.

Us­ing the con­trols on the door pan­el, I rolled down the win­dow halfway. “Yes?”

The bear low­ered his head to peer through the open­ing. “Par­don me. I see you’re about to leave, and I was hop­ing you could give me a ride to the movie the­ater, if it is­n’t too much trou­ble. There’s a spe­cial mat­inée screen­ing to­day, and, well, none of my friends want­ed to go, but I was re­al­ly hop­ing to see it.”

My eyes drift­ed to the bags of gro­ceries in the hatch­back com­part­ment. “Gee, I’d love to help you out, but I re­al­ly should get home and put my ice cream in the freezer.”

The bear drooped like an un­wa­tered flower. “I see. Well, thanks any­way.” As he was turn­ing to leave, a tear the size of a mar­ble dropped from one choco­late-col­ored eye.

“Wait,” I said, al­ready won­der­ing if this might be the last mis­take of my life.

The shag­gy head bobbed back in­to view.

“You’ll have to sit in the back. And don’t eat any of my food, okay? That has to last me all week.”

“I would­n’t dream of it.”

The bear opened the back door, climbed across the bench seat, and, in what struck me as an im­pres­sive dis­play of dex­ter­i­ty, used his foot to pull the door closed. Ten min­utes lat­er, I pulled up out­side the front en­trance of the Sil­ver Screen Cin­e­ma, a lov­ing­ly re­stored art-de­co the­ater that showed clas­sic films on Sun­day af­ter­noons. The bear sat up, hunch­ing his back to avoid bump­ing his mas­sive head against the dome light. In­stead of ex­it­ing, he cleared his throat, pro­duc­ing a burst of sound like a revved mo­tor­cy­cle en­gine. “Well, I guess this is good­bye. I’ll just go up to the win­dow my­self, buy my sin­gle tick­et, and see the movie alone. Thank you so much for the ride.”

I sighed. “Why don’t you see if you can find the ice cream while I look for a park­ing space.”

He leaned over the back seat and be­gan to root around in one of the can­vas bags. “Here it is. Hey, but­ter pecan — that’s my favorite.”

What a co­in­ci­dence, I thought.

I parked at a me­ter and stashed the half-gal­lon of ice cream in my over­sized purse. As we walked the block-and-a-half back to the the­ater to­geth­er, I had to ad­mit there was a cer­tain thrill to hav­ing an eight-hun­dred-pound mam­mal padding along be­side me. Mo­torists slowed down to stare, and pedes­tri­ans ap­proach­ing from the oth­er di­rec­tion re­spect­ful­ly yield­ed their right-of-way, flat­ten­ing them­selves up against the near­est glass store­front like starfish so we could pass.

When we reached the tick­et win­dow, the bear smiled at the bored-look­ing boy be­hind the counter. “Two for Bring­ing Up Ba­by, please.”

“Sev­en­teen dol­lars,” the boy in­toned. Noth­ing sur­pris­es teenagers.

The bear pro­duced a man’s wal­let that must have been tucked away some­where in his thick fur. When he flipped it open and fished out a twen­ty with one claw, I saw a pho­to­graph of a guy in a cam­ou­flage jack­et and an or­ange hat grin­ning be­side the car­cass of a twelve-point buck. That raised some un­com­fort­able ques­tions in my mind, but un­der the cir­cum­stances, it seemed un­wise to ask them, so in­stead I of­fered to pur­chase some bev­er­ages. A few min­utes lat­er, I met the bear in the lob­by with two large root beers.

As we walked in­to the the­ater, he asked, “Do you mind if we sit to­wards the front? I’m a bit nearsighted.”

“Any­where’s fine,” I said. “You choose.”

He se­lect­ed two seats in the cen­ter of the sec­ond row, a com­fort­able dis­tance away from the half-dozen oth­er pa­trons who were al­ready seat­ed. I nes­tled our drinks in­to the cup hold­ers and pried the lid off the ice-cream con­tain­er. “I picked up some spoons at the con­ces­sion stand, and I got you a lit­tle ex­tra treat,” I said, tak­ing a small box from my purse and hand­ing it to him.

“Gum­my bears,” he read. “How thought­ful of you.” He tore the pack­age open and shook the can­dies on­to the ice cream. They looked pret­ty, like jew­els scat­tered over snow.

Af­ter I’d eat­en a few spoon­fuls, I no­ticed the bear had­n’t tried any. I snuck a glance in his di­rec­tion and saw him look­ing doubt­ful­ly from the flim­sy plas­tic uten­sil in his shov­el-sized paw to the con­tain­er on my lap.

“Here,” I said, pass­ing it to him. “Why don’t you have the rest?”

He stared long­ing­ly at the ice cream, which was be­gin­ning to melt a lit­tle around the edges. “Well, if you’re sure…”

“Go for it.”

He held the con­tain­er steady with both paws and buried his face in it. It kept him busy for sev­er­al min­utes, and by the time he had fin­ished, the movie was start­ing. He put down the emp­ty con­tain­er and stared rapt­ly at the screen, ab­sent­ly lick­ing the last rem­nants of but­ter pecan from his snout.

I took a sip of my root beer and set­tled in­to my seat to watch the film. My ex­pec­ta­tions, which were based on the wit­less dri­v­el that passed for con­tem­po­rary ro­man­tic com­e­dy, had been pret­ty low, but this film was charm­ing, and I was de­light­ed to find my­self swept up in the screw­ball an­tics of Katharine Hep­burn, Cary Grant, and the leop­ard that brought them together.

The deep rum­ble of the bear’s laugh made my seat vi­brate in a way that was­n’t ex­act­ly un­pleas­ant, and when he draped one paw gen­tly over my shoul­ders, his soft, wild-smelling fur rub­bing against my neck, I did­n’t pull away.

Filed under Fiction on May 30th, 2014

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