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  • Diane D. Gillette

Imagine a Bear

Try to imagine a bear. A bear woken too soon from hibernation because of some deep unknown pain. Maybe a broken heart? There–there’s the empathy you need. Now feel something for the bear.

No, scratch that. A hurt bear is a dangerous bear. He can still end you with little effort. Maybe instead, try to imagine a tame bear. A circus bear. Imagine he wears a feathered hat. Maybe a bow tie too. Give the bow-tie polka dots. Make the bear dance. That’s better. But still he battles some secret agony. Maybe it’s grief so large it can’t be contained. Maybe it's depression. Don’t assume the bear is just evil. But the bear is a bear and can’t (won’t) talk to anyone about it, so it just festers.

Does that work? Does making him silly and pained make you want to stay? Bring him herbal tea with his daily pills? No, probably not. Even a circus bear is a dangerous bear. Every animal trainer knows that.

Okay, so now imagine the bear is hooked to an oxygen tank. Imagine he’s slowly been killing himself for decades with cigarettes and booze. Maybe his poison has spewed onto everyone around him for years. Mother. Wife. And Daughter. Don’t forget her. Don’t forget yourself. You can’t forget yourself because you’re the only one left, and no umbrella exists that can protect you. But now the bear is weak, and he needs you. Do you stay? Do you stay knowing that he can’t hurt you anymore? Do you stay knowing the cancer has stolen his voice?

Imagine you put the bear in a boat and row the two of you out to sea. Now you’re alone. No witnesses. Do you spew his poison back at him? Let it rain down on him while his raspy breaths punctuate everything you throw at him? Do you just push him over the side, let his oxygen tank pull him down below while you row back to shore? Or maybe, just maybe, you just sit and drift in the little boat, alone with the bear. You just sit and listen to the sea lap against the side of the boat and wait until his raspy breaths are no more. Maybe that’s all you can do with the bear.


Diane D. Gillette (she/her) lives in Chicago. Her work is a Best Small Fictions selection. Her chapbook “We’re All Just Trying to Make It to January 2nd” is available from Fahmidan & Co. She is a founding member of the Chicago Literary Writers. Read more at

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