To Kiss a Bear

by Cezarija Abartis

In Caroline’s dream, she had been swallowed by a bear. Now, the snow ticked on the window panes.

She sat up and pushed her water glass away. She had once named her cat Bear. He did not like the name, said he was Puss ’n Boots – smart – not a Goldilocks bear. But here had been a real dream bear. She had patted this bear’s head. She’d taken a vitamin earlier and now she tasted fish oil at the back of her throat. Bears ate raw fish; cats ate raw fish in the wild; she ate raw wishes. There’d been a streak of blood across Bear’s mouth – some smaller creature he had shredded.

In the dream she named this bear Mickey. She stepped away from him, picked up her sketch pad and made a drawing of him, fine as a cat, sitting on an iron bed, smirking, sardonic, harboring some secret, superior. “How many angels dance on the head of a pin?” he joked and riddled like a sphinx. Head raised slightly and eyes looking down on her, paws in his lap, he said he was a big fan of fishing shows, liked tall women, funny advertisements, organic food.

Her sketch pad dissolved. She sipped her beer in the wine-dark bar. “Me too,” she said. She nodded emphatically. “I mean tall men.”

Mickey smiled and blinked wisely. “I know what you mean.”

How rare was that? We all wanted to be understood, or she wanted to be understood at least partway, at least sometimes. Here would be a man to sail across the ocean with, to go into the woods with. What about her husband? He would have to find another wife. He was already working on that, she thought.

She felt Mickey’s hot breath on her ear. “Stop,” he whispered.

“No, you stop,” she said and turned toward him.

She put her mouth on Mickey’s mouth. The lips were soft, the mouth inviting, carnal. She could not smell iron, not taste blood. This one must be an angel.

Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Per Contra, Pure Slush, and New York Tyrant, among others. She participates on ShowMeYourLits.com and Zoetrope.com. Her flash, “The Writer,” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012. “History,” published by The Lascaux Review, was chosen as April Story of the Month by The Committee Room. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “To Kiss a Bear”?

    I started this for Flash Factory, an online workshop at Zoetrope. The Halloween prompt I responded to showed a photograph of a young woman in a white shift leaning forward on a bed, her chin in her hand, her face turned toward a window. Behind her, in the middle of the photograph, sits a noble, calm bear staring at the viewer. I wrote a couple drafts. My husband, always my first and last reader, thought it maybe needed to “marinate a while.” I wrote a few more drafts, posted the story, got comments, asked myself, “Is this about guilt?” I hoped to include this in a series of stories about Caroline, who has an affair with a coworker, and I wanted to make this flash good. I wrote yet more drafts and posted this on Fictionaut’s Bear Pit workshop, where I got comments. I seem to have written this by triangulation, trying to figure out what people saw in this and what I thought I was doing. Elizabeth Bishop wrote seventeen drafts of “One Art,” according to Brett Candlish Millier. I’m no Elizabeth Bishop; I should’ve written seventy-five.
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