a window —a rectangle of light, shimmering with the glitter of
snow —appeared to float out of the storm he saw it almost as a
doorway lit by the sun, the entrance to a better world.
The house was a one-story ranch and beneath its raised porch
one of the latticed sections had fallen over and was tangled with
browned weeds and newly frosted with snow. The bear spotted
the opening and dragged his body through it and found there
a burrow among the rotting mulch and mouse pellets and the
bones and moldering feathers of cat-killed birds.
Through the night the snow continued to fall, covering his
tracks, and the wind continued to blow, carrying away his scent,
and the bear chose this place then to convalesce.
WEEKS LATER he drifted awake to light streaming up through a
recessed window. He felt as though he was deep in a lake and approaching the surface. He blinked several times, yawned widely,
clacked his teeth, and licked his chops. He felt an ache in his
paw and held it out before him. It was gummed up with scabs
that were melting into scar tissue. His mind took some time to
process what had happened and where he was, just as his eyes
took some time to focus on what lay beyond the frosted glass.
When he saw the people moving inside the house—
carrying loads of laundry, exercising with dumbbells —he felt at first
nothing but fear. Humans, after all, carried rifles and chainsaws;
they owned trucks that growled and dogs that snarled. When they
came to the forest they left behind fires and candy wrappers and
knife-riddled bones. But beneath the porch, surrounded by snowdrifts, the bear felt safe and exhausted and unhurried as he floated
in and out of the slow time of hibernation and watched them.
The man was built like an immense slab of stone — as wide as
he was tall, almost perfectly square, with no neck to speak of, his
shovel of a jaw resting directly on his collar, his broad shoulders
rounding out of his ears. The woman had a willowy build and her
feathery hair fluttered and seemed ready to take wing whenever
she moved. They looked wrong together, even to the bear, like
a flower caught in the roots of a gnarled tree. Despite this, they
somehow seemed to nourish each other, laughing often, pinching and chasing each other, tangling together on the floor. They
had a baby, a girl. She had a round face and a black thatch of hair.
Her milk-white skin along her arms and legs rolled over with
fat, as if tied with string. When she wasn’t eating or napping she
was crawling about the house and shoving things in her mouth.
Over the next few months, the bear felt something magical
take hold of him as he watched them, first in the basement, later
through their living room and bedroom and bathroom windows.
They never closed the blinds — woods surrounded the house and
they thought themselves unobserved. He watched them when
they cooked dinner and exercised and made love and sat before
the television. And as he watched, the bear could feel something
inside him changing. For the first time, he was aware of more
than simple, blind urges—hunger, shelter, sex—and began to
turn inward, to know himself, to become someone. He really had
no idea who he was, not yet, but hidden beneath the layers of fur
and fat and muscle there was someone all right. A light flared in
the vast darkness inside him; he was like a cave that had not yet
At night he would crawl from under the porch and practice
walking upright. At first he wobbled and lurched, but then he
began to find his balance, a regular, plodding gait he thought
respectable. He also tried to speak—with a guttural clumsiness — flopping his tongue, pinching his lips, trying to discover
the noises he overheard them making. His heart always hurt
when at the end of the night they shut o= the lights and in the
dark windows he saw nothing but his own reflection.
THE HUSBAND worked as a handyman. He wore flannel shirts
and blue jeans and canvas jackets. He drove a red pickup with
toolboxes in its bed. He smelled like oil and lumber. He often
came home with sawdust in his hair and grime beneath his fingernails. To his daughter he made silly faces and spoke in a high,
sing-songy voice that did not suit his size.
Sometimes he would come home from work and go to the
living room and pull the co=ee table o= the rug before rolling it
halfway over to reveal a certain o=-color floorboard that he would
pry up with a knife. Beneath, he kept a pistol and a shoe box full