bunches her several hundred pounds, rucked fur bristling like porcupine
quills, and lunges forward several body lengths, hammers the ground
with her paws, and stops. She’s darker than her cub, which rushes to her
with a bleat. The sow sniffs the cub, her nose exploring it. All the while
she keeps the thick delta of her head trained on Parrish and Sadie. The
cub stands upright, now bold or curious, forelegs dangling, and points
its snout at them, looking like nothing so much as a little man in a tan
Sadie contorts and strains, but Parrish holds fast. If the bear elects
to charge, he may have no choice. He does a quick inventory: pocket
knife, car keys, wallet, flashlight, work gloves, tree branch, and Sadie.
His phone is in the cup holder in the pickup. Some glimmer of learned
wisdom tells him black bears most always shun people, but flooded with
pain, adrenaline, and now nausea, and with his left knee ballooning inside his pant leg, Parrish takes little comfort in the notion.
The sow, followed by her cub, heads toward Parrish and Sadie, and
this action puts a crimp in his breathing. Sadie redoubles her efforts to
get free, but he squeezes her, whispers, No. The bear huffs and makes a
hissing sound that’s almost catlike. If the bear comes, he’ll release Sadie,
hoist himself up, grab the tree branch, and get ready. But the bear and
the cub veer off and make a long detour around the edge of the rockslide, eyes pinned to the interlopers, making a noisy declaration of what
he takes to be rebuke and warning.
The hill rises at a good thirty-degree angle up from the trail, but the
big bear and the little bear amble right up as if gravity has issued an exemption. In the pooling twilight they disappear, but for the longest time
Parrish hears the sounds of their passage. Breathing, footfalls, snapping
branches, abraded trunks, and whipping brush—it carries through the
In another room he hears voices. They reach him wherever he is, through
a gauzy veil of whatever the doctor has given him for pain. The wrapped
knee is tight, and he can feel the blood moving in it.
Sadie needs a puppy, mom. Followed by soft laughter that he knows.
Really, she’s sad.
Sadie does, does she? Hmmm. Might want to rope your dad in on that.
But it can’t hurt to window shop at the shelter.
We have to take her. She has to pick. The voices rise, getting closer.
Well, you’re awfully smart.