The Bear Wife	– Catherine George

The Bear Wife – Catherine George

The bear wife took the cub to mommy and me yoga. She didn’t look much like a bear without her fur, but somehow the other mothers seemed to sense it; when she came in carrying the cub they shifted away, drifting on their yoga mats closer to the windows, to each other. She was left alone in the middle like a stone dropped into a lake, each woman a wave rippling outward. In tree pose she was a lightning-struck pine at the center of a clearing.

It must be something primal, she thought, lifting the cub up in a sun salutation. A smell, maybe, or a musk that hadn’t gone away when the fur came off (worried now, she sniffed at her armpit as she twisted into warrior pose, but she smelled nothing but the plastic roses of her deodorant). Anyway, she didn’t blame them for staying away. The bear was still in there, just below the skin; if any of them threatened the cub she’d tear the heart from their chest.

As the mothers eased into downward dog — a ring of A-frame cabins, each sheltering a baby — the weathered blonde yoga teacher approached her mat and placed a gentle hand on the bear wife’s back, correcting her posture. “Like this,” she said. “Keep your back flat.” The hand pulled away, a bird taking flight, then settled again, on the hunch of her neck. “Focus on pulling the shoulder blades together behind you.”

The bear wife didn’t bother to tell her the hunch would never go away. No amount of focusing on her shoulder blades would remove the grizzly in her.

Once upon a time (about three years ago, but who was counting?), when the bear wife had been a real bear, she had done all the attendant bear-things: hibernating, rubbing her back on fir bark, scooping quicksilver trout from a chill alpine lake with one swipe of her paw. Now, her name was Sara and she bought organic and wore sunscreen to protect her weak skin from the sun.

She found herself thinking back on that once-upon time in the darkest hours of the night, when the cub was up and nursing, slow and dreamy. She too was slow and dreamy; she picked up her phone and pointed it to the place where the human mothers went: the babycenter forums, where BearMummy could ask about the color and quantity of the cub’s poop, and receive seven answers in seven minutes. LOL that’s totally normal, my bub went six times yesterday and it looked just like marmalade. But before she could navigate there, her mind slipped back into the old patterns, the bear-ways. The scent of her own cub’s scat mixed with dry pine. The jammy squish of blackberries underpaw. The raw-throated awk awk of ravens, the sound of high summer.

Most surprising to her, at this three-years’ remove (alright, so she was counting), was how short the list of things she’d done back then was, and how optional they’d been. Of course, bears had to eat, and hibernate, too, but she’d eaten when there was food and hibernated in whatever den felt right. Now she had a to-do list on her phone that said ping when she forgot to do something, which was often, because why would she want to remember to run the dishwasher, or get her legs waxed, or buy more soy milk? The phone did the remembering for her, ping ping ping. More diapers, it said. Vaccinations for Theo. And now, on doctor’s orders: get out of the house.

“You can’t just stay in bed all winter,” the doctor had said when Sara told him they were hibernating. He said it as if it wasn’t even an option. Truth be told, she’d begun to think it wasn’t; they’d barely left the condo through the coldest breath of winter — barely left the bed, really — and she felt no better rested than she had after Theo was born. All she had to show for it was milk stains on the bedsheets.

“Go out, meet some mums, get some exercise,” the doctor said impatiently. “It’ll help you feel more like yourself again.”

She remembered once seeing another mother with cubs across a valley bowl and turning right around to head back up above the tree line. No point in having too many cubs on the same territory, nosing after the same moths, hunting the same marmots. But apparently now other mothers were on the to-do list, so after yoga Sara watched the women nurse in the change room, comparing notes — “do you pump?” “how’s her latch?” — while she huddled on a back bench and wished for a cool glade where she could lie down and feed the cub, instead of having to crouch awkwardly over him. She could never remember where to put her arms or his; somehow there was always an extra hand in the way. A wary look around showed all the others knotted together with their babies, too, like fallen logs tangled in the undergrowth on the forest floor.

The doctor was wrong, she thought. She’d never felt less like herself.

That night over sushi Aaron asked about the yoga. “So? You make any mum friends?”

He didn’t say did you behave like a human today but that was what she heard; she was sure that was what he meant when he asked whether she’d been to the gym, or cooked the spaghetti al dente, or applied for a job at the pub around the corner. As if she were qualified to do that — as if she was qualified to do anything other than be a bear, really. Some things just seemed too human for her, no matter how she tried. Aaron didn’t seem to understand that. He’d tried to teach her to drive, before she’d gotten pregnant. Two minutes in she’d seen a squirrel and driven right up the curb into a mailbox.

“Yeah, a few,” she lied, and took a bite of dynamite roll. She loved sushi. She had mastered chopsticks as she’d once mastered the art of digging up lily bulbs, and learned to enjoy the heat of pickled ginger and wasabi tingling on her tongue. “I got some phone numbers.”

“Oh?” Aaron gave her a skeptical glance. “So, what — you’re going to take him on some playdates?” The cub in his bouncy chair batted at a toy. His concentration was ferocious.

“Yeah, maybe.” Bears were not very good liars. Or maybe it was just her; she’d found it was better to say as little as possible, to avoid tripping over some human-thing she didn’t know or understand. “Maybe we’ll take them to the pool, go swimming.”

Aaron said nothing, only took another avocado roll. She knew (that was why she’d said it, after all) that he was thinking of that other pool, the cold pool in the deep green shadow of firs. It was there he’d first seen her in human form: the bear maiden, bathing naked. It was there he’d found her fur.

In bed that night she pretended not to feel Aaron’s hand running over the curve of her thigh, not to hear him whispering “Sara?” into the curve of her neck. His skin against hers felt raw, too close.

The bear wife and her husband went to couples’ therapy.

“And does that make you afraid? About what it means for your relationship?” the therapist murmured, one eye on Theo, asleep in his carseat on the floor. They were talking about commitment. They were talking about how bears don’t mate for life.

“I guess so, yeah,” Aaron said. “It’s like one day I’ll wake up and she’ll just be gone, back into the woods. I hate that it feels inevitable.”

“Did you think about that when you met? That maybe she wasn’t coming home with you forever?” the therapist said, gently. With her thick dark glasses and silvered hair, she looked like a raccoon, her little paws twisting together as she talked.

Aaron shrugged. “I mean, yeah, I suppose. I’ve heard the stories.”

Sara knew the stories, too; she’d read hundreds of animal wife tales since she’d left her fur. The stories always blamed the husband for stealing fur or skin or feather. But she’d seen him running on that path before, often enough to know he might trip over her fur while she was bathing. The stories never said anything about how the wife might have wanted to come away for a while, either. Sara had wanted to come for — well, after all, why did anyone leave home? — adventure, love, maybe lust. He’d been handsome and lithe and when they lay together he’d nipped at her neck like a bear would. The stories never said anything about that, never said she might have wanted to see where things might go.

But of course things had gone just the way the stories said they would. There were always children, in the stories.

Aaron was still talking. “Once we said our vows I sort of thought things might be different.”

“Hearing him say that, Sara — how does that make you feel?”

They had been over this territory before, so often she could almost see wary circling footprints in the dust of their conversation. “I’m still here,” she muttered. “Isn’t that enough?”

“Grizzlies abandon their cubs after two years,” Aaron said to the therapist, casually, as if he was just giving her a science lesson. “Did you know that?”

“I did, actually,” the therapist said. “Maybe you want to ask Sara if anything has changed for her, now that you two have a baby.”

Sara could still remember the sound her cubs had made when she pushed them out to make their own lives: like rocks tearing, an earthquake of sorrow. When they’d tried to follow her, whimpering, she’d swatted them away, again and again, until finally they turned and slouched away over the hill. Every step they took away from her had been a thousand miles of heartbreak. It had been easier the second time, though, and the third. She glanced over at Theo, hiccupping in his sleep. She couldn’t quite imagine letting his round cheeks out of the quick reach of her paws. But wasn’t a cub a cub? Wouldn’t she know how to leave him, when the time came?

“I shouldn’t have to ask,” Aaron said, angry, with an emphatic clang of his teacup on the plate. “I mean, don’t you think —” Theo bolted awake with a growl, then began to wail.

“Well, I think that’s time,” the therapist said, with a sigh. “Should we pick up there next session?”

The cub woke again and again in the night, crying out for her. Sometimes Sara woke up dizzy, as if she were staggering out of the bearskin and back into her human form. She carried Theo from the bassinet into the bed, nestling against him so that his steady breath kept time against her chest, holding her in her skin.

In the morning Aaron groused about the size of the condo; there was only one bedroom for the three of them, which seemed right and usual to Sara, but left Aaron testy.

“I can hear him crying even with earplugs,” he said, as he brushed his teeth before work. It surprised her that humans were so vain about their useless teeth, but she appreciated the mint flavor of the toothpaste. “I’ll be falling asleep at my desk this afternoon.”

“Let’s get a bigger place, then,” she said, shrugging.

“Can’t afford it,” he said. “Not on just one income.”

Bears had no concept of personal property — each bear had a territory stamped out on the land, true, but the paths crossed and tangled and she remembered sitting with other bears to dig up little bean sprouts revealed by a glacier’s slide — but more and more she’d felt hemmed in with the other bears, like seedlings choked for light on the forest floor. More bears in less space. Railway tracks on one side and a road on the other.

“Bears have a housing crisis too,” she said to Aaron, and he laughed.

“At least they aren’t paying two K a month for it.”

She took the cub to visit the bones of the short-nosed bear at the natural history museum. The huge bear was frozen with one paw extended, spearhead claws slashing at empty air. Sara liked to come here to think; the skeleton felt like the closest thing she had to a relative in this city.

“Mama was never that big,” she whispered to Theo, who had curled tight against her in the sling when faced with the bear’s looming gaze. “And my teeth weren’t that sharp, or my claws that long. You would have liked me.” Well, she thought, that part probably wasn’t true, but better he imagined her as cuddly. He squeezed her finger in one chubby fist, as if he understood.

The short-nosed bear had been extinct for twelve thousand years. She — the sign said the bones were from a female — had spent an eternity out of her fur.

“Did you get used to it, after a while?” Sara murmured. The bones didn’t answer. They never did.

The stories all said she would go home again. That was the ending she’d expected when she’d come down from the mountains — for all she’d thought about it, at least. Really she’d just thought she’d play at human for a while. Had things changed? She pondered the therapist’s question, wondering when exactly a change would have happened. When Theo had rushed out of her, squalling, naked and heavy? When the doctor had lifted him onto her deflated stomach, the weight of his body had hit like a rockslide. Now, when she cradled Theo’s sleepy head against her chest, she felt the weight of time in her arms — four months old, now, and he wouldn’t be full grown for years and years. So much longer than she’d spent with her other cubs, longer even than she’d been a bear. She hadn’t expected that to matter.

As she turned to go to the exhibit on the invention of the steam engine she saw a dark-haired woman sitting on a bench near the children’s fossil exploration station, one eye on a toddler digging in the sand. There was something familiar about her, or maybe about the look in her eyes — it reminded Sara of things she’d seen staring back from her own mirror. On impulse, she sat down on the other end of the bench. The other woman looked up and gave Sara an appraising look, then said, tentatively, “Bear?”

Sara nodded. “You?”

“Snow goose.” Now she could see it, in the way the woman held her head tilted to one side, in the long reedy neck and thin lips. There was a sense of lightness that clung to her, as if a strong gust of wind could lift her, flapping, into the sky.

The other woman was called María and the toddler was Cora. María had gone home with a woman she’d met when her flock stopped over at the bird sanctuary on their way south to Mexico. Her wife was an airline pilot.

“She’s away a lot,” María said. “Goes all over the world.”

“You miss it? Your life with the flock, I mean?” Sara asked.

“I must, because I dream about flying every night,” María said. “And it makes me sad to think Cora will never have wings. And you? Do you miss it?”

“Yes,” Sara said, automatically, then paused, thinking of the wildfires tearing through the forests, of the bears caught raiding the trash bins behind the new townhouse development, and relocated. Or worse. Of the way the brutal roar of cars on the highway had silenced the scream of the lynx and replaced the tap tap tap of the woodpecker. “Sometimes,” she said, slowly. “And sometimes not.”

María nodded, as if she understood. The toddler came over and wordlessly offered Sara a fossilized fern. It looked a little like a feather, frozen in stone.

The bear wife took the cub to storytime at the library. The books at the library were insultingly off-base about bears. She liked honey fine but wouldn’t be making a fool of herself over it, and the idea of wearing a duffel coat was laughable. Instead she showed Theo pictures of grizzlies in a travel magazine. He reached for them, then reared back, startled, as if expecting to feel fur between his fingers instead of slippery newsprint.

At the storytime she mouthed the words to row row row your boat while watching the other cubs; some could sit up and some could roll over and a few could pull themselves across the carpet, arm over arm, like beavers swimming in a pond. The other parents competed silently to see which baby could lie on their tummy longest without crying. When Sara put Theo down on his tummy he cried right away, surprised. She picked him up and pulled him against her, his ear on her heart. She knew how to teach many skills: how to raid a bird’s nest, how to find the tastiest moths and white bark pine nuts, what a rifle shot sounded like from across the valley. How to pick a den by that ephemeral quality — the slant of light, maybe, or the curve of a fallen tree around the entrance — that made it match the taste of winter on the wind. Apparently she didn’t know how to teach Theo to lie on his tummy.

“Mine didn’t like tummy time either,” whispered the closest mum, as if sharing a secret shame, like an acorn. Her baby was crawling now, an apex predator roaming among the other babies. Perhaps there was still hope for the cub.

After storytime she tagged along with the other mothers to a coffee shop, and drank an overpriced macchiato in an attempt to blend in, so she could offer Theo all the advantages that came with tummy time, with gymnastics lessons and sleep training. This time, after coffee, she got a few phone numbers.

María knew how to drive — “I drive stick, too,” she said, proud — and offered to teach Sara. Nights, after the kids were in bed, they drove around and around the gravel lot at the bird sanctuary, dodging wood ducks, until Sara was confident she wouldn’t be distracted by wildlife. When she swung María’s little hatchback triumphantly out onto the road, the vibration of the pavement roared up through her feet, straight into her throat. Add it to the list of things she liked about being human, she thought. (An incomplete list: indoor plumbing, sleeping in, scalp massages, cappuccinos; the fact that she didn’t need to worry about Aaron eating his own cub.)

Aaron’s mother came to visit and clucked to herself while she watched Sara wrestle with Theo on the carpet, toppling him gently into a pillow, again and again, until he was fighting hiccups from laughing. She could remember wrestling like this with her other cubs, knocking them into the long grass with the back of her paw.

“He seems to like that, I suppose,” Jillian said, sniffing. “But you know, dear, if you have questions about raising babies, you can come to me. It must be hard for you, fighting your instincts.”

“Sara’s a great mother, Mum,” Aaron said, coming over to scoop Theo up and rolling his eyes. “She did raise six cubs, you know.” Bears were smart, Sara thought, not to have mothers-in-law. Jillian had tried to insist they get married in a church, rather than the forest glade Sara had selected, and she’d spent the ceremony staring at the empty space reserved for the bride’s family as if she were expecting bears to show up and trample the flower arrangements.

“Well of course, nobody’s arguing about that,” Jillian said, taking Theo and holding him carefully out at arm’s length, as if she were trying to determine which parts of him came from the bear side of the family. “But it’s different, isn’t it?”

In truth, Sara didn’t know what had happened to any of her cubs. Maybe they were all alive. Maybe they’d been hit by trains, though, or shot by poachers, or had starved in their dens after a lean summer. Maybe Jillian was right; maybe it was different.

Summer came, and with it the heat of the sun. Sara hid the cub in the stroller, covered him in sun hats, long sleeves, the slick squish of sunscreen. When she pushed him down the path to the playground the shade from each tree slapped her like a wet cloth. It bewildered her that humans were made so badly for living in the world outside. Sometimes at night when she lay beside Aaron, feeling the animal heat of him against her back, she marveled that he might die if she locked him outside naked overnight.

The same thought overtook her when she looked down in the purple twilight at Theo sleeping restlessly in his crib, legs twitching up and slumping down: this crib, this onesie, these walls and windows, all bulwarks built up against the death that lurked outside, waiting. She could never take him to nestle down at the base of a burnt-out stump all night. Instead she watched him nap on the video monitor, counting his breaths in infrared.

She took the cub to storytime, again and again. One day Theo was the baby that roamed the library, crawling. He was fast on all fours; he got that from her. At the playground Sara discussed sleep training and nap schedules with the other parents. One day Theo was the baby that slept through the night. When the mums chatted about their lives before children she found herself saying “I’m a — well, I was a bear, once.” There was an owl dad in their playgroup, and a seal wife at swimming lessons. That seemed like an unfair advantage, she thought as she tried and failed to get Theo to put his face underwater.

“I think you’re better at parallel parking than I am,” Aaron said, when she drove them to the farmer’s market to get peaches and arugula and croissants.

“Oh, I definitely am,” she said. “You’d better let me teach Theo to drive, when he’s old enough.”

The headlines were full of bears. A bear had been spotted on the beach at the lake, rooting through coolers, demolishing picnic hampers. The park ranger set out a trap but, the paper reported, “the crafty beast managed to avoid capture.” Sara chuckled at this, but the other stories were not so funny: a hiking trail was closed after a dog was mauled; a hunter shot a large grizzly that was a mainstay of photography tours. So-called “problem bears” were everywhere. But really, she thought, the stories were full of problem humans, like the terrible children who threw bread and apples to a bear who came into their back yard, so that the bear returned again and again, like a lapdog (“the fate of the bear is unknown, as conservation officers are assessing whether it can be safely relocated”).

At breakfast, she saw Aaron hastily drop the paper, slide the news under last night’s pizza box. He avoided her eye, busied himself with offering the cub half a blueberry.

“What was that?”

“What?” he said, all puzzlement. Theo squealed and shook his high chair reaching for the berry. “What was what?”

After Aaron went to work, she dug out the paper and found the story: a mother grizzly on the coast had mauled a man who lumbered too close to her cubs, trying to take a photograph. She had to be shot. For a long time after reading Sara sat holding Theo close, face buried in the moss-soft fuzz on his head. He whimpered and squirmed, trying to slip loose to crawl after a stray toy on the floor. She held him tighter, until he calmed and fell asleep against her, sweat pooling in the space between their hearts.

The story did not say what happened to the cubs.

Sara found herself thinking about the animal-wife stories a lot, mostly about the endings. She thought about them when she was reading to Theo at night, when she was feeding him cubes of sweet potato, when she was driving him over to a friend’s house for a playdate. She told herself that all the stories agreed that it would be years before she went back, years and years. Her sense of human time was terrible — Aaron was always complaining about how she was late for appointments, for their dates — but she could feel the turning of the seasons. There would be time still to show Theo how to find the ripest huckleberries on the bush, and time to see him learn to talk, and hear him call her mama.

On the phone with María, Sara asked if she knew the stories.

“Of course,” María said. “Doesn’t everybody?”

“Have you — have you ever looked for your feather cloak?” Sara hadn’t looked since Theo’s birth; she’d looked before, a few times, even though she knew that wasn’t how things worked, that she needed a child to find it for her. Of course, nothing had ever turned up, not in the backs of the cupboards or behind the dryer or in the air vents, and she’d lacked the tools to bust up the drywall.

“No. Not yet.”

“Will you, though? One day?”

There was a long pause and Sara could hear Cora, in her bright birdsong voice, asking for a cup of milk. Then María came back on the line. “I don’t know. Sometimes I hope she’s flown it to the other side of the world.”

Sometimes, on the weekends when she and Aaron took the cub out for a walk, she caught herself rubbing one hand over the bark of the maple trees in the boulevard, or staring too long at the distant blue smear of the mountains. On those days, Aaron tried hard to distract her, cooking her salmon on the barbecue and bringing home shiny baubles.

“I’m not a crow, you know,” she complained to the therapist, after the third pair of silver earrings.

The therapist laughed. “Why don’t you guys try something new? Try going outside, getting back to your roots. Go camping, or something.”

The bear wife and her husband took the cub camping. At the site Aaron set about pitching the big orange tent, over-enthusiastically pounding in the pegs in and exclaiming over the view of the lake that lay shimmering mirror-grey beyond the gaps in the alders.

“This is the perfect campsite,” he said, bang bang bang. “The breeze off the lake will keep the bugs off, and he can practically crawl down to the beach.” Theo was crawling around the picnic table, batting at imaginary animals and squawking in triumph. “See,” Aaron grunted, now huffing up and down on the pump for the air mattress, “I told you he’d like camping.”

Sara went to the woodpile to get logs, so that they could cook beans over a crackling fire and roast potatoes in the coals, because according to Aaron that was the thing to do while camping. When she stood up with an armful of cedar they were there, by the garbage bins, pawing at the bear-proof lids: a mother with two cubs, yearlings. Just feet away. In the heavy shadow under the firs, their eyes threw back the sun like highbeams. For a second she was frozen, staring. Was staring a no-no for bear safety, Sara wondered, or was it just not polite? When she made a little choked growl at the absurdity of her own thoughts, they all turned to look at her. The mother bear whuffed and stood up, towering over the bins. Sara held her gaze, manners be damned, to look for something she couldn’t name — maybe just her own bear-self reflected in the dark mirror of those eyes. But there was nothing there, nothing but hunger.

“Go on, scram,” she said, softly, after a moment. “Get out of here before they catch you digging in there and relocate you.” The mother snorted and dropped to the ground, butting the cubs with her head, prodding them north.

When she came back to the campsite she was shaking. Aaron put down the pump and left the mattress hissing like a garter snake. “Are you alright? Maybe this camping thing was a bad idea.”

“No, I’m fine,” she said. “I’m — I’ll be fine.” She turned and picked up the nearest thing, blindly. It turned out to be the axe. “I’ll just chop the wood, I think.”

Long after she had chopped, after they’d all splashed in the snowmelt cold of the lake, after they’d finished eating those beans and potatoes, Sara lay awake listening to the sounds of the lake and the forest beyond. Once, the wind in the firs had been her lullaby. Now her ears felt empty, waiting for the whoop-whoop of the ambulance siren, the screech of tires on pavement, the humming thrum of the city at night. She heard the blatting honk of a lone goose in the wind above, and took some solace in the fact that there was a space for honking in both her worlds.

When Aaron leaned over and nuzzled her neck and murmured “Are you awake?”, Sara rolled towards him and unzipped her sleeping bag. His legs tangled against hers and the sound of their breathing grew to fill the silence.

The cub found the fur in the lining under the couch. He was digging around for a ball, yelling ba ba ba, when he caught one hand in the lining and pulled it loose. The smell smacked Sara from fifteen feet away, unmistakable, like a hard north wind: a faint tinge of wildfire layered on marsh grasses, sedge, and cow parsnip. Blood, and the metallic tang of snow. She stood there for a heartbeat, staring at the dense brown fur hanging from Theo’s hand, and felt nothing but static. Then, with a breath, she was furious. Of all the places to hide it, he’d chosen this? Where she would sit on it every day, where she would shove around with the vacuum cleaner? It should’ve been in a storage locker somewhere, she thought, as she dragged the four-inch claws out of Theo’s greedy grasp. That or in the ceiling panels of his office downtown, or — well, anywhere but here.

She was supposed to have years before the end of the story. It was supposed to take her forever to find it.

The bear wife put on the fur. It smelled like the inside of the couch, dust and leather. Pulling it on felt like twisting into an old sweatshirt that had shrunk in the dryer, tight in all the wrong places; she wiggled a bit, tugging at the shoulders, and then —

Now she crouched in this too-small place. Not cozy like a den. Clinging, like ivy strangling a tree. The sky too close. A smell: bee-stuff. She pawed at the smell until the strange tree ripped under her claws. This little space like a trap. The bee-stuff was in a hive — a jar, a voice whispered. It fell, broke. She licked it up. You’ll have to clean this up later, you know. More smells. She clawed again; the old-food poured out. Food left too long in the sun. Should’ve been buried. Oh, god, not the compost — She ate it anyway. Now time to scent. Time to scratch.

A sound. A cry. He’s waking up, he’s hungry, he needs you — A small, mewling thing lay there. Like moth larvae, wiggling and screaming. She reached for it, claws out. No! This is your cub, you can’t —

A moment suspended between bear and woman:

The smell of sedge grass, scat, deep-summer salmonberries.

Theo’s sweet milk breath, and the warm soft scent of his head in her arms, like flat champagne.

The taste of thistles in late spring. Sun pooling in her fur.

Theo’s eyes wide with joy at his first taste of blackberries. Aaron’s arm curling warm around her shoulders.

Then Theo screamed again, the cry of a cub abandoned by his mother —

She stopped. Turned the claws on herself, and tore.

Afterwards Sara sat topless in the dark, the cub nursing greedily at her breast, the torn fur at her feet. The smell of the compost, fertile and rotten, echoed out of the kitchen. The broken glass she could sweep up, but she thought the cupboards were probably a lost cause. The fur — well, she would find a space for it, somewhere. Clawing it off had felt like giving birth to Theo all over again: a great glorious moment of splitting in two, of bringing something new into the world. A new ending to her story, she thought. A million new endings, even, and any of them could be hers.

She gathered the fur into her arms, folded it carefully, and put it away in the closet with the spare quilts.

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