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The Tenant

The Tenant

Lara Ehrlich

He rifles through my garbage. He steals my newspaper and dozes in my Magnolia tree. He helps himself to the cat’s food, dipping his paws into the dish, his ears twitching. Last night, he stood off with a raccoon. When it dug its fingers into the food, the bear popped its head off. It was only that once, though. He was staking his claim. 

I keep still on my inflatable raft as he performs laps in the above-ground pool. He sprawls in my lounge chair with his belly to the sun. We sunbathe in companionable silence. 

When the pool is covered, he comes to my door. I keep the screen locked now that Frank is gone. The bear looks at me with heavy-lidded eyes shadowed with soft, damp fur. I unlock the screen and let him in. 

The bear looks at me with heavy-lidded eyes shadowed with soft, damp fur.

He follows my tour with polite interest and particularly likes the den, where Frank used to watch football and read the paper. He climbs into Frank’s easy chair, and when I show him how it reclines, he snuffles with pleasure. 

It’s good to hear the game downstairs again while I make supper. I prepare salmon fillets with lemon and dill and serve them on TV trays so we can eat together in the den. He sniffs the fish, his claws clinking against the plate, and polishes it off in two bites. 

As I clear his tray, he roars. I drop to the carpet and play dead. When nothing happens, I look up to find him watching me with a quizzical expression. His team lost, is all.

As I clear his tray, he roars. I drop to the carpet and play dead.

I sleep well now. If a thief or a rapist broke in, the bear would pop his head off. We try all kinds of fish. He likes the bottom-feeders best. They taste a bit like dirt, but I defer to his preference. Frank didn’t like fish. He had a meat and potato palate. The bear will eat anything I make with relish. I learn to bake, poach, fry, batter, sear, and soufflé. My bear’s coat is getting nice and glossy. We eat by candlelight.

 
 

New magazines arrive: Field & Stream, Ranger Rick, seed catalogues, The New Yorker. He keeps the room tidy. I’ve never seen him do his business, though I’ve heard the den toilet flush. 
He sleeps in the easy chair rolled up in my grandmother’s afghan with his nose sticking out. Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I lie on the couch that still smells like Frank, and talk to my bear. I tell him what I’m reading these days. I tell him what’s happening in the Middle East. I tell him how Frank and I met in college, when I’d planned to be a journalist. How I followed Frank here and never went to the Middle East, and now I struggle to make small talk at the grocery store. People’s eyes glaze over when I talk. Frank was the only one who listened. Sometimes, when I look over, my bear has fallen asleep. 

He sleeps in the easy chair rolled up in my grandmother’s afghan with his nose sticking out. 

The snow rises against the windows. It rises so high it covers the above-ground pool. We have everything we need right here. The den is dark and full of bear breath. The meaty smell is comforting in its way. Sometimes, I sit on the floor at my bear’s paws, and he rests his chin on my head. Heat rolls off him in wooly waves. His ears twitch in his sleep.

The trees sparkle as the snow slips off, leaving their branches raw. I dip my feet into a puddle of sunlight spreading across the bedroom floor. Warm breath nuzzles the back of my neck, and claws curve along my clavicles. The bed sags under his weight. He looks at me with a hungry gleam in his eyes. 

The meaty smell is comforting in its way.

I make pancakes, eggs, bacon, hash browns, and coffee. When my bear is finished, he lumbers outside. I do the dishes, a little resentful that he doesn’t help.

It’s still cold for the pool, but I fill it anyway and watch as he performs laps in the ice blue water. He reads the paper in the lounge chair and trims out articles with his claws. He dozes in my Magnolia tree and rifles through my garbage. He steals a jacket from my neighbor’s laundry line and helps himself to the cat’s food. He does not come back inside. I leave the screen door unlocked, just in case.

He reads the paper in the lounge chair and trims out articles with his claws.

There’s a knock, but it’s not my bear. The man on the porch asks about this spring we’re having, and when I ask him if he’s been following the refugee crisis, he says he’ll just get to the point. The bear has listed me as a reference. He seems like a quiet and respectful bear, and he has passed the credit check. In my experience, would I recommend him as a tenant?

My bear could have stayed with me as long as he wanted. But maybe he’s tired of my company. Maybe he’d prefer stainless steel appliances. Or room for a family. The idea that he might have a family makes me lonely. I could say the bear is untidy and has a temper, and maybe then he’ll come home.

Maybe he’s tired of my company. Maybe he’d prefer stainless steel appliances. 

His snout pokes around the pool, and he looks at me with damp eyes. He is wearing Frank’s tie. 

The bear is pleasant enough, I say. He has never eaten anyone or upset my garbage cans. He is careful not to puncture the pool with his claws, so I think he would be respectful of hardwood floors. I do not tell the man about the raccoon. 

I keep the screen door locked now, but I stock up on bottom-feeders just in case. As the snow rises past my windows again, I watch television wrapped in my grandmother’s afghan that still smells like bear. When I lose power, I pile all the blankets and towels onto the bed and sleep under them. It’s warm, but I can’t breathe. 


Lara Ehrlich’s writing appears or is forthcoming in The Normal SchoolRiver StyxBoston Literary Magazine, and The Hairpin, among others. She is working on a short story collection entitled News From a Country Never Visited, and by day she is an editor at Boston University. 

Illustrated by Alex Fukui.

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Transit

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