by Bryan Russell
The Bear of Mississauga Boulevard
Katie crumpled the letter from Iraq. She uncrumpled it. Crumpled it. It would burn faster if she crumpled it. Poof.
All about speed. Iraq was eternity and if she burned the letter it would go fast. An oil well. Big gusts of smoke like the time the barbecue caught on fire when Mom left the meat on too long. Smoke like that. Only, you know, way bigger. And fast. Whoosh. Because everything else about Iraq took a million years. Time stopped there, in the desert. She pictured her dad there. Just standing. A shadow behind him.
“It’s bloody fucking hot,” he told Katie’s mom when he thought Katie wasn’t listening.
“Another scorcher,” is what he told Katie.
Her dad, standing. A long shadow behind him like the silent minute-hand of a clock.
Mr. Urgravic’s van was full of groceries. Though saying it was full was like saying the desert was hot. Katie watched the unloading. Damn full, that’s what it was. Big brown paper bags took up every bit of space.
Mr. Urgravic was huge. Tall, taller even than daddy, and almost as wide as the van. Sloping shoulders. Big chest, big belly, big legs. A beard.
They were paper bags, so he couldn’t just scoop up five or six at a time. No handles. One under each arm. It took a lot of trips. Mr. Urgravic sweated a lot. He soaked through his shirt, even though it was cool outside. He huffed a little. His breath an odd sound.
Katie watched through the hedge, until Mr. Urgravic stopped and looked over at her, at her hedge. Through her hedge. Yellow eyes. Katie sprinted away, gangly legs flying. She looked back once, Mr. Urgravic bending to pick up a big jar of honey. One of the bags had broken.
Katie kept running. It was cool here, and Katie could run forever. She was in cross country at school. She ran away from the other girls, left them behind.
“She’s a scorcher,” the coach always said, though he was really just a French teacher and might not know much.
Katie hadn’t seen Mr. Urgravic for awhile. He was never outside. The snow along his sidewalk was untouched, except for the footprints of the mailman who came at 11:00 every morning.
Sometime during the day, though, the mail always disappeared from the box.
School was out. Katie wandered through the snow. Waiting, though for what she didn’t know. The Christmas tree was up inside but it seemed pointless this year. The lights didn’t work. Mom didn’t know how to fix it.
Instead, Katie watched Mr. Urgravic’s house. Had he left? Had someone killed him? Maybe it was terrorists.
She walked around the house. All the blinds were pulled. It must be dark inside, like a cave. Unless he had all the lights on. But why would he waste electricity? Katie’s mom was always big on the evil of wasting electricity.
Katie decided. She walked to the door. Mail was gone. She knelt in the light snow. Knees cold. She lifted the mail slot in the door, the one the mailman never used. He used the box hanging to one side. But the door had a mail slot and Katie lifted it and looked inside.
Dark. She tried to see, tried to focus her eyes. She noticed the smell first. Not dirty, not bad, just thick. Something like Coover’s fur, years ago, before he got hit by a car. Damp. It was sort of like the smell of damp fur. Sort of thick. Like it hadn’t moved in a long time, this smell.
And then a sound. A slow sound. She’d been hearing it but not hearing it. Sort of a long, slow, cavernous sound. A little sharper at first. A pause. Then a release – a slower, flattened version of the first sound. Another pause. In and out.
The darkness thinned. Something moved. Not fast. A rise and fall. It was huge. Like a vast sofa pushed up by the door. A rise and fall, the shaggy hide breathing. Expanding.
A movement; a snuffle of sound; a shift as a massive head swung toward the door. Yellow eyes. A cavernous breath.
Katie sprinted, kicking up cold snow. Through the hedges. Branches pricked her skin.
Katie leapt out the door, pigtails flying. Dad had sent her for eggs. Down to the cornerstore. She was going to run the whole way. She told her dad, told him she was going to go fast.
“Fast as a bullet,” her dad said. A sad smile. He cleared his throat, looked back into his paper. “Don’t lose those coins.”
Katie ran, her legs bare and long in last year’s shorts, too small for her now. But she liked the air on her legs.
She pulled up short.
Mr. Urgravic looked at her. “Girl, sometimes you have to slow down. Not everything’s a sprint.”
“Yes, Mr. Urgravic.”
“I hear your Daddy’s home. You say hi, hear me? You do that?”
Katie nodded and ran on. Deep breaths. In and out.