This Just In: Bear Drinks Sodas for Money  Wes Saylors



           Robbie was at the western end of North Carolina and it felt like beyond the pale. The air was heavier and every object looked prehistoric.


           Robbie pulled his car into a gas station that seemed connected to a theme park of the damned: jars of honey, tables of coonskin hats and moccasins, cemetery stones, straw dummies and picnic tables heavy with pumpkins and masonry. At the end of all this was a cage with a black bear inside.


           Robbie replaced the gas nozzle and asked the attendant about the bear.


           “For five dollars the bear'll drink a cola,” said the attendant.


           “A cola only costs seventy cents.”


           “Yeah, but the bear won't drink it unless you give me four dollars and thirty more cent.”


           “Isn't that bad for the bear?”


           The old man attendant shrugged.


           “Couldn't say,” he said.


           A van pulled up and a family of vast weight got out and descended upon the theme park of the damned like flies on horse leavings.


           “Mama,” one of the children said. “A bear.”


           The Mama, Daddy, and two kids (they could have been of either sex as far as Robbie was concerned) approached.


           “Five dollars, bear'll drink a cola,” the old man attendant said.


           Like Voltaire at the gates of heaven, the large Daddy pulled a fiver from his wallet and handed it over. The old man picked a cola bottle from a bucket of ice and handed it through the bars of the bear's cage.


           The bear took the bottle, licked the wetness from it, unscrewed the top and tossed it back in one loud gulp.


           “Amazing,” said the fat family.


           “More, more,” they cried and showered the old man attendant with five-dollar bills.


           That night, Robbie pulled into the gas station with his headlights off. He could hear the bear snuffling in its cage.


           “It's okay,” he whispered. “Have you free in no time.”


           Robbie couldn't see the bear at all. He was aware of its substantial presence…the heat and wilderness of it.


           Robbie worked the ancient lock and opened the cage. He quickly withdrew to his car and waited for the bear to emerge.


           And waited.


           When he heard the clinking of metal, he thought the bear had bumped the cage door on its way out. It hadn't. The bear had reached out and closed the door.


           Robbie opened the cage door.


           The bear reached out, closed it.


           In this there was a lesson. Robbie didn't know what it was.


           Then, one night, in scuba gear and carrying a powerful spotlight, Robbie lost his hand to a Tiger shark he was trying to free from a fisherman's net. On his way to the hospital, he went clinically dead four times. A few members from Animal's Rights Not To Be Netted, or ARNTBN, asked if he had seen God. Robbie said, No, he'd been too busy being dead.


           Later, a girl Robbie was dating broke up with him when he opened a can of tuna and said, “Oh my god. There are dolphin teeth in here.” He laughed, but she said it wasn't funny and he should try imagining how the animals feel once in awhile.