The Bear

Scott Mitchel May

Reagan was a good man. Slow towards the end, but good. The Bear met him exactly three times and he met Oliver North exactly four times and he met George Hebert Walker Bush exactly three times as well, when he was made The Director of the FPPIB. Before then, he was a Company Man through and through. Hell, he made his bones under Kennedy. No one could say he was a partisan. But he’d always carry a special place in his heart of hearts for Reagan. There was something innocent there, childlike, and it was that exact quality that allowed the man to do what he did and not just come across like some sort of corporatist, which of course he was. Some would have you believe that that quality was a put on, an affectation, a façade designed to disarm and persuade, and it was useful in that pursuit, and Reagan was smart enough to know that, but it also happened to be, as The Bear knew, quite genuine; and that was why The Bear loved Ronald Reagan. It had nothing to do with being named The Director for a brand-new investigative agency — though, he was grateful for that. Also, Reagan allowed him to pick the location for the FPPIB headquarters and he didn’t balk when The Bear chose Madison, Wisconsin. The Bear appreciated that as well. Reagan never even asked why. If he had, The Bear wouldn’t have lied. He’d have said it was because that’s where his wife was from and wanted to return to, and after a career out east, he owed her that, and he knew Ronald well enough to know that that would’ve carried some weight with him and he would’ve been granted permission even with only a personal reason for wanting the location. Yeah, The Bear loved Ronald Reagan, those that came after, beside H.W., he merely tolerated.

There is a small park across the street from the non-descript entrance to the subterranean headquarters of the FPPIB. The park has a lone bench on its far-west corner where Agents routinely leave dead-drops for various covert-types. The Bear eats his lunch on that bench every day, which can really mess up the drop schedule some days, but what are the Agents going to do, tell The Bear where he can and can’t eat his lunch? The bench is dedicated to John and Bethany Ellison who both died on December 26th 1999 and whom, according to the small plaque on the bench’s back, loved to watch their grandchildren play in the park and would often pack a picnic lunch for them. The way they died is not disclosed on the plaque nor is their age. Just their names, the date they died, and the reason for the park bench being a fitting memorial to their memory. The Bear spends his lunches on the bench and he watches children at play and he eats the sandwiches (always two sandwiches the variety of which rotates between roast beef, ham, and egg-salad) his dotting wife packs for him every day. His thoughts often wander to the Ellisons. He supposes that they died in some sort of accident — car, boating, got lost hiking, something like that. Often that is the case when people die on the same day, especially people who are old enough to have grandchildren but still young enough to watch said grandchildren at the park and have picnic lunches. He hopes they went in an accident, prays they went that way, and prays it was fast. He reads the paper, too, at lunch on the bench, and every so often there will be a story about an elderly couple both succumbing to some illness on the exact same day, within hours of each other, or sometimes within like one day of each other, and he thinks to himself, privately, how terribly awful that would be. It is The Bear’s opinion that being terminally ill, all on its own, is bad enough, but it’s is cruel and unusual for God to inflict the suffering of terminal illness on a person and then heap on top of that the suffering of watching the one person that that person loves the most, also suffering terminal illness and degenerating right in front of them. Of course, this cruelty is compounded and multiplied by the fact that the person that the first person loves the most in this world, and is now having to watch suffer and become more and more weak and feeble, is also having to watch the first person suffer and become more and more weak and feeble. And also compounding all of this suffering, thinks The Bear, is the fact that because both individuals both love each other more than life itself, their mutual decline into feebleness almost guarantees that they will both die with the knowledge that in their final moments on God’s Green, they were not only absolutely powerless to do anything to stop or alleviate the suffering of the person they loved most, but were, in all actuality, an additional source of pain and suffering for the one that they love most. They die knowing they caused a hurt so deep that only death would cure the guilt of it. The Bear likes the Ellison Bench very much.

There is a boy whose hair is so blond it’s almost a pale blue when the sun hits it just right swinging not twenty feet from The Bear as he eats his egg-salad. The boy looks to be eleven years of age and fatherless on this crisp fall day. The Bear puts his paper down and watches the boy. He swings not high. He has no power in his legs, which The Bear is now noticing are smaller than they ought to be, smaller than the proportions of the rest of his body would suggest, somehow atrophied. The Bear sits and he supposes that boy broke one or both of his legs sometime over the summer; possible playing soccer, or riding his bike, or his friends dared him to jump off his garage. He sits and he contemplates the boy’s skinny and de-muscled legs and he believes that he can stimulate the boy’s legs and help them grow strong again by concentrating on the boy’s calf muscles really hard. He (The Bear) believes that he can perform a kind of mental EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation) on the boy’s struggling legs. He focuses. He lines his eyes up on the boy’s pumping left leg and he begins to chant (internally) Power, Growth, Power, Growth, and he believes he sees the height of the boy’s swing increase, albeit, unevenly. He focuses on the boy’s right leg and chants the same and he believes he sees the altitude of the right side and left side of the boy’s swing even out and the boy rise even higher on his next swing. The Bear is satisfied with his efforts and their results, and he stops chanting (internally) and he picks up his paper and his sandwich and he resolves to finish his lunch without any further thought about the boy, an effort in which only somewhat succeeds. He continues to think about the attempt to mentally alleviate the boy’s suffering through what he assumes is months of rehab for the two broken legs, and he comes to the conclusion that it does not matter if a) the boy does have atrophied legs or b) the boy did actually break his legs or c) that he helped the boy in any way while sitting on that bench, because all that really matters, as far as The Bear’s own personal mental wellbeing was concerned, was that he (The Bear) believed a, b, and c were all true. Because he believed they were true, and believed it so completely, then as a matter of fact, in his mind, they were true, regardless of their actual basis in real-world-type-fact. His mind was a universe unto itself and could make up the laws that govern that universe all on its own, and given that fact and the fact that he believes that he can manipulate the electrical field that is naturally occurring around everything in such a way that it has real world affects, then it stands to follow that he (The Bear), indeed, can, if only in his own mind, which is exactly where The Bear chooses to live. The boy flings himself from the swing at the apex of a particularly forceful swing and clears at least fifteen feet before planting both feet in the sand and running towards his bike which he then pedals, with all the force he can muster, away from the park and towards a home that The Bear assumes is a happy one, and therefore, it surely is.

The door across the street that leads to the hallway that leads to the elevator bank with the elevators that only go down opens and the five agents that make up The Bear’s inner circle file out and are heading for The Bear as he tries now to finish the last three bites of his second sandwich before they arrive, and he is unsuccessful but just. He is chewing in that way that people chew when their mouths are too full of food, when they’ve literally bitten off more than they can chew, but he feels no embarrassment at this and he has no issue with holding up one hand and extending one of that hand’s fingers in a gesture of “just a sec” to Bill and Steve and Rodger and Bob and Helen. He continues to chew for more than just the additional sec as indicated by the hand’s extended finger and he thinks about this while he chews, thinks about how it is more or less the social norm that the raised hand and extended finger gesture is always taken to mean “just a sec” but it is also understood that the actual time taken is always going to be longer than just a sec because just a sec is a supremely short amount of time when considering the average human’s capacity for expediency in doing something like wrapping up a phone call, which is almost always when the just a sec gesture is employed, or in The Bear’s case, finishing the chewing of the egg salad sandwich that his loving wife had so lovingly prepared. He deliberately slows his chewing, wondering how long he can hold his hand aloft with extended finger in this gesture before Bill and Steve and Rodger and Bob and Helen start to shuffle their feet and shift their weight from side to side in subconscious gestures of impatience. He knows that the subordinates would never outwardly display impatience, like checking their watches in an overly dramatic fashion, but still, he wonders how long he can keep them standing there. His chewing slows even further. He is now chewing so noticeably slow that the Agents have to know what’s up. He knows that the Agents have to know what is up. He ponders this knowing and the knowing of the knowing and he considers how this will alter the experiment in patience that he is running. He considers that the mere fact that they now have to know and that he now knows that they have to know has irreparably altered the base experiment of how long before their subconscious leaks though and they display the odd bit of impatient gesturing. He concludes that that experiment is shot and now further concludes that to continue with the so obvious it’s painful slow chewing and hand alofting and finger extending would only serve to see how long before one of the Agents or himself cracks and makes some sort of wise-ass remark acknowledging what is, in fact, happening, and he realizes that though extending this painful slow-chew until its breaking point may be considered fun and funny in some circles, his is not one of those circles, and these days it is hard enough getting anyone in the greater D.C. area to take his various memos and psychological assessment papers seriously without adding purposeful tomfoolery to the mix. He swallows. No one mentions the chewing. He de-extends his finger and lowers his hand. No one speaks yet. He considers not speaking himself and seeing how long until someone does speak, but ultimately decides this too would only be an exercise in frivolity and decides against it. “And so?” he finally says.

Scott Mitchel May has been (at one point or another and in no particular order) a dropout, a carwash attendant, a (suspected) taxi thief, a pony-wheel operator, a line cook, and, eventually, a legislative staffer for three Democratic State Senators. Though primarily a novelist, he has had his short fiction and poetry featured in many publications. He currently lives in New England and you can follow him on Twitter @smitchelmay or find a selection of his published works at