You have been sleeping for a very long time, and so it is no real surprise when you wake up, you see that your chest-of-drawers has become a cigarette vending machine, the kind with those gold flecked knobs, that makes the sound of mechanisms deep inside, hidden and resounding, when the knob comes forward, maybe only a few inches, and a package drops out. But you have been sleeping for a very long time, so that the knob comes out nearly three or four feet, and it is on a stick, and the stick is a cane, and the cane means the walking stick from the fair, so many, many, years ago.
How you can ever remember all the way back to then, you don’t know, because you never have before, but you have been sleeping for a very long time. And you pull the cane free, and you see, now, it is the red wooden cane with the green wooden top, and the top is the shape of those knobs on those cigarette machines that your father let you pull, gold flecked and grooved, just right for the holding, a package of Camels dropping out.
And you have been sleeping for a very long time, and you suddenly remember how you brought that red cane home and there was your large ancient bear, brown and matted and full of stuffing, sitting on your bed, looking just like itself. You thought about how very long you had had that bear, and how very new the cane was. Dad had bought that bear for you years and years ago, who knows where, with its brown eyes with black centers the shape of cigarettes, like airplanes and you took your cane to it and you started beating the bear with it. You beat it senseless. You couldn’t say why, but it was an act of love and hate, and the bear was in pain, folding over upon itself, until you stood it back up, gave it a pat on the head, old friend, and started beating it again, screaming and jumping, until you accidentally struck the eye of the bear, heard it crack, its eye, and it was broken in half. Almost as tall as yourself, your bear, and unable to move, it had one and a half brown eyes. You had beaten it. You had won!
The carnies at the fair had been miniature men, their arms defined through their thin shirts, veins standing up through pale skin, cigarettes wagging and smoking up their faces. You had seen them pull their levers. Watched them spit and flick their ash. You had just been to the fair. The men had worn t-shirts covered in racecars, and the women wore straw cowboy hats. There had been guns to shoot and games to play, the baseballs and their impossible milk jugs, the men and the women, all bigger than you. There had been dollars and dollars and dollars and rides that scared you. Your brother dared you to go upside down. A big woman with big arms had slapped her child. There were elephant ears and little fish in bowls and mud puddles and the smell of straw and the pony ride. Your mother placed you on the back of a pony and it walked you around and around in a circle, never looking to the side, never looking anywhere, its eyes like glass, like buttons. It held you on its back, and never reached its neck to look at you. There were metal bars to hold its head in place, it could never get one step ahead. You looked and saw how it was attached to the metal bars with pins, but there was that big man, fat, watching while he smoked and he was never smiling, never looking to the side, always watching you, from the corner with his levers
When you returned home, you thought of the fair, of all those people you would never see again. Who were they, you wondered, and remembered the ponies and the man who smoked and ran the upside down ride. Where did they all begin and where did you end, you felt far away, seeing your favorite bear. Your father had given him to you, and it slept beside you every night. You were tired of that bear, of your little room, of always being scared to go upside down.
Who knows where Dad had gotten the bear? It could have been anywhere. Holland. Or a one-legged man in China. It could have been from anywhere. You imagined your bear, long before the two of you had met, out where other bears were somewhere in the night. You looked at his one and a half eyes and you tried to imagine the half eye back into whole again. The bear your father had given to you. The bear who’d had a life before you had met, with two shiny perfect eyes, and the cane in your hand was cheap and wooden and nicked.
You have not remembered any of this in twenty years. There have been women and friends and cities across the world. You have gone through airplanes and boats and harbors and trucks. The lovers you loved the most are gone; your best friend has been gone for years. And you have been sleeping alone for a very long time, but now you remember, this bear of so long ago.
You have been sleeping for a very long time, but you remember that you went upstairs. You went upstairs to your mother’s room and you told her what you had done. You brought her the bear to see and you waited to find out if she could undo it, this thing that you had done. You showed her your bear; you showed her the cane with the cigarette top. You surrendered the weapon and her face was so big; she was angry. Your father had gotten that bear for you. There were no more eyes, she told you, not in the sewing box, not in the world. There was nothing to be done. These were eyes, after all. What had you been expecting?
You had loved that bear. And now you remember you had aimed for its eye; even turned the cane around, so that the knob would be the thing to hit. Its perfect black eye, a cigarette middle, an airplane. You had aimed. You had won! What had you won? Your bear is lost to you, now; there are no more like it in the world. After sleeping for a such a very long time, you wake up to realize that both your parents have gone on, and you will likely miss them more and more with each day. And those women you had loved, where are they now? Are there no more left in the world? Women? Did you lose your cane? Are there even bears? All of this because of a fair, you say? But there is always a fair! They come and they go, with their men and their levers, strong arms and trick games. The ponies? Maybe you hit the eye because nothing else would do. You wanted to go upside down; you had to test your strength, to find out what your mother could say. And what could she undo, anyway? What if you had never known; but your father, your mother she said, your father, he had bought you a bear. A bear, she said, your father. A bear, your father, a bear.
This story originally appeared in Volume 5 of The Ampersand Review.
Luke B. Goebel‘s first story collection is due out soon from YesYes Books.