We love stories here. We also love words. Sometimes we make up our own words. Like Kinderwurst. It means child sausage in German. But when we looked it up it was a real thing. Germans are scary people.
The Stalking Sunbear is what happens when you let your love of words go too far. That and sausage-children.
The Stalking Sunbear
The rapping on the door at three in the morning wasn’t unexpected. Or if it was, only in the way of a sudden spring rain. There had been a rising, a cool certainty, but no indication when it would break.
She stood in the portico, arms crossed around herself in the dusky cool of the night air.
It was never really dark here in the city, just a twilight break between the sun’s crossings. “I thought I’d surprise you,” she said, head down, a dubious pitch.
She didn’t know I looked forward to these visits. She didn’t know the cabinet I paced to, the door that hid the things I kept for these visits, black spiced tea and pirouettes, kept fresh for her. She didn’t know the cups I pulled out, mismatched solitary survivors of three sets of dishware purchased since college.
She heats the water herself, and I pull out chairs. New chairs to match the new kitchen set. I miss the battered table that so many friends sat at. We left it at the curb a couple days after graduation. Nobody bothered to find a way to cart off something so beaten and abused. I like to think that someone else picked it up, scrounging furniture as we once did, but I never checked.
We talk for hours. Our tea goes cold and is refilled, and grows cold again. I drink in the details, the way that her foot hooks around the chair leg. Bashful almost, a vine in the garden searching for support.
It was an old nervous habit when I first met her, but now it’s a sign of comfort, her foot trying to root itself in the floor of my kitchen.
* * *
I went to visit her once, a few months ago at her office job. Post college career. Consummate professionalism. She looked cool, and clean, and light. But, when I came in she left off her computer with a robotic motion as machined by Frederick Taylor. Tight, precise, perky, but no movement wasted. She looked up with eyes bright and asked,
“Can I help you sir?”
No trace of what I once knew, that shy awkward smile, eyes that skittered away until you knew her well enough to capture them. The mask trembled, cracking, betraying confusion. But I had already turned, fled, through the door, the maze of offices and cubicles in soothing colors, past the guard who didn’t recognize me. I had snuck past him into the building. I don’t remember why.
“James?” A name. A word left in my wake, half arisen from the open door of an office.
Wake, Lazarus, for the stone is rolled away.
But I was out, lost among the afternoon crowds, in the bright sun of this valley of glass, and steel, and advertisement. I faded away, pursued, but I knew not what chased me, what shortened breath and quickened heartbeat until I could hear it, feel it in my ears. I stopped down a hundred feet away, hidden in the shadow of the doorway of a pharmacy. Looked back, no one took notice. The day was heat and bright dust, ghostly, sil ent, with the lively passage of feet and the keel of the crowd.
And in the path of my egress, my cannonball ejection into this askew normalcy, nothing. Why did I run? Or rather flee, as running would have given me away to the crowd. My exit had been the deft instinctive result of an irrational panic.
In the door to the office a head appeared. Round head, dark eyes. Hair dark, straight, burnished, and chestnut. Where was the flyaway hair, eyes wild and sleepy?
Instead, polite confused alertness.
* * *
I left the next week. In spite of the fact I hadn’t seen her since commencement. In spite of the fact that I would not be coming back here, to this city that had grown strange and wild since my graduation.
Perhaps it had not changed. But I had, mark indelibly stamped upon my brow by the mortarboard. And this beast we lived in, no longer fooled by the scholarly bend of my scent, finally recognized me for the mismatched jigsaw piece I was. No place to ply my trade, my music, if I would not grow up and get a job.
So, I drew back from the ranks, wandered the night streets, and found a cheap apartment in another place, where the crush of glass and steel and commerce gave way to crumbling brick, wrought iron, and colorfully unauthorized art.
But, I never belonged here. Not truly, anyway.
I never could sway to the cliques, and the scene, and the sharks. Hungry men, empty eyed, and looking to build an empire, a profit. So I sat and played between the cracks, trades-manned to the small businesses, the honest folk. I kept the lights on and the fridge stocked. At least I did for the most part.
But I missed the band. Missed the bassist, Selver, drugged out chill, stringy, but a magick to his fingers that you could feel through the amps. Missed our drummer, Kevin Hill, angry rebel, smashing police headlights and beer bottles. Missed our crowd, the drifters, and the mules, and kids who just liked to hang with musicians, magicians one and all, artificers of image and sound.
But mostly, I missed her. The way we hung around after a set. Sometimes we played a little more on our own, but mostly we talked, her conversation smoky and blue. I loved the sound of her voice, her slow sleepy diction, quiet and thoughtful.
But, what I loved most was her music. The way she sang and pulled the soul from her keyboard and shaped it, working it, stroking it, and breaking it down, so she could grow it back up again
She’d sent the board away when she graduated, complaining that it didn’t fit in her tiny apartment.
After all, she could always get it back from her folks later.
* * *
She hadn’t gotten it back yet the first time she found me.
It was a little after midnight, and I was sitting alone in my apartment with my acoustic. I had dreamt of her that afternoon, which wasn’t all that unusual. A wan life of marketing jingles and backup recordings held poor candle to the vividness of memory.
I wasn’t expecting her. I hadn’t heard from anyone else in the band. Kevin had been arrested and dropped out before graduation. Selver was always more interested in the drugs than the music.
It was about two months since the office. But there she was, standing there in her suit jacket and dress. Nervous, but willing to track me down and occupy my welcome mat.
A light rap brought me to the door, and when I saw her through the peephole I started. For the mask so firmly in place the last time I saw her was shattered; askew and tattered. Despite her sensible earrings, despite her sober heels and makeup, it was her. Tired, and cold and weary, but there, present and human.
I threw open the door and hugged her in one motion. She might have screamed. It seems she wasn’t entirely sure she had the right door. I brought her in from the cold and looked for tea, but the best I could do was an old packet of hot chocolate and an orange which she accepted with a cautious smile.
We talked and the light in the kitchen seemed warmer than it ever had before. She only stayed an hour or two, but promised to be back. And I promised that when she did, I’d have more in my refrigerator than a bag of fruit and some condiments.
She did come back. It was two weeks later. I had tea, but nothing in my fridge, so she dragged me to the twenty four hour grocery and filled up a cart. She wouldn’t let me pay. I could have written the check without it bouncing. Probably. At least if she didn’t keep adding things.
She came back again. This time we stayed in the apartment. I’d found a couple steady gigs and we ordered Chinese to celebrate. I played a little and she sang. It was beautiful.
She kept coming, making the trip and staying later. Sometimes we caught the dawn together, but she would always leave before the birds started calling. I started keeping more food in the fridge, if only for when she stopped by and dreamt about her music. She started bringing food, decorations and the odd furnishing. One day she showed up with a lamp. I don’t know why she brought me a lamp, but I plugged it in next to the couch, and we passed the witching hour by its light.
Tonight she’s crying. We are talking about old times, the ridiculous plans and dreams we made. It looks like she doesn’t even notice the stray tears as she brushes them away. Or maybe she’s hoping I don’t. I want to wrap my arms around her, tell her it’s alright and kiss the tears away, but that won’t fix the source of the leak. Instead, while she watches I head to the bedroom. There is a locked case under the bed, a case that’s just a little big for the cell she calls an apartment, the answer to a post I sent her parents.
I can’t open it. I don’t have the key. The key is still in her pocket, on a chain next to her keys for her car, and her locker at the office and her apartment. It’s almost like she had been hoping its presence would keep its counterpart close.
Maybe it did.
I know what I’m hoping.
I’m hoping she’ll stay and listen to the birds sing.
Production and reading for The Stalking Sunbear were done by Andrew Turner.
This episode was written by Patrick Mares
Music was provided by Valence,
Song: Valence – Infinite [NCS Release]
Music provided by NoCopyrightSounds.
Video Link: https://youtu.be/QHoqD47gQG8
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