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The Grizzly Bear’s Cave by James R. Gapinski | Word Riot
Flash Fiction

February 15, 2015      

The Grizzly Bear’s Cave by James R. Gapinski

We’ve got an anorexic tiger and a schizophrenic penguin, but I don’t deal with them so it’s easy to tune out their stuff. The one that gets to me is our agoraphobic grizzly bear. I clean his habitat every day.
      The grizzly is terrified of open spaces, we believe. It’s not like we can read his mind, and no one here speaks Grizzly. He never leaves his cave, a fiberglass monstrosity. He sticks his butt out to relieve himself but doesn’t do much else, least not out in the open. He watches while I clean, but I never see him go beyond the threshold. His dark fur blends with the cave’s shadow, but his eyes reflect sunlight as he stares. Without those eyes, I’d never know he was there.
      The zoo-goers are always disappointed with The Grizzly Bear’s Cave. They strain for a glimpse as the bear shifts positions in the void. They submit complaint letters to the office, they write to newspapers suggesting that we mistreat the bear.
      Sick of the bad publicity, the manager decides to move the habitat’s edge. The gigantic fence is uprooted and pushed closer to the cave. For a few days, zoo-goers can see the bear’s eyes more easily, and they are content, in a way, but we can’t help but feel it isn’t going to last.
      It doesn’t; the bear retreats further into the cave. At this point, there aren’t even glimpses. Just a dark void. People speculate that it’s a cheap trick—we don’t have a grizzly bear, it’s an empty habitat. They demand their money back.
      The fence is bulldozed completely, and guardrails are arranged at the cave’s threshold. The bear’s occasional groans echo in the cave.
      I go into the cave to clean up droppings, and I feel like I’m alone—no eyes, no nothing. I shine a flashlight into the corner and see the brown lump. His face is buried in his hands. The lump recoils and makes a weird sound. I apologize and leave.
      In time, the manager removes the guardrails completely, and zoo-goers walk into the cave. The crowd surrounds him—they poke him with Grizzly Poke Sticks, $12 in the gift shop. There is hardly room to move. Children climb, nuzzle into the fur on his massive back. Some children take naps in his fur, tuckered out from a day at the zoo. Parents laugh and take pictures. Each flash causes the bear’s fur to bristle. Eventually, he has a gigantic afro. He whimpers and whines. I clean around the cowering creature and shoo away the children, but they come back, they always come back.
      When the manager asks what I think, I tell him, and he doesn’t like it. There’s talk of a petition. Bad publicity sometimes leads to good places.
      I think about him all the time, the grizzly, and of how much more of this he can take, and what’s going to happen next.

Headshot (Gapinski)About the author:

James R. Gapinski holds an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College, he’s managing editor of The Conium Review, and he teaches writing at Bunker Hill Community College. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in theNewerYork, Juked, NANO Fiction, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. He lives in the Boston area with his partner and a collection of 8-bit video games.

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