Green Hills Literary Lantern

Arabesque

 

 

It happened during that strangely dead, sun-baked summer when Cynthia was thirteen. This was the summer her parents had dragged her out to the Catskills. “You’ll love it up there,” they had promised – “we’ll get away from all the concrete and toxic heat and be able to decompress.”  She had tried to feel excited but couldn’t. The truth was that she wanted to stay in the city, longed to hang out with Jenny and Tara, using up all their pocket money on hot pretzels and Italian ices, watching the tourists stroll by with their funny accents and complicated cameras, and meandering around the Central Park reservoir before rushing back to their respective homes for dinner.

Instead she was stuck here in the hot deadness of the country, houses set far apart from each other, no people in sight, having to be driven everywhere, like a baby. How could anyone live here? It was incomprehensible to her—an alien place with endless stretches of land, long vistas and trees everywhere. The vast open spaces made her feel nervous and small, but it was the trees that alarmed her most. The house they were renting was hidden from the road by a set of giant pines. At night the trees were so tall that they obscured the stars and moon, making the darkness even darker. Afraid of the blackness and the unbelievable quiet, Cynthia would hug her body, unable to sleep until she was limp with exhaustion. During the day she preferred to stay indoors, protected from trees, ticks, and other nasties. 

The only activity she looked forward to was her regular Friday afternoon class at the Saugerties Ballet Center, a fifteen-mile drive from their house. Cynthia loved to dance—that summer she focused on spotting and pirouetting, doing grand jetés and glissades across the room. She would watch her skinny body reflected in the mirrors (burgundy leotard, pink tights and long dark hair clipped on top of her head) and feel happy, and that happiness would last for hours.

So she was content on that dusky summer evening, driving home from class with her dad, her belly full of tacos and ice cream. They were riding along on a country road and had just passed an oncoming minivan when something huge, black and dense came hurtling from left to right in front of their car.

“Daddy, watch out!” Cynthia shouted.

***

Her father jams on the brake, the car skids, screeching to the right and then . . . Cynthia feels the horrible sensation of rising over something soft and living.

“It’s okay, it’s okay—it’s just a tire,” cries her father. “That car had a blowout.”

“No, no” Cynthia screams—“it’s an animal Daddy, I can feel it.”  

Her dad stops. He gets out of the car. She follows at a distance. He is ahead of her, approaching a black mass. The mass is dark, darker than night, a hole of blackness. A heavy breath escapes from her dad’s mouth. “Oh no—it’s a dog.”  She sucks in her breath—she was right, she knew it. She feels like crying. A pickup truck approaches and a man in overalls gets out. Her dad and the man are talking now, pointing, looking at the black mass from about eight feet away. It’s dark, the animal is hurt, no one wants to get too close. Suddenly, her dad’s voice cuts through the air. “Oh my god, it’s a bear.” Something accelerates in her body. She moves back a few steps and looks at the dark shape. There is a simple movement—the black mass raises a piece of itself, and she sees it—the unmistakably round head, the perfectly curved outlines of the ears—it is a BEAR.

“Get back in the car Cynthia, right now,” her dad shouts out to her. She runs to the car and climbs onto the back seat on her knees, eyes glued to the back window, heart pounding. The bear struggles to keep its head up—the round head slumps and rises, slumps and rises.  She wonders how old it is—it is too small to be an adult, but it is big, bigger than her, dark and heavy and hurt. She suddenly feels very scared and wants to have her father back in the car next to her. She is scared that the bear is dying—slipping back into its pool of darkness forever, but then, with great effort, it pulls itself up, drooling and groaning, and limps across the road, back towards the woods.

“Please live,” she thinks to herself, “please.” She silently says goodbye to the bear, to this hurt, dragging creature with loopy ears. She feels very heavy.  When her dad returns, she climbs up into the front seat and hugs him.

“He’ll be okay, baby, don’t you worry.”

“Daddy, how do you know? We need to help him. 

“We can’t follow him into the woods, sweetheart. It’s too dangerous. The mother bear might attack. We’ll let the forest rangers know, and they’ll take care of the bear . . . okay honey?”

***

In the days that followed, Cynthia sketched the bear in her journal—curve of body, curve of head, curve of ears, curve joining curve . . . then she cross-hatched in his body, remembering his mass. She tried to indicate the injured limb—it had been a back leg, the right leg, she thought. She stared at the woods out of her bedroom window when she woke up and kept checking throughout the day for any signs of him.

Was he okay? She imagined him limping back to his mother. She imagined her gently licking his wounds. She imagined him resting on a log, eating berries. Then she saw him limping through the sunlit forest, staying far away from the roads. He was following his mother and his brother, for it made her feel better to think he had a brother.

When she weighed herself on the scale her mom had dragged with them from the city, she found herself thinking about the bear—about its weight—200 pounds, 220, 240?  She imagined his weighty body crunching twigs beneath him in an irregular pattern at first, then eventually as he healed, into a regular one.

By day three she decided to look for him more actively. 

Staying away from the scary eighty-foot pine trees in the front of the house, Cynthia ventured nervously into the woods in the back. She knew it was unlikely she’d see any bear during the day, but it made her feel closer to him to look. The woods had a moist and mysterious quality that surprised her. She thought she saw something move that first morning, but it turned out to be nothing more than the rustling of leaves. After that, feeling more confident, she ventured a little further every day, wearing pants and a long shirt and her sneakers as a precaution against ticks.

She started noticing things she hadn’t been aware of before: the soft carpet of the forest floor, the racket of the birds, magically flashing blue, flashing red as they darted through the trees, the warmth of the early morning sun filtering through trees and leaves. She started seeing the woods as a living, warm place, a place where her bear could heal, and she wished him back to health, imagined him back to health.

Her parents observed a change in her.

“Are you okay, honey?”

“Yes, Mom, I’m fine.”  And she was fine.

A week later, as she stood in the woods, looking, watching—something large moved, and she felt that acceleration she had felt the evening of the event. She instinctively moved back a few steps . . . . Was it her bear? But the animal was too light to be the bear. It turned out to be a large deer, quickly followed by two little fawns, just losing their white baby spots. She held her breath as the mother and fawns stopped and stared into her eyes with curiosity, before turning and leaping away, their movements not so different from the grand jetés she herself engaged in on the dance floor. Cynthia stood rooted in place, feeling their presence. She extended her right arm towards them, then upward towards the sky, her left leg and arm reaching out behind her. She held the position for a long time, perfectly balanced, the sun warming the top of her head. 

 

Iromie Weeramantry is a Sri-Lankan born fiction writer who splits her time between upstate New York and New York City, where she was a long-time member of the Writer’s Studio. Her fiction has been published in The Alembic and in a previous issue of GHLL. Iromie has degrees from the Johns Hopkins University and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She works as a senior digital marketing strategist for IBM.