Flash Fiction by Sherrie Flick
The Bear and I Dance
The bear and I eventually—of course—dance in the street. The streetlights, spotlights. The long, paved road a dancefloor spread wide for our pivoting feet. A misty fog.
Me in my trench coat and heels. The bear heavy and graceful, weighted and assured. The pressure of a paw on my back. The slight push of his lead. The give of my follow.
It’s brief, the dance on the street. What if, you know, someone saw? We both understand the calculus of this problem. The nudge of a curtain. A TV’s glimmer and glare. How to explain? Just me on the street, dancing, in love.
The bear had always wanted a piano, or he didn’t seem to want one for many years, but then when he wanted one, it came on as a long-suppressed desire, which made the longing deeper—and longer.
Practically, he couldn’t own a piano, but he could claim a few on his circuit. One near a sliding glass door never left locked, one near a loading dock where that weird artist lived.
Timing is everything when you’re a bear and really not wanting to be caught, not wanting the spotlight, but needing some joy.
He played softly, working his way through a practice book. Scales and Joy to the World. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
The music rode like waves through him and satisfied his broken heart. Mended it, really. Eventually.
It wasn’t the best life for him. But there were moments late at night, curled into the base of a tree, smooth bark sturdy against his back. A kind of lifeline, that tree. Crickets, stars, a shiny little wind. When he could move his paws, following the imaginary notes. Movement and song and silence all one. Then he felt full, whole, like a bear in paradise.
The Bear Plays Basketball
Susan Jones fears she has broken herself. This night, late at night, she thinks it through. The moon punching the window, the Christmas cactus no longer in bloom. She taps the windowsill, 3, 4, 5 times. She walks down the stairs away from the bedroom, past the skeleton couch and chairs crouched in the living room, and out the back door onto the stiff lawn.
Her nightgown ruffles her knees as the wind kicks in. Susan can’t remember the last time she stood outside alone in the dead of night, that’s how broken she is. She curtsies to the Oak tree, the moon supervising.
“Well, what the fuck,” she says.
She’s up a slight hill, beside the Oak. The yard levels out at the top with a patio. Here she pitches forward a bit, facing the city lights of Detroit. But it could be any city, really—to her at least. Tall buildings, lights, slow-moving traffic, neon, helicopters.
In her mind? With her sense of direction? She could be anywhere. Tell her somewhere and she’ll believe it. But, she’s in Detroit.
The sloped yard rises up from their silent, dead end street. Gauzy streetlights cast a yellow glow up and down the rows of houses. Sarah imagines their buzz, which she can’t hear from here. And there, right there, is a six-foot bear in a blue suit and matching hat, walking down the street. She holds her breath. The bear has a jaunty gait. A sort of jockey clip to each step like it knows its way around a basketball court. Bear ears, bear snout—looking dapper though.
But no, it isn’t a bear turning onto the walkway to their house. It’s Jimmy. Of course. Nice suit, former jock—crisp shirt even at this late hour, still tucked in.
Jimmy turns his key in the lock, and she watches the kitchen light leak out the side window. Once inside she tries it on him. “What the fuck?” she says in the doorway. Jimmy—with his snout already rooting through a ham sandwich, perks his ears—his broad shoulders freeze.
“What the fuck, Sarah,” he says. “You scared the shit out of me. What’re you doing up for Christ’s sake?” He sets his sandwich down on the counter, wipes his lips with a paper towel.
“I’m a possum,” she says, opening the fridge, pushing containers around until she finds the yogurt.
“Okay,” Jimmy says. He rips a second paper towel from the roll, holds it under his chin as he begins to chew again, staring at her. Jimmy has deep stares. “Shouldn’t you be playing dead, then?” he says.
“Or eating ticks,” Sarah says, rummaging through the drawer for a spoon. “I eat a lot of ticks.”
Jimmy takes this news as earnestly, as he takes all news, which is earnestly. “Or yogurt, apparently,” he says.
“Right.” Sarah spoons the creamy goop right from the container into her mouth. “Alexa,” she says, “play that possum song.”
And without missing a beat Alexa belts out some crazy psychedelic noise.
“Alexa, shut the fuck up,” Jimmy says. And Alex does. She shuts the fuck up. Everyone is impressed and quiet now. Sarah’s nightgown flutters in the bright kitchen light. Jimmy pulls his tie, unbuttons his shirt. Sarah is not usually part of this ritual. Early to bed—early up. That’s Sarah.
Tonight, somewhere in a city that might not be Detroit there’s a clean-cut bear strolling down the street, heading toward the moonlight, thinking bear thoughts, waiting for the next pickup game.
The bear turns the corner, leaves these two to their own thoughts and games and ham sandwiches and yogurt. A dog barks in the distance. A possum snuffles ticks in the backyard. She’s a little vacuum cleaner, humming a psychedelic tune, every so often peeking in the window of the house to make sure everyone is okay in there.
Sherrie Flick is the author of a novel and two short story collections, most recently Thank Your Lucky Stars (Autumn House Press). Stories have been featured in NPR’s Selected Shorts, Ploughshares, and Wigleaf. She is senior editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, series editor for Best Small Fictions 2018, and co-editor for Flash Fiction America (Norton, 2022).
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.