The heavy bear who goes with me, a manifold honey to smear his face, clumsy and lumbering here and there, I wish I could say what kind of bear he is. Others, no doubt, could tell you, but I am afraid I am a trembling bundle of ursine ignorance. I have no idea which pigeonhole to put this bear into.
What I do know is that I am wholly responsible for it. I know this because the bear came to me in a dream, and in dreams begin responsibilities. It was a vivid dream, perhaps because, shortly before resting my head on the pillow, I had tucked into an enormous sandwich in which many a pickle had been inserted, pickles of all kinds. I know more about pickles than I do about bears, but this is neither the time nor the place for pickle matters.
In my dream, I think it was the year 1909, and I felt as if I were in a motion picture theatre, the long arm of light crossing the darkness and spinning, my eyes fixed on the screen. It was a silent picture, as if an old Biograph one, in which the actors are dressed in ridiculously old-fashioned clothes, and one flash succeeds another with sudden jumps. The actors too seem to jump about and walk too fast. The shots themselves are full of dots and rays, as if it were raining when the pictures were photographed. The light is bad. It was that kind of film.
Suddenly, among all these jumping actors, lumbered into view the heavy bear, the central ton of every place, the hungry beating brutish one in love with candy, anger, and sleep. Our eyes met, and I felt – oh so vividly – that from now on, until one of us died, this bear was my responsibility. Which is all very well in the world of dreams, but gave me something of a start when I woke up and found the bear, all too heavy and solid and, good heavens!, real, slumped at the foot of my bed.
I squeaked in fear, but soon enough learned there was nothing to be frightened of. It is a very placid bear, all things considered, except for those times when it is dishevelling all and climbing buildings and kicking footballs and boxing its brother bears in the hate-filled city. But it has never laid a paw on me. Indeed, it seems to take great pains to be helpful, acting like a crazy factotum.
It has proved to be an interesting few weeks, getting used to having my every footstep dogged by a heavy bear. It has certainly caused a bit of a rumpus in social situations, and on public transport. It had never before occurred to me that bears were not welcome on buses. Given the behaviour of a number of human passengers, this seems a huge injustice. I have tried to explain to bus drivers that the bear is my responsibility, and goes with me everywhere, but they are not willing to listen. So we have done a heck of a lot of walking, me and my bear, up hill and down dale and along all those lanes that the buses ply.
I am so tired at the end of each day that I have sworn off pickle sandwiches, but I still find it hard to sleep. This is because, breathing at my side, that heavy animal, that heavy bear who sleeps with me, howls in his sleep for a world of sugar. This despite the fact that I have made a complete change to my breakfast – or, as our Flemish pals call it, het ontbijt – diet. No more eggs and sausages and smokers’ poptarts for me! I have been buying enormous quantities of Sugar Puffs, dozens of cartons at a time. For those of you unfamiliar with British breakfast cereal brands, Sugar Puffs are made from sugar-coated wheat flavoured with honey, by the Quaker Oats company. My bear seems to like them, and in fact it has been feeding on Sugar Puffs for lunch and dinner and supper as well as breakfast. But it still howls in its sleep. And it is getting heavier.
I am stuck with my bear, and I am not complaining. But I noticed in the paper the other day that the local fleapit has a screening next week of an old Biograph motion picture called Actors In Ridiculously Old-Fashioned Clothes, Jumping About And Walking Too Fast In Dots And Rays, With A Bear! (Horst Gack, 1909). I wonder what will happen to my bear when it sees itself up on the screen. It came to me in a dream. Will it abandon me when it sees the dream? Will it take responsibility for itself, and find its own Sugar Puffs? I will let you know.
[With apologies to Delmore Schwartz.]