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Stories 1 Spring  2024



    by Jeff Burt

When Shar was four, she began to ask Roak serious questions for which he had no answer, a question as simple as why do we think the sun is nice when it’s really just indifferent—the word indifferent shocked Roak.  Or why her mom took mindfulness classes but never came home on time from her work.

Roak began to see his daughter as biologically other, became wary of her. He started to avoid Shar’s game of staring intently into his eyes and each making up stories of what they saw. She was no longer a baby, capable of being swept into whatever he desired to sweep her into. Instead of a little soft voice requesting times of harmony in play, out came at times a shrill questioning voice, a voice that challenged him not with the questions as much as the steely confidence from which the questions came. The questions included a criticism, of her mother’s long hours, or his ability to fix things, of words as no longer magic but manipulators.

Roak began to look at her aslant rather than straight on, ferocious of protecting her, but afraid that her questions would unmask the largely trusting manner in which he operated his life. He already knew that in a few years she would be more intellectual than he, and, like his wife, driven to dominate and accost life rather than, like him, appreciate and get along.

That is, until a scrawny black bear with a patchwork of old fur and new came tumbling from the birch and alder grove up the hill, rolled into their tarped garden bed, and became trapped in the tarp, thrashing back and forth, rolling over and back, the plastic twisting up his legs like tornados, and his claws piercing and shredding the parts by his face.

Gnawing and claws did not ease the plastic encircling his legs, and obviously tired from the tumble, looking hungry from hibernation, the bear laid back and fell asleep in the early spring sun, all the while Roak and Shar watched speechless from the dining room window.     

When you live in the outskirts, a somewhat pleasant name that seems to describe both a remoteness from civilization yet the positive nature of, well, being close to nature, but in reality is a word to describe the beginning of rural poverty, you develop a stickiness to problems, a willingness to probe and figure things out and not resorting to a quick phone call, to say, animal control, because you know it will be several hours before their truck comes from civilization to where you live. Roak was seasoned at poking a stick into problems, and that is what he intended to do with that bear. Shar wanted to present the bear a plate of berries, and lacking berries, thought a bowl full of cereal would do the trick. Roak liked the stick.

He went out the front door and pulled an eight-foot limb lopper with a jagged saw from the side of the house. He tippy-toed, even though in heavy boots, to the end of the side of the house, and looked at the bear still snoozing. He was on the head side of the bear, not the foot side, so had to sneak around the front of the house to the other side.

The tarp was less tightly wrapped then it appeared from the window. But no bear would figure out how to unwrap it either. It was a modest, bear-made bear trap. Roak had two choices: unwrap the tarp from the legs, or cut the tarp off.

It was when he held the lopper less than six inches from the left foot of the bear that a question came—what would happen when the bear, disturbed at getting his foot poked, woke up? He would not be able to unwind or claw his way out of the tarp snare. The bear would just be angry.

But second thoughts tended to be dismissed by Roak, like the time he tried to drive his ATV over a semi-frozen lake.

Roak poked the bear.

The bear woke up.

The bear showed no signs of stress, rubbing his paws on his face, even fluffing off some of the dirt that covered his torso. He yawned.

Roak could not suppress his own yawn. They yawned together.

Want help big boy? Roak whispered. Want me to take off the tarp?

The bear rolled his head as if it were not attached and used his paws to smooth his chest fur. He sat up. He yawned again.

Roak was about six feet away from the bear’s feet, so he shortened up on the pole and advanced a full long step toward the bear.

The bear stunk. It was odor that seemed a mix of overheated fur that he’d smelled on a dog that was sick, and of rotting cabbage, moldy fruit, dirt, and of crap, plain old bear shit.

As Roak sniffed, the bear sniffed, and Roak heard Shar laughing from the window.

He liked that Shar laughed. He was entertaining her in a way that he had never dreamed of. He was being fairy-tale brave, a hero.

He leaned over, grabbed the end of the tarp, and slowly unwound the first circle of the trap from the bear’s foot.

The bear grunted.

He leaned over again and unwound another layer.

This time the bear not only grunted, but laid back down with his paws under his head as if he were in a hammock.

Roak counted the circles. There were seven left on the left leg, and two large ones on the right that the bear had pretty much torn through. He leaned again just as the bear seemed to shut its eyes. He unwound a third circle and could see where the tarp had spun so tightly the fur and flesh had compressed the bear’s leg.

He quickly did a fourth and fifth, and the entire lower leg was now exposed. The bear wiggled its feet, as if appreciating the circulation.

Roak kneeled. He could hear Shar shriek. He gave her a thumbs up sign without looking at the window. Now he wished he had scissors. As the tarp had been unwound, it now was several feet of material, and each successive unwinding took more time. He slowly rose and backed away from the bear. It had seemingly fallen asleep again.

He retraced his steps and went in the house.

You’re dumb, Shar said. Dumb and you’re going to die.

Roak shook his head confidently. Daddy’s not going to die. The bear can’t move. His leg has little circulation. The best he can do is roll over. I can tell he likes what I am doing. He knows I’m saving him.

And then he’s gonna eat you.

Roak found scissors in the silverware drawer. He tested the sharpness on a slip of paper hanging on the refrigerator and went back to the bear.

The bear appeared to enjoy being on his back. As Roak approached, the bear appeared like a vacationer ready for another drink with a little parasol in it.

Roak slipped the scissors under the tarp and in four quick clips had freed the leg of the bear.

In nature, at times, there is a wonderful moment of awareness that arrives when two differing beasts meet and suddenly must resort to their nature. A mouse and a cat can have a few seconds in a mutual freeze, but eventually one pounces and the other scurries. So, too, with Roak and the bear. They had a few seconds in which the act of a freed leg appeared to bond them in a certain kindness, but only a few seconds.

The bear, after pretending to be a tourist, rolled and shook, stood and shook, and began racing around in a circle, neck stretched out and head raised. He did not look angry. He looked confused.

Roak, for his part, had stood like a statue after freeing the bear, despite Shar screams. When the bear shook, Roak appeared to shake. When the bear stood, Roak stood. When the bear began to race, Roak began to race in the opposite direction in a circle, the only problem being that two dots racing the opposite way in a circle are bound by nature to meet. They met.

Roak stopped, frightened. The bear stopped, frightened, looked left into the neighboring yard, and slowly walked away. Roak made a shooing motion, watched for a minute, then came back into the house, greeted by an enormous hug.

He crouched down. Shar had a smile on her face.

Do you want to play bear, she asked.

Roak looked at her. She was four. Of course, he said.

A few more bears, he figured, and he could stay ahead of Shar for a few more years.


Bio: Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz, California with his wife. He has work in Per Contra, Gold Man Review, Bluebird Word, and previously in Green Silk Journal. He has a chapbook available from Red Bird Chapbooks.


The Last Laugh   
     by Adelaide B. Shaw                                                                   
Joey, in a hurry, pushed the bell two, three times. His car was double-parked. Gertie’s pa didn’t like Joey honking the horn. "A gentleman doesn't honk," he said. 
It was because of the cops. They drove their black and whites in the neighborhood, slow and quiet like snakes, looking for someone to give a ticket or tow away. Sometimes a tow truck followed behind like a dog. The cops did a lot of double-parking themselves, waiting for a meter with a few minutes left to click over to EXPIRED. 
"Bingo!" That's what Joey heard when he stopped for a red light on his way to Gertie's.     A big florid faced pudgy cop. "That's four this afternoon," he said, laughing.
"Here comes the owner," Pudgy's partner, a skinny bird faced young guy with a beaked nose said. "Look at him waving. Like a flapping chicken."
Pudgy stuck the ticket under the windshield wiper and scooted as fast as a 20-pound overweight 50- year-old could scoot back into the patrol car, laughing so hard he choked. The owner reached his car, screaming and waving, just as Bird Face peeled rubber.
"They're not going to catch me,” Joey said.
"What's your hurry?" Gertie asked running after Joey, her long red hair bouncing up and down. When Gertie ran all her parts bounced up and down. 
"Quick. Let's go. There's a cop car turning the corner. I don't want to get towed for double-parking." Joey peeled a little rubber himself as he pulled out. 
It was Saturday afternoon, and Joey headed for Main Street and the Bijou theater. Gertie wanted to see a matinee.  "It's only an hour and 45 minutes. There's two hours on the meter."  She snuggled up to him, pressing her beautiful bouncy body against his chest. She was wearing perfume and smelled like a rose garden in August. "Come on," she whispered. “We can do it."
What Joey wanted to do would get him more than a parking ticket on Main Street, so he hurried Gertie inside the theater. After the film, Gertie fussed with her hair and makeup before a lobby mirror, went to the ladies’ room, diddle-dawdled as only a woman can. When they hit the street, there was Bird Face, checking the meter in front of Joey’s car.
 "Scream.” Joey gave Gertie a shake. "There's a wasp near you."
That did it. Gertie screamed, and Joey ran towards his car. Pudgy, driving the patrol car, pulled up fast in front of the Bijou. Bird Face ran up the street, waving his gun, shouting "Officer of the law, officer of the law."
By the time Pudgy rolled out of the patrol car and swung his broad backside up to Gertie there was a crowd. Gertie slapped at the air, swatting Pudgy in the face, who was too slow to duck. Pudgy yowled. Gertie yowled. Down the street the meter flipped over just when Joey got there. He hopped inside, pulled away and slowly drove past the Bijou, honking and motioning to Gertie that she meet him at the corner.
 "You louse," she yelled, hitting Joey on the arm.  "I felt like an idiot. I could have been shot by that skinny cop." Her face was flaming, even her hair seemed to ignite and glow redder.
"It worked, didn't it? Got those cops away from the car, and no ticket. I'll buy you a double chocolate shake. O.K.?"
At Bob's Drive in, Joey was still laughing, but not Gertie. While they had their shakes, the same black and white pulled in on Gertie's side.  Bird Face was at the wheel. He began to chat with Gertie like they were old buddies.  
"Sorry I scared you with the gun," he said.
"Sorry I screamed for nothing," Gertie replied. "When Joey said there was a wasp I just naturally screamed."
Bird Face looked past Gertie at Joey. "Is that your boyfriend?" he asked.
"Yeah. This week anyway. I'm mad at him right now."
"What'd he do? "
"Left me with the wasp."
“He shoulda stayed around and killed it for you. That's what a gentleman woulda done.  I was ready to shoot it for ya." Bird Face giggled. Gertie giggled.
Pudgy, sitting next to him, whispered something.
"Yeah.  That's the car," Bird Face said. "Tell your boyfriend he was lucky. If you hadn't  screamed, he woulda  gotten a ticket."    
Pudgy leaned forward and looked at Joey.  "I've seen your car around, Sonny. You just better watch it. You ain't funny."
After quickly pulling out, Joey and Gertie cruised around some more, drove to the beach, did some necking, got a burger at another drive-in and were back at Gertie's house by midnight.   Joey double-parked again and waited for Gertie to get out of the car.  
"Aren't you going to walk me to my door?" she asked.
This was new. She always went by herself. At that hour her pa wouldn’t know Joey was not being a gentleman.    
"A gentleman would walk me to my door," she said, sounding like she had sucked on a lemon.   "That cop was ready to kill for me and you can't get out of the car."
Joey got out, walked to her side, opened the door, bowed, took her arm and escorted her to her front door. Another bow and a kiss on her hand.        
 "Bye, Joey," Gertie said, giving a wave.
Two sets of flashing lights suddenly came up the street fast and stopped, flanking Joey’s car.  The guy from the tow truck got there before Joey and hooked a cable on the bumper. Bird Face, coming right behind, slapped a ticket in his hand.
"Double-parking is against the law," Bird Face said, as he swaggered back to the patrol car.
As Joey watched his car disappear down the street, Pudgy, his head out the window, shouted, "Now this is funny. Don't you think?”
Bio: Adelaide B. Shaw lives in Somers, NY.  She has been writing short fiction for over forty years  and has been published in several journals, including Loch Raven Review, Emrys Journal, The MacGuffin, The Toronto Star, American Literary Fiction, By-Line and Adelaide Literary Magazine and Greensilk Journal.  She also write haiku and other Japanese short form poetry and has been published widely