Growing a Bear By Hannah Gamble

Growing a bear — a midnight occupation,

the need for which you perhaps first realized

when you saw the wrong kind of shadow

under your chin — a convex when you expected

concave, so now it’s clear

you’re getting older. Your wife was in the shower

and you wanted to step inside

and soap her up like you did in college when she said

“I’ll shower with you, but I’m leaving

my underwear on,” and you enjoyed her

in every way you could enjoy a person with soap.

You didn’t join your wife in the shower.

She’s gotten funny about letting you see her

shave her legs or wash herself anywhere.

You think she read it somewhere — 

that letting your husband see you pluck anything,

trim anything, apply medicine to anything,

will make him feel like he’s furniture.

It’s exactly on cold nights like these that the basement

is not as forbidding as it should be, despite the fact

that you have to put gloves on

in what is part of  your own home.

Downstairs, a large bathtub, kept, for some reason,

after remodeling. It is there that your bear will be grown,

by you, though you have no idea how. Probably wishing

is most of it; fertilizer, chunks of raw stew meat,

handfuls of  blackberries, two metal rakes, and a thick rug

make up the rest. Then water.

You get an e-mail from a friend late at night

saying he can’t sleep. You write back

“I hope you feel sleepy soon” and think how childish

the word “sleepy” is. And you’re a man,

older than most of  the people you see on television.

You haven’t even considered how your wife will feel

when you have finished growing your bear. You could

write a letter to her tonight, explaining how your life

was just so lacking in bear:

“Janet, it’s nothing you’ve done — 

clearly you have no possible way of supplying me with a bear

or any of the activities I might be able to enjoy

after acquiring the bear.”

It might just be best

to keep the two worlds separate.

Janet clearly prefers things to be comfortable

and unchallenging. Janet soaps herself up. Janet puts herself

to bed, and you just happen to be next to her.

You go on your weekly bike ride with Mark and tell him

that you’ve been growing a bear. An eighteen-wheeler

flies by and he doesn’t seem to hear you — 

plus he’s focused on the hill.

You think about how not all friends know

what each other sounds like when struggling and

breathing heavy. Past the age of college athletics,

most friends don’t even know what each others’ bodies

look like, flushed, tired, showering, cold.