Bluegrass Bear
by Josh Sippie, 3.24am July 10th 2021

There’s a bear seated across from me at the breakfast table. My bear. Four years old, fully grown, going through the ursine equivalent of puberty. It’s worse than the human kind, where you get strange urges and can’t help feeling like everyone is making fun of your square cheekbones. The ursine version involves more casual destruction.

Somewhat ironically, the last time I had a human friend, it was his human puberty that got in the way. He realized he was better looking than me. I haven’t heard from him in 16 years. I think he died in a boating accident. I wonder who’s better looking now.

I have Bear now.

For breakfast, he holds the demeanor of a monk. Paws folded one on top of the other, waiting for me to finish saying grace. He used to look at his breakfast as he waited for me to finish. Now he looks at me.

“Amen,” I mutter. He upends the jug of honey and berries. That jug used to be half of what I had hoped to be an unlikely bluegrass duo. I’d learn to fiddle, he’d blow on the jug. I still didn’t know how to fiddle and while he did a lot of things to that jug, he never blew on it. We all grow out of our dreams.

I got him as a baby from a black market exotic pet dealer that I happened on at a bar in the East Village. I wanted a sugar glider, he said he’d do me one better. That’s when I met Bear. He followed me around like a lost kitten. He was so small, so holdable, so harmless. Without a mother to protect them, bear cubs are just oddly shaped puppies. So I bought him. With all the money I had been saving up to buy a Honda Accord. The money I was saving for insurance went into straw hats and the Foggy Mountain Boys greatest hits.

Bear didn’t take to the straw hat. I still find pieces of it. But mine still sits on the over-the-door rack, as if at any moment I could slip it over my head and step out in the world, exactly as I always wished to be. But that wish exists only in the dome of the hat now, because Bear just shattered the jug. The last piece of his claim to the band. Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe I’m just looking too hard for a sign. He’s been my everything for three years.

My best and only friend, my social life, my brother. I thought he’d always be here, but I guess if you threw me in the woods and had a bear wish for me to always be there, I’d hesitate.

I get up, Bear pays me no heed. I grab the straw hat from the door frame and slide it over my head. Still fits nicely. Like it was made for my head alone.