A bear lives in Jensen's back yard.
Jensen doesn't know when the bear arrived. He remembers a growing sense of danger, unease. He remembers tossing in his sleep, waking in the middle of the night, but not knowing why. Then one night he could not sleep at all and he realized that the bear had come for him.
Jensen's heart pounded that night. He lay under his covers staring at the ceiling. The bear was right outside his bedroom window.
Jensen thought of all the vulnerabilities of his old house where a bear could swipe a mighty paw through glass or dry-rotted wood. The bear could enter the house at will any time it chose. Jensen thought of the bear standing over him, its claws raised, its teeth bared. He tensed and shivered.
Just his luck, Jensen thought. Of all the places in San Francisco, the bear had to choose his little house with its little back yard on Telegraph Hill. The utter unfairness made Jensen angry and his heart beat even faster until he could stand it no more. He jumped up, walked to the kitchen and took a bottle of Scotch and a small glass from the cupboard. He poured and drained three glasses in succession, went to the living room and sat in his overstuffed leather chair.
Soon the Scotch buzzed in Jensen's head and he felt a certain bravado. Damn the bear! If it dared invade his house, he'd kill it with a knife, just like Daniel Boone. Jensen pondered which of the knives in his kitchen drawer would be most appropriate for the kill.
When the grey morning light seeped around the edges of the drapes, Jensen rose groggily from the chair and went to fix himself some breakfast. He then showered, shaved, brushed his teeth, dressed and walked down the hill to his law office on Montgomery Street, where he spent the day drafting wills and trusts for his clients.
After several days, the constant pressure of the bear, not to mention the lack of sleep, began taking its toll on Jensen. He worried that, being so tired and groggy, he would begin making mistakes in the wills and trusts. His clients would become angry with him and a whole parade of disasters would follow. Realizing this, Jensen feared that sleeping would become even more unlikely until the bear left.
Jensen called his doctor. "I need sleeping pills," Jensen said.
"Why aren't you sleeping, Jensen?" asked the doctor.
Jensen hesitated. He'd have to answer a million questions if he told the doctor about the bear. It would be as bad as calling the cops.
"Work stress," Jensen blurted.
"Work stress? Since when?"
"It's been a few weeks."
"Hmm," the doctor said. "I thought you had a pretty stress-free practice. Am I right?"
"Oh, yes, usually so. I quite enjoy it. I'm just in a bit of a crunch, I guess."
"So this should pass in a couple weeks?"
Jensen hesitated again. How did he know when the bear would leave? "I hope so," Jensen said.
"I'll email the pharmacy a prescription for 10 Ambien with one refill," the doctor said. "That should do it. If it doesn't, come in and see me."
Jensen was relieved that the doctor hadn't forced him to divulge the bear. "Yes, doctor, thank you," he said.
That night, Jensen took an Ambien and waited to fall asleep. As he waited, he thought of the bear breaking into the house to find him slumbering, helpless. The thought scared Jensen, but he knew he must be brave and go to sleep so that he could write his wills and trusts the next day.
Jensen waited for the pill to work its magic. He waited and waited, but he did not feel the least bit sleepy. He took another pill and then another, but he still could not sleep.
Jensen jumped out of bed. He cursed the pills, he cursed the doctor, and he went back to the kitchen for the bottle of Scotch. He plopped into his overstuffed leather chair, drank his usual three glasses and soon felt the room rotating around him as if he were the center of the universe.
Jensen slept until the grey morning light seeped around the edges of the drapes. When he opened his eyes, his head pounded. He hurried to the bathroom and vomited. He cleaned himself, then went to fix some breakfast. He showered, shaved, brushed his teeth, dressed and walked down the hill to his law office where he wrote wills and trusts.
Jensen called his doctor that afternoon.
"The sleeping pills don't work, doctor. I need something that will make me sleep."
"The pills don't work? Try taking two; they're relatively mild."
"I took three."
"You took three? And still couldn't sleep? Come in and see me."
Jensen went to the doctor's office.
The doctor told Jensen to take off his shoes, sit on the examining table. He looked Jensen over. "What's the problem, Jensen?" he asked. "I don't remember you having insomnia since you've been my patient."
Jensen chuckled. He might as well get on with it, he thought; might as well start answering the doctor's questions. "There's a bear in my back yard," Jensen said.
The doctor laughed. "What?"
Jensen smiled. "I knew you wouldn't believe me."
"You're putting me on, right?"
"No, I'm not," Jensen said seriously. "There's a bear in my back yard."
"Well, Jensen, you must be joking. There aren't any bears in San Francisco. What, did one escape from the zoo and walk all the way across town without being noticed?" The doctor laughed.
Jensen remained serious. "There are bears in Yosemite, doctor, and I've done some thinking. We get our water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite, you know. A bear could follow the Hetch Hetchy pipes and aqueducts and wind up in San Francisco. It may be improbable that a bear has come to San Francisco, but one surely has and it is living in my back yard."
The doctor shook his head. "Jensen, what's gotten into you? You've always seemed like such a straightforward fellow. Once we got you to quit smoking, you've been as healthy as a horse. I don't have time for this nonsense about bears."
Jensen, looking down, became very quiet. Then he raised his head and looked at the doctor. "Have you ever had a bear in your back yard, doctor?"
"Well, no, of course not," the doctor said, becoming impatient.
"You've never had a bear in your back yard so you can't understand that someone else might have one in his back yard. Is that it, doctor?"
The doctor paused, raising his right hand to his mouth. Then he began nodding slowly. "Perhaps, Jensen. Perhaps you have a point," he said. "Let me ask you this--why would a bear come all the way from Yosemite, following the Hetch Hetchy pipes, to your little house on Telegraph Hill?"
"I ask myself the same question, doctor. It is so unfair that the bear has chosen me."
"I see," the doctor said, nodding his head. "It's beginning to make sense to me, Jensen. You're afraid of death. There isn't really a bear in your back yard. The bear is death. We all have a bear in our back yard, so to speak. We are all afraid of death. I believe that once you recognize this, you will relax, you will sleep. The bear may still frighten you from time to time, but it won't always be outside your window. You will sleep." The doctor smiled reassuringly and placed his hand on Jensen's arm.
Jensen jerked his arm away. "Are you crazy, doctor?"
The doctor stiffened, his eyes narrowing. "What? What did you say?"
"Are you crazy? Do you think I'm so stupid that I would be spooked by some metaphor for death? Do you think I'm a child? There is a goddamned bear in my back yard!"
"No, no, Jensen. You are wrong. There is no such thing."
"Oh, but there surely is, doctor. There is a bear in my back yard. If you can't understand that, then I'm wasting my time and yours." Jensen jumped off the examining table, grabbed his shoes and left the room.
When the darkness came that night, Jensen thought about taking the remaining Ambien, but quickly dismissed the idea as futile. He sat in the living room, drinking scotch, until he decided to try and get some sleep. But once in bed, Jensen felt anxious. He lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. He tossed onto his right side, then onto his left, then onto his back again. But he could not sleep. He tensed and untensed the muscles in his arms and legs, trying to force himself to relax. But he could not sleep. He breathed deeply and slowly and tried to think of a peaceful place. He began feeling calmer for a moment, his mind drifting pleasantly to his last vacation seven years ago, when he'd taken a week off from writing his wills and trusts. But he remembered that the vacation had been in Yosemite, which made him think of the bear, which sent an electric jolt of panic up his spine. And he could not sleep.
Jensen threw off his covers and sat on the edge of the bed. He rubbed his eyes, staring into the darkness. Then he noticed a bit of light in the space under his bedroom door. He stood, took a few steps to the door, and slowly opened it. He craned his neck around the door, peering into the hallway. The light was coming from the living room. Jensen wondered whether he'd left a lamp on before he'd gone to bed, but he couldn't remember. He felt his pulse quicken.
Jensen slowly tiptoed down the hallway, being careful not to make any noise, keeping his body close to the wall. When he reached the kitchen door, he stopped and continued peering down the hallway into the living room. All he could make out in the dim light was the back of his overstuffed leather chair. Jensen squinted. Was he seeing the top of a head extending above the back of the chair? Could someone be sitting there? Jensen decided not to take any chances. He went quietly into the kitchen, slowly opened a drawer and grabbed the biggest knife he owned. He returned to the hallway and, grasping the knife firmly in his right hand, continued tiptoeing into the living room toward the chair.
Jensen felt his heart pounding as he saw a large mound of dark brown hair above the back of the chair. His mind raced, trying to figure out who could be sitting there. As he neared the side of the chair's right armrest, the bear suddenly turned its head back toward Jensen.
"Well, look who we have here," the bear said, grinning, showing its sharp, yellow teeth. Jensen, startled, fell back, dropping the knife, which clattered onto the hardwood floor.
Jensen quickly scrambled to recover the knife, keeping his eyes on the bear. To Jensen's dismay, the bear was pouring itself a glass of scotch from Jensen's bottle. The bear held up the glass, sniffed and took a swallow. "Single malt. I like," it said, laughing loudly.
"What, what are you doing here?" Jensen stammered. "How did you get in?"
"Seems to me that's what you lawyers call a compound question, Jensen," the bear said. "Let's break it down, take the last part first. You left the back door unlocked tonight. It's almost as if you wanted to let me in, no?"
Jensen looked around nervously, trying to remember whether he'd left the door unlocked.
"As for what I'm doing here," the bear continued, "I think we both know the answer to that, Jensen." The bear lit a cigarette, blew the smoke at Jensen. "Mind if I smoke?" it asked, grinning.
Jensen gripped the knife in his trembling right hand. "If you think you can just barge into my house and eat me, I'll have you know that you're in for a fight," Jensen said, his voice wavering. He raised the knife until it was even with his right ear.
The bear started laughing and choking on the cigarette smoke. "Eat you?" the bear said, laughing and gasping for breath. "Eat you? Give me a break, Jensen. With all the great restaurants in this town, why the hell would I want to eat you?"
Jensen froze, not knowing what to say. The bear continued laughing and hacking on the smoke. "Now why don't you put that goddamn thing down before you hurt yourself," the bear said, motioning toward the knife with the glass of scotch, then taking another gulp.
"I don't understand," Jensen said. "I don't know what you want."
"Oh, I think you do," the bear said.
Jensen shook his head. "No," he said. "No. I don't know why you're here. I don't know why of all the people in the world you could've chosen, you've chosen me. I don't."
"I think you do," the bear said, rising slowly from the chair. It stood on its hind legs, extending upward to its full height.
Jensen held the knife, his arms trembling, staring up at the bear, unable to speak.
The bear looked down, towering over Jensen. It raised its huge claws over its head and bared its sharp, yellow teeth. "You know very well why I've come for you, Jensen. You know what will happen now that I'm here," the bear said. "For when the grey morning light seeps around the edges of your drapes, I will not allow you to rise and fix your breakfast. I will not allow you to shower, shave and brush your teeth, or to dress and walk down the hill to your office on Montgomery Street. You will not be able to write your wills and trusts. The work will pile up higher and higher and higher. Your clients will hate you. You will lose them all and they will sue you for malpractice. You will lose your practice. And then," the bear said, its dark eyes narrowing, "and then, Jensen, you will lose this little house with its little back yard on Telegraph Hill. And it will be mine, Jensen. All mine." The bear roared loudly and swiped its mighty paw at Jensen's head.
Jensen jumped back, evading the bear's attack. He gripped the knife and took a wild stab at the bear, missing. The bear roared and swiped with the other paw. Jensen ducked and stabbed again, feeling that he'd connected. He stabbed again and again and again, as the bear roared and clawed. But just as Jensen felt that he might be able to fend off the bear, he began losing his balance, falling backward. The last thing Jensen saw was the bear's paw approaching his face. Then blackness.
When the grey morning light seeped around the edges of the drapes, Jensen awoke, lying on the living room floor. His mouth felt as if it were stuffed with cotton. The right side of his face throbbed with pain. He jumped up and looked around for the bear, but the bear was nowhere to be seen.
Jensen's knife lay a few feet away from him on the floor. The floor was scattered with white fluffy clumps that led to the leather chair. As Jensen's eyes focused on the chair, he gasped. The chair was gouged and slashed and most of its stuffing had been ripped out. On the coffee table lay an empty bottle of scotch and an ashtray full of cigarette butts.
Jensen ran to the bathroom and vomited. He iced the bruises and scrapes on his face, cleaned up the living room, and fixed himself some breakfast. He showered, shaved, brushed his teeth, dressed and walked down the hill toward his law office on Montgomery Street, where he'd planned to spend the day drafting wills and trusts for his clients. But as he approached the office, Jensen did not go in. Instead, he kept walking. He walked and walked and walked, looking for the pipes that he could follow out of the city, across the great expanse of the Central Valley and into the snow-capped Sierra Nevada, to the crystal clear waters of the Hetch Hetchy.
BIO: Joe Greco is a Northern California lawyer and writer. His short fiction has appeared in Emprise Review and will appear in 34th Parallel.