Friday, July 15, 2005

Of Bears and Bearded Men

A short story by Zinta Aistars

At the moment of deepest dark, she opens her eyes. Night. The deepest part, when blackness permeates the walls, the floor, the ceiling, the soul of the woman lying on the bed. She is awake in a distant motel room, and alone.

Voices echo and sound from an unsure distance, young, rowdy, boisterous, restless, and they frighten her. She doesn't frighten easy, but it is the deepest dark of the night, she is alone, and she shivers lightly. She had stopped minding nights alone a long time ago, allowing only for an occasional glimmer of human disturbance to keep it from becoming a habit, but this moment is new. She closes her eyes, listening, trying not to listen, but the voices invade, and she shivers, again, involuntarily. The sheets that smell of strange are cold, and she pushes them away, off her, away, suddenly needing out of here, out of this bed, and out of this room. But the voices.

Faint whoosh of passing traffic, that too a distant noise like dreams. Her own shadow, in the wall mirror, like a passing ghost. She stands with her shoulder against the wall, cheap paneling, and waits for nothing. Only waits, feeling the beating of her own heart. They shared a drink, she and the bearded man who sleeps on the other side of the wall, shared partial secrets, but mostly each kept their own, and parted for the night with a friendly nod. He slept soundly, she did not doubt it. He was the sort. Beautiful bearded men sleep deep and sweet and well, never shivering in the chill of their sheets.

Back to the wall, she unbuttons her flannel shirt and lets it drop to the floor, listening for the echoes, a jeering, then laughter, ugly and coarse. She waits for silence. It comes. Cool of the paneling, full length of her, she fights the ripping inside her, the fear, the shaking, the gut wrench, the urge to run. Instead, she presses the full length of her chilled exposed body to the wall and closes her eyes and breathes in the beauty of the bearded man sleeping undisturbed on the other side on whose door she would never knock, who she would never tell, not the secrets, nor show the scars, nor tell him about this wall, nor her flannel shirt on the floor.

Come morning, she would stand before a polished pane of store window glass and stare like a child at a great stuffed bear, luxuriously furred and soft, with shining dark eyes, and great suede padded paws. She wets her lip with the tip of her tongue. "I've never had a teddy bear," she says, revealing her first secret, and behind her the bearded man stops. Her eyes flick to the reflection of his in the glass.

"I'll buy you one," he says. Although she may have imagined that.

Published on the February 2002 issue of "Insolent Rudder"

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