The Bear under the Table
by Mary Stein, Jan 23, 2014
The bear was there, she knew, waiting under the checkered tablecloth. The tablecloth trembled a little but otherwise gave no hint of the bear’s presence.
She knew it was there because she had seen it slip in between the chairs at the side of the table. It was small and dark and sloped on both ends, like the bear in the California state flag. Its paws were not quite silent on the leaf-strewn earth of the garden, but no one else noticed, busy as they were with the jigsaw puzzle covering most of the table top, its irregular curving pieces syncopated against the red and white squares of the cloth.
It felt somehow inappropriate that she should have been the one to see the bear. Her life had no relation to bears of any kind. If she compared herself to animals, they were dogs like the ones that worried sheep, or silky tail-wagging spaniels. Why had not Walter seen it—big, affable, outreaching Walter? He would know how to lure the bear out with an ice-cream cone or a bagel. Or why not Dorian—why had not Dorian seen the bear? Dorian, with her long-haired grace, her tall, calm, competent body, could surely tie a silken ribbon around the bear’s neck, rub it behind its ears and lead it away, like a princess in a medieval tapestry.
Of course they were busy just now with the puzzle, and she hated to bother them. They were so good at seeing just where two pieces might fit together, especially when you considered that so many pieces looked as if they would fit and then didn’t. She had rather dropped out of working on the puzzle with them because she always seemed to be in their way, hesitantly trying to place a piece here or there. Dorian and Walter could see right away what would work, and what wouldn’t.
She lifted the edge of the tablecloth, which hung nearly to the ground, and glimpsed a black paw, with long shiny claws. The bear was facing toward her. She dropped the cloth.
She wanted to resist jumping to conclusions about the bear. It was not necessarily her bear in any sense of the word. Simply because it was pointing itself toward her did not mean that the bear was posing a challenge meant just for her. Weren’t they all in this together, all sitting around the same table in the garden?
The idiocy of not telling Walter and Dorian about the bear struck her then, and she said, “There’s a bear under the table.”
Dorian looked at her quizzically, as if she had perhaps heard incorrectly. Walter looked up, amiable curiosity on his wide face. She knew she hadn’t said it quite right, it was too bald a statement. Still, the bear was there. She said, “Look under the table and see for yourself.”
Dorian reached down and gingerly lifted one edge of the cloth, peering a small way into the darkness underneath, then dropped the cloth. “Can’t see a thing,” Dorian announced.
Now she could feel the bear’s breath on her exposed toes.
Walter said, “Well now, a nice bear might be just the thing.” He lifted the cloth a little higher than Dorian had, and with both hands. But the bear had retreated to the far side of the table and remained invisible to him.
“Sorry, dear, can’t see him,” Walter said. “Wasn’t there something in the paper about not bothering bears? Leave them alone and they’ll go home?”
As he spoke, she heard a small rustle under the table and knew that the bear was moving back toward her. Something furry touched her ankle, and something hard, like a claw, pressed against her instep.
“But there’s a bear here!” she cried and ripped the tablecloth off. Dorian screamed, and the puzzle pieces went flying in all directions as the bear scrambled out from under the table and ran up the hillside as fast as it could go, pieces of puzzle flecked across its back.
About the Author
Mary Stein is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. She holds a black belt in aikido and her book about aikido, "The Gift of Danger," is available from North Atlantic Books in Berkeley, California