“What’s that?”

Had Edie been able to sit up in bed, she would have. But she was not in bed, and the double sleeping bag in which she was ensconced with her newly-minted husband Adam did not permit such independent action.

“The river. The river has a frog in its throat.” Adam removed his hand from her right breast.

Now he’s mad, she thought. “I don’t mean that,” she said. She cocked her head. “That.”

Adam turned on his side and pretended to listen carefully, thought he was only half-listening. He was tired. He heard nothing. “Oh that.”

“So?” asked Edie. Her eyes were as big as an owl’s in the darkness of the small tent.

“Just the forest breathing,” he said. “The forest breathes. Just like an old house creaking in the night. Just the creaks and cracklings of life, you know?” He made an effort to smile for her, then realized she couldn’t see him, and allowed his face to droop into its default frown.

“That’s some pretty heavy breathing for a forest,” said Edie. “And grunting, too. Don’t you hear the grunting? Listen.” Edie gripped his arm.

“Aren’t you going to look?” asked Edie.

“Look for what?”

“For—that,” she said, nodding toward the zipped up flap of the tent.

“If I look for every that out there, we’ll be up all night,” said Adam.

Edie compressed her lips. She reached back over her head and grabbed the small battery operated lantern and turned it on.

“Hey, turn that off,” said Adam. “You’ll attract attention.”

“If there’s nothing out there, Adam, whose attention will I attract?”

Adam thought he detected a smirk before Edie switched off the lantern. “First rule of the forest,” said Adam, sounding like the boy scout he had been when he was twelve, “blend into your surroundings.” Now, fifteen years later, as a junior high biology teacher, he had moments when he still felt like a boy scout.

“But we’re in a yellow tent. You picked it out.”

“It was a compromise, Edie. Better than the red tent you wanted.”

“Jesus, Adam. I couldn’t sleep in that black-green one. It was the color of a body bag.” Edie shuddered. Adam felt it. He put his arms clumsily around her, as much as he could manage in the cramped sleeping bag.

“We should have gotten a bigger sleeping bag,” he said.

“Meaning what? What are you trying to say, Adam?”

Oh Christ, thought Adam. He didn’t know what to say, so he kissed her, but missed her mouth and got her on the nose. Her nose was cold.

Edie sighed. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.” Sweetheart, honey, darling? she thought. None of them felt right. His widowed mother, at their awkward introductory luncheon two weeks earlier on a watery day in Seattle, called him dolly boy. Dolly boy. What the hell is that all about? she thought. “You hear that?” She twisted away from him. “That was a certified grunt. Or groan. Like something in pain.”

“All right, Edie.” Adam zipped down his side of the sleeping bag and sidled out of it. Edie watched him crawl on his hands and knees over to the tent flap and pull down the zipper. Just enough moonlight seeped in to illuminate his hairy and dangling rear view. God, naked men are gross, thought Edie, half-animal, like some kind of missing link. “What is it?” she whispered.

Adam had his head out the opening.

“Do you see something?”

Adam went a bit further, his shoulders following his head.

“Adam?”

He ducked back in and zipped close the flap. “Christ,” he whispered.

“What? What did you see?”

“Now don’t panic. Stay calm. It’s no big deal.” Adam’s voice quivered.

“You sound like you just swallowed your balls,” whispered Edie.

“We won’t bother them and they won’t bother us.”

“Who won’t bother us?”

Adam was sitting cross-legged on top of the sleeping bag. He was fiddling with his toes. “A couple of bears.”

Edie put her hand to her mouth. “Bears? A couple? You mean like a herd? On my God.”

Adam put his finger to his lips and shushed her. “A couple,” he said. “A couple means two. We’re a couple, you know?”

Edie rummaged in the sleeping bag and pulled out her cell phone. “Shit, still no service. Aren’t we just ten miles from Seattle? What kind of fucking state is this? We should have stayed in Las Vegas.”

Adam winced. The honeymoon in the woods was his idea. It was idyllic and affordable. She had acquiesced. “Calm down. The important thing is not to panic.”

“We can’t call for help. We can’t even call loved ones to say goodbye, not even my foster mother, who wouldn’t pick up the phone anyway.” She extricated herself from the sleeping bag and sat nearly in Adam’s lap. She was shivering. “What are they doing, these bears?”

“They’re—well, you know—doing it.”

“Doing what?”

“They’re fucking, Edie. What do you think?”

“They’re fucking? I don’t understand.”

“What part of fucking do you not understand?” asked Adam. His voice was breathy.

Edie looked at the zipped up flap, then at Adam, then back at the flap. “You could see them? Where are they?”

Adam took a deep breath. “About twenty yards away. I think.”

“You think?”

“I’m a bad judge of distance. You know that.”

“How do I know that? Jesus, Adam, I’ve only know you for a month.” Edie began searching around frantically in the dark.

“What are you doing?”

“Getting dressed,” said Edie. “If those fucking bears kill me I don’t want anyone to find me naked.”

Adam took hold of Edie and forced her to sit. He put his arms around her. “No one’s going to find you naked.” Holy Christ, he thought, body parts. “I mean, nothing’s going to happen to you. Come on. Take deep breaths.”

“You’re hyperventilating.”

“They’re just deep breaths.”

He’s going to pass out, thought Edie. He’s scared shitless. “Okay,” she said. “So what do we do? Think, Adam. Please.”

“Nothing. We do nothing. Just don’t make any loud noises. We just sit here and wait until they’re finished.”

“They’ve been at it for half an hour. How long do they take?”

“They can do it for quite a while. I read they sometimes stay—copulated—for an hour or more. I guess it depends on the couple.”

“Jesus,” said Edie. “That poor fucking she-bear.”

“She-bear? What about him? He’s doing all the work. She just soaks it up like a big furry sponge.”

“Is that what you think we do? Just sponge it up? Believe me, sweetheart, it’s not just a sponging up operation.”

Adam shushed her again.

“What else do you know about bears mating? Do they get like more aggressive or—docile? Does it mellow them out maybe?” She sounded hopeful.

Adam released her from his hug. “I don’t know that much about it. I didn’t think they mated at night normally. That’s a surprise.”

Oh great, he’s surprised. Edie took him by the shoulders. “You’d think it would really calm them down though. I mean after.”

“Oh yes, Edie. They roll over and smoke a cigarette and the he-bear growls ‘Was it good for you?’ ”

Edie pulled away from him and started to cry. Adam reached for her, but she pushed him off. Shadows danced on the moonlit walls of the little tent.

“Sorry, honey. Sweetheart. Edie,” he said. “Listen. They’re not interested in us. They don’t even know we’re—”

A long rumbling growl cut Adam off. He stopped fiddling with his toes.

“They’re closer,” whispered Edie. “Or they’re coming closer. Oh my God. Maybe we should pray.”

“I thought you were an atheist.”

“Not exactly. I said I don’t believe in God, but I meant the God of religions. I mean, I’m spiritual. Aren’t you spiritual?”

“I don’t know. I believe in nature. Like the big picture, you know? Plants and tornadoes and trees, rivers, the Earth and the universe, and all that. All connected, like in a big web, or like the Internet, I think. Nature with a big N—”

He’s babbling, thought Edie. I’m going to die with a man who babbles like a fucking brook. She laughed into her hands.

She’s hysterical, thought Adam. What the fuck am I going to do?

“I’m going to look,” said Edie.

“Don’t. Better to stay still.”

“I’ve got to.” She got on all fours and made her way to the tent flap.

She does have a great ass, thought Adam.

Edie unzipped the flap just enough to peek out. She seemed to be moving in slow motion.

“Do you see them?” asked Adam.

She unzipped a little more. “I don’t see anything. But I hear them.”

“Me, too,” said Adam.

So now you hear them, she thought. Congratulations. She put her head out of the flap and froze.

“Edie?”

She retreated and very slowly zipped up the flap. “It’s like the size of a tank,” she said.

“Remember, there’re two of them. Like merged together,” said Adam. “They’re probably only like half a tank.”

“They’re about forty yards away. Right at the edge of the clearing. Didn’t you say twenty yards?”

“Maybe they moved.”

“Maybe you don’t know what a yard is,” said Edie.

Oh fuck you, thought Adam. But he was immediately sorry.

“I’m sorry,” said Edie. “I’ve just never been so scared.” She sat down and pressed herself against him and put an arm around his shoulders. “Adam?”

“Yes?”

“I know this is an awkward time to say this.”

He looked at her. So now she gets romantic, he thought.

“Do you think maybe we were a little hasty? I mean about, you know, getting married?”

“Hasty?”

“Well, it was all kind of sudden.”

“It was love at first sight,” said Adam. “Wasn’t it?”

Edie gave his shoulder a little squeeze.

“It was kind of—impulsive. And I’m not ordinarily impulsive,” said Adam. “But it was like lightning striking twice. Striking us both. We were like caught in a three-day tornado. Getting married just felt right. Didn’t it?”

“It felt right in Las Vegas.”

Adam was hurt and oddly relieved. “So what are you saying, Edie?”

“I don’t want to die with you.”

“No one’s going to die now.”

“I don’t just mean now, Adam. I mean not ever. Not under any circumstances.”

“Well,” he said. He touched her knee.

Edie looked at the flap of the tent. She had left the zipper open just a fraction of an inch and the moonlight found the opening and snuck its way in to them.

“I think really loving someone is wanting to die with them,” she said. “I don’t want to die with you.”

“I don’t want to die with you either, Edie,” said Adam.

They sat hip to hip in silence and held hands. After a few minutes, Edie said, “Listen.”

“I don’t hear anything,” said Adam. “Maybe I’m a little deaf. My mother is a little deaf. What do you hear?”

“Nothing. Nothing big. Crickets or something.” Edie crawled to the tent flap and slowly pulled down the zipper.

“What do you see?” Adam was on his hands and knees behind her.

“Nothing. And the moon’s all over the place. If there was something, I’d see it.”

Adam got up in a crouch, put his hands on her back, and got his head over hers to look out the flap.

“Jesus Christ, what are you doing, trying to mount me? I don’t believe you.”

“Just trying to get a look.”

“Get off of me,” whispered Edie fiercely.

“I don’t see anything either,” said Adam and retreated.

They sat back down cross-legged on the sleeping bag. “The car’s just twenty yards away,” said Edie. “Get the keys.”

“Maybe we should wait until first light.”

“When’s that?”

Adam shrugged. “Morning?”

Edie shook her head vigorously, her shoulder-length black hair tossing wildly. “No fucking way. I’m not hanging around to be somebody’s breakfast.”

“Okay. Let’s get dressed.”

“All you need are the keys. Put on your shorts if you have to, but leave everything else. We need to move now.” Adam was close enough to see the wild look in her eyes.

“Edie, I’ll go out first. If they’re still out there I’ll lead them away from the car. You just go on without me.”

“No, I can’t do that, Adam.”

“It’s all right,” he said and touched her cheek. What the fuck am I saying? he thought.

“No it’s not all right,” said Edie. “I can’t drive a stick. Only an automatic.”

“Oh.” Adam fumbled around and managed to get on his shorts, backwards. He held up the car keys.

“Okay,” said Edie. “On three.” She unzipped the flap and stuck out her head. “One, two—oh fuck.” And she burst out of the tent pulling Adam along with her.

They were in the van with the doors locked in under ten seconds. Adam turned on the headlights. He looked at her.

“Go, go, go,” yelled Edie. “What’s the matter?”

“We’re leaving everything behind, you know. Everything.”

“Not everything. We’re taking the rest of our lives.”

Adam sighed. “There’s a blanket on the back seat. I mean if you want to cover up.”

Edie took his face in her hands and kissed him. “I don’t love you, Adam, but I sure as hell like you.”

“I like you, too, Edie.” He drove cautiously around the trees toward the dirt road to the highway.

The black bear moved slowly toward the yellow tent in the moonlight.

Top Photo Credit – Photosbygar Photography – http://photosbygar.com

 

Paul Negri

Paul Negri lives and writes in Clifton, NJ. HE has twice won first place in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition. HIs work has appeared in The Vestal Review, Bartleby Snopes, Pif Magazine, Flash Fiction Press, and other publications.

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