John Brantingham

Deena and the Bear

          Harrison’s already awake on a predawn Sunday morning when he gets the call from his boss. This kind of call would not usually go to Harrison, but no one else is picking up. The early hour is not a problem. The problem is Deena is the bear expert, and he hasn’t seen Deena since he got married.
          Ten minutes later, Deena’s in Harrison’s car, coolly silent with her rifle and tranq darts. Ten minutes after that, they’re up in the little foothill community where the call came from.
          Finding the bear might have been difficult. The suburbs always have looked the same to Harrison. Streets with row upon row of stucco houses. Harrison would have been lost in a second. It would have been difficult except it’s a quiet morning, and a news helicopter circles above, the center of its radius directly above the bear. Harrison follows the helicopter until he sees the police cruisers parked in front of a two story place. It’s painted that ubiquitous tan of the suburbs east of Los Angeles.
          “Looks like it’s just up here,” Harrison says.
          “Does it?” Deena stares at the side of Harrison’s face for a good twelve seconds. Then, with a single motion, she snatches her rifle from the back seat and swings out of the front door with it under her arm.
          Harrison daydreams her death for a second. She’s got the rifle under her arm, trudging up the steps of the suburban home. The cops misunderstand what’s happening, and she’s gunned down, accidentally, tragically, but finally. She lies there twitching in her puke and blood for twelve seconds before she gasps her last. He’s not sure where the puke came from in his fantasy.
          As she actually does start up the front steps, the daydream shifts to a memory of her. He pictures her as she was, lying underneath him as he made love to her. He can see her naked body, smell her womanly sweat, hear her moan. Somehow the remembered sex and the imagined death mingled themselves in Harrison’s mind creating confusing and exciting feelings in him just for a moment.
          Sex and death have slowed Harrison down, and he has to jog to catch up to Deena who is pointedly ignoring him.
          It’s pretty easy to see why the helicopter is circling. The bear is playing a splashing game with himself in a swimming pool in the backyard. He tumbles over on himself in the water, and Harrison knows this is a video people from Los Angeles to Tokyo will be watching for the next few days. A bear playing by itself as ten police officers stand just on the other side of a cinder block wall. No doubt the footage is going out now to every insomniac and early riser in Los Angeles.
          Harrison and Deena will be a part of the tableau as well. He tries to imagine how she must look with that weapon in her hand and greeting police officers. Can the helicopter camera man see that look on her face? Can he get close enough to see how her love for Harrison has turned into hatred?
          And Harrison flashes into another daydream. In this one, Deena becomes famous. She is aiming the rifle when the bear sees her. She fires and misses, enraging the animal, who charges her, mauls her, and kills her. The bear must be destroyed of course, but the television plays her death over and over again, and Harrison is allowed to relive the moment.
          Harrison forces the daydream out of his head. He tries to focus on the current moment, the conversation about what to do with the animal. He’s here to coordinate efforts and call in transportation. He focuses on his job long enough to call the person responsible for taking the bear back to the wild after it’s unconscious, but he’s pulled out of himself and back to her body the second he hangs up.
          He’s back to making love to her, and this time it’s all about her fetish for public sex. Deena, skinny dipping in a lake. Deena, sunning her naked body afterwards. Deena, leaning naked against a tree. He hasn’t thought about having sex with her for a long time, but it’s all back in the kind of half-awake dreams he has on cool Sunday mornings.
          It’s the morning, he decides. It doesn’t have anything to do with lingering feelings. It’s not doubts about his new marriage. It’s just this time of the morning and time of the week. It’s just he’s entered into a dream world up here in the foothills.
          Deena raises her rifle as the bear clamors out of the pool. She waits until the bear is out of the water and firmly onto the grass of the backyard, and then there is the popping sound of the gun going off. Harrison can see the dart strike the animal’s flank. A gasp goes up from the police officers, and the bear seems to be wobbling already. Harrison’s never seen this before, so he doesn’t know how long the tranqs will take, but they already seem to be having an effect.
          Harrison turns to ask Deena how long it will take for the bear to go down, but he stops. Deena is aiming the rifle at him and smiling but only with her teeth. That glassy-eyed look is on her face, the same look he must have.
          There’s a long silence between them, maybe twelve seconds, and then she says, “Boom.”
          One of the police officers laughs nervously, but the rest of them are focused on the bear. Harrison wonders what the scene must look like from above and on televisions across the city.
          Are the helicopter cameras good enough to capture the dreamy quality in Deena’s eyes? Can they see the heart break living there? Are they able to zoom in on the pain that has been festering in the long months after the death of their love?


John Brantingham’s work has been published in hundreds of magazines in the United States and England, and he has eight books of poetry and fiction. “Deena and the Bear” is a sequel story to his latest short story collection Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods, available now from World Parade Books.