She Wants to Marry a Bear
by Jenny Bitner

"According to the bestiaries, bear cubs were born formless and ‘licked into shape’ by the mother, an act that the medieval Church made into a symbol of Christianity converting the heathen." - Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art

She had always imagined that she wanted to marry a bear. When someone asked her questions about getting married and dressing up in the uniforms and saying the words, she replied, "in the woods" "with a bear." It wasn't just a matter of language with her. It was a matter of language becoming things that walked into her kitchen. Once she imagined a mule had slid into her house and the next day a mule did not slide into her house, but she picked up a book on the floor and opened to a passage about a mule. "Mules" it said, "feel outlandishly out of place in the animal kingdom because of their inability to reproduce." The sentence made her feel sad, the way she sometimes felt when she washed the dishes at the sink and afterwards her dress was wet from the water - a vague, unidentifiable sadness.

But women were not allowed to marry bears and she found that out soon enough. Once she was having a conversation with her dentist and he told her in no uncertain terms that bears were dangerous, had bad breath, and were not suitable mating material for young girls.

At the altar she stood with the dress pressed up between her knees. She had somehow gotten toilet paper stuck in her shoes and when she came out into the church there was some white paper on her feet. The bear had shit all over her white dress before the wedding anyway and so it didn't much matter what to do about it. It wasn't going to be a "nice" wedding.

She remembered her mother telling her over and over to be a good girl. "Are you being a good girl?" And she wanted to scream that she was not being good and that there wasn't anything good in her sleazy, rancid, hateful body at all.

The marriage is always about coming together and ending. As such, it pulls you into it when you least expect it. Someone she knew had recently married an octopus and if you could marry an octopus without anyone standing up at the ceremony and shouting, "What the hell are you doing, Yes, I fucking object, he'll strangle you. There isn't enough room for 4 tentacles in a relationship, let alone 8!" well, then anything goes. Marriage dramatics rarely happened. Even when everyone knew that the couple was making a mistake, not a word was said. It was hushed.

She admitted that the thought of bi-species children scared her. The shame was strong and all of the myths. Being less than human had a certain weight to it, an onus. But now wasn't the backlash against humans, against humanity - all of that mad egotism and rational thinking - so strong that we needed to change the mix. Pour in some other qualities: great hunting skills, superior ability to sing (whales), peaceful, don't kill their own (most animals), great at just being (cats). Humanity needed something new in its gene pool.

What do you see in him? Her best friend asked her. "He’s different from anyone I’ve ever met," she says. "He has this connection to the other world. Sometimes I don’t think we live in the same world at all, but I can taste it in him. When I lick him I taste the woods and blood. When we make love I think that I am falling into another land. I think that I am falling back into the land of my childhood dreams. The door is open with him."

She didn’t want to invite her father to the wedding. She thought he would spoil it. He would be so unenthusiastic. He would say something in a voice that made her feel like she was being emotional and childish. "Jenny, he'd say, I don't think you are doing the right thing. Now, this is something you'll have to live with for a long time." Yes, a long time, yes forever. Yes, into the night with the bear.

She is running in the woods. She feels the brambles against her legs. She eats the berries and lets the woods get under her skin.

My God, How did you get this on your wedding dress, her mother says, "Is this shit? Bear shit? Jesus, what kind of a marriage is this? This is disgusting." She gets up and leaves.

"It will come off with some vinegar," her bridesmaid says, "I always keep vinegar and seltzer water in a spray bottle in case I get a stain."

He smells terrible. Worse than she would image. He smells like leaves and sweat and shit and decay and there aren't any toothbrushes in the woods and yet she loves him. When she answered the personal ad she knew he was what she was looking for: regal, handsome, and with an odd sense of humor that meant when he swiped her and she fell down it was a joke. It was a gentle swipe. What she really loves about him is that she will never understand him. Try as she might: he is incomprehensible. Everyone, even these rationalists, needs a little bit of mystery in their lives. How did she ever get here, where is the forest, what is calling to her in the voice of small frog-children? Each step in she leaves behind another rule - don’t talk to strangers, don’t hide from people, don’t yell at the top of your lungs, don’t have sex with… He rolls her over and he is like a giant bear rug over her and she is afraid he will smother her but somehow he doesn’t and he comes inside of her and she’s not quite human anymore.

What will their children be? She overhears someone saying at the wedding.

Yes, what will they be? What are children? They come in this world in an animal form but soon they' re trying like the rest of us. Two years after trying to eat their shit they are turning their nose up at peas and soon after they are embarrassed by farts and telling their parents what not to wear to the mall so they won't be embarrassed. Those balls of fur and milk suckers.

This wasn't the kind of marriage she had in mind. The guests were so uncomfortable, trying to think of appropriate things to say, acting exactly like every other wedding, but their minds on fire with gossip, replaying what they would tell their friends afterwards about This. What she really wanted was something that happened in the other world. The world, she hated to admit it, where Goldilocks existed and Hansel and Gretel. Mostly she wanted to enter the land of enchantment because it seemed like the place where she always belonged. She shuts her eyes, she drops off, she opens the fairytale book and it seems more real than those realistic stories. She enters the woods. She is going into the deep to find what shapes arise.

"Why?" They keep asking. "Why?" they keep thinking, those too polite to ask. Have you ever, she wonders, walked into the woods and not wanted to come back, dreamed in your feral, half-animal state that you could go into the woods, into the trees, brambles, weeds, sky and damp into animals and cold and seasons and survive - that there were places in you that would open to the woods and you would again be it. That there would be a terrible heaving open inside of you as you threw off your family and your house key and that inside you blossomed an unclean animal all too ready for this other world. The bear is already there. He lives there naturally, but he isn’t as uncultured as you think. He has raided cabins and read some Thoreau. He likes poetry. This is his favorite poem. He recited it to her on their first date.

Half Moon
The moon goes over the water.
How tranquil the sky is!
She goes scything slowly
the old shimmer from the river;
meanwhile a young frog
takes her for a little mirror.
- Frederico Garcia Lorca

He tells her that he never thought he could marry a human. None of his relatives will come to the wedding. They have shunned him. They find it sickening really. "Slaughterers" his father calls humans, "those who know too little and have too much," his mother calls them. The night before the wedding his mother sneaks to him. "Your father doesn’t know I’m coming," she whispers. She hugs him and licks him. "It’s all right she says, you can’t fight your nature. If you love this human, then you must be with her."

When she told him she wanted to marry him, he was a bit skeptical. "You know what this will mean?" he said. "You’ll have to come into the woods and not know people and they will run from you and maybe they’ll shoot you. You won’t have heat and it will be all wild all the time, except for the annoying humans hiking through with bells on and then the roads they will inevitably build through our favorite places: where we met, where we fell in love, where our first cub was born."

"Yes, she said," I know all of that and I’m ready to give it up. It means so little to me." It flashes by her all of the time. She feels the world flashing by all of the time and moving like rapid film cuts. She keeps cramming one bit of information in between the others. This other world, she thinks, is dirty, but stainless.

Marriage is a sacred ceremony generally performed in white. At the front of the Wesley United Methodist church, the preacher is rambling on, breaking stride. She feels something grabbing for her. Brambles have twisted around her legs, the floor of the church is opening up and she’s being pulled in. As she disappears into the earth the congregation doesn’t move. They are speechless. The preacher isn’t even looking, his eyes are fixed on a space just above the stained glass window in the back of the church, he’s saying, "If anyone object, would they speak now or forever hold their peace." Her mother wonders what is the correct etiquette in the instance of bear abduction. Should she return the gifts?

Jenny Bitner is a contributing editor at To-Do List magazine. She has an MFA in poetry from University of Virginia and is working on an experimental novel. She also makes and sells cheap art.
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