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 matinee 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.

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