The nightmare memory of the polar bear haunted her every waking moment– the huge white monster in his “environment,” lethargic, glassy-eyed, thin, dingy, stained fur. She imagined that he longed for either freedom or death. The hot North Carolina sun beat down on his habitat in the dream/memory, and the water was never even nearly cold enough. Dead fish and red clay fields in the distance beyond the fake rocks of the enclosure….Despair absolute…Coat out of place…too, too far south….confusion….no where to go except around and around and around….
The children’s clothes were folded neatly but not put away. The phone did not ring. Her mind drifted to the blue table and chair. When warm weather came round at last, would she sit there on the porch? Would she find the drawer with new pens and pencils and paper? Would a candle burn on the surface of the blue table in the pre-dawn blackness?
Would the table remain?
The kitchen floor was filthy again, and she had moved the paintings.
She walked over to the place where he had pressed her up against the wall to remind herself.
“Is there no forgiveness?” She could not tell from the tone of his voice if he was sincerely asking or mocking her.
No. There is no forgetting–no forgetting. Is this the home where I am supposed to feel safe, both physically and emotionally?
And it comes out in the fear of the children, for they understand they are smaller than she and that she has to suppress her anger and frustration.
One day, the glass will explode.
She focuses on the blue table and then fills the mop bucket.
How to do it is the only question. She goes so far as to inquire into the possibility of a job at the zoo, but this is wildly impractical.
There is only one choice. She cannot endure another summer of thought, another heated-possessed, haunted July and the soul of the beast tearing away at her own miles-distant spirit.
For many, many years she has thought about the gun. Now she takes action, educates herself, finds a teacher, and in the late Carolina spring air while her husband is away on a business trip, she fires the revolver. Bullets cruise on fiery journeys to a bale of hay in her back yard, towards the silent, uninhabited woods.
Her hands are steady, purposeful as she masters the phallic rite of death. Easy…Easy…Easy…She is good at shooting–much better than she is at mopping floors or folding clothes. Her perfect aim astonishes and delights the old retired cop who gives her lessons at the local gun range. He tells her she has chosen a fine personal protection weapon, and he repeats this many times and in many variations. You must have strength, he warns her, many times and in many variations. She is strong beyond the old man’s knowing. She longs to seize his balls in a clenched and angry stranglehold until he kneels begging at her feet. Or perhaps, it would be better to simply turn the fine personal protection weapon upon her plaid-clad instructor–
But the woman exercises restraint and mercy. She counts, however, every hint of father-tone in the redneck’s final lecture on the 38 caliber revolver. At random, she chooses a limit to what she will endure. The old man comes perilously close to a violent death.
“I am a musician and a writer, I have given birth to two children. I have borne loneliness of a special kind known only to the quietly insane, lovers, dreamers, wood nymphs. Don’t warn me again about the gun. I am stronger than you will ever know. Just tell me how to get better at shooting. I am not interested in your false concern.”
The redneck shuts up. She reads his mind: crazy cunt.
The woman is merciful.
It is all a matter of rehearsal.
She was not much more than a child when he screamed for the first time, when he held her palpitating neck against the wall and left handprints on the pale skin. She was not more than a child when he kicked her.
She was no longer a child. Now, she felt very old, yet new.
It is all a matter of rehearsal. She was willing now to point the gun at the father of her children and shoot, for she could no longer endure the dreams of the polar bear.
She waited, but her husband had detected a change in her eyes like a mist on a calm sea just before the entrance of a hurricane.
He is afraid of me!
She regretted now the white vulnerability of her past life, for it was weakness that engendered violence, begged for blood, cried for mercy, quick killing. Cowards could not kill, only torture.
She was not afraid.
She passed by the animals–baboons, chimps, various other mammals–in their pretty “environments.” Only the otters seemed oblivious to their imprisonment. They splashed and played behind plexiglass like the happy nuclear family mythologized in T.V. Land. Briefly, she wondered if it was an act.
The polar bear exhibit was the pride of the zoo. Posters showed the bear swimming happily in his safe pool–a marvel of prison technology which allowed visitors to observe from above and below the water line.
She was ready to be finished with the nightmare, but as the task was nearing its longed-for climax, she was haunted by an article she had read in the newspaper about the world’s largest indoor aquarium located in some Japanese city in which was imprisoned a blue whale. There was no end to the horror.
She hoped her quest would encourage others to take action against the cruelty, the unspeakable torture.
Spirit. Flesh. White tundra and endless frozen wasteland. Freedom. Joy. Sky and cold and water….
When she stood finally before the sad monster, he recognized her. She was obviously there for him. The other visitors receded. She stepped up onto the safety step and removed the revolver from her satchel. The white monster raised his head, and a smile–yes, a smile!–spread upon his black lips.
“I am a writer. I am a musician. I am a mother. I am stronger than they know. I will not tolerate this abomination. I am a murderer. I am a redeemer.”
The beast stepped to the edge of the platform by the lip of his prison moat. The watery span separated him from families and spoiled brats and imbeciles.
She raised the weapon and fired.
The other visitors did not even react at first to the sound of the gun or the red-bloody water, so dead were their senses, so used to the script that they could not fathom the beauty of an open prison door.
There is no set penalty for releasing a pent-up beast. The felony falls somewhere between armed robbery and manslaughter. She does not hear their stupid questions.
The authorities allow her to kiss her children good-bye. She has given them the greatest gift–the gift of knowledge. As she is borne away to her punishment, she sees in their eyes the nascent gleam of strength, newly forged, still glowing from the crucible of her act.
“I am a writer. I am a musician. I am a mother. I am a murderer, a redeemer.”
The polar bear is a giant of the white wasteland at the top of the world. He has no natural enemies, save for man, who envies his freedom.