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**PRINT: LIFE ON THE FRONTIER, by Chicago resident and native Kate Duva, is THE2NDHAND’s 33rd broadsheet. Duva's been plying the brains of THE2NDHAND readers for several years now, and her characteristic stylistic mix of arch-weird and arch-real in story makes for an explosively brittle manifestation of reality in this the longest story she's published in these halls, about a young woman's sojourn at what she sees as the edges of American civilization, Albuquerque, N.M., where she works as a nurse in state group homes for aging mentally disabled people. Catch Duva Feb. 8, 2010, at Whistler in Chicago at the second installment of our new reading series, So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel? This issue also features a short by THE2NDHAND coeditor C.T. Ballentine.

UNBEARABLE LIKENESS Christopher Fullerton
RABBIT Irene Westcott
OUT Greggory Moore
THE CROW'S NEST Peter Richter

Christopher Fullerton

Fullerton is an editor with Ghoti Mag. Happy New Year, folks...

You see his picture in the paper under that headline, and you realize that you knew him. You didn't know him know him, like you might feel badly for his wife and kids, or that you would have the need to relate the story to anyone of consequence, because they wouldn't understand the way you knew him. The way one person knows another person for a brief period of desperation, that's your relation to him. And it took place here, in this bar. He sat there, not more than two months ago, three stools down, sucking down Scotch and soda, and you thought it peculiar the way he burned a lime and dropped it into the glass, but even more intriguing was the desperation that seeped out of his pores and soaked his button-down shirt. You remember how you motioned to Mitch, the bartender, to put one on your tab for the guy, and he turned, eyed you and nodded his appreciation. "Looks like you've had a rough one," you said as he sucked the drink down.

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

"Let me tell you," he said. And he did tell you, as you moved to a booth for the intimacy that a confession requires.

"It started last spring," he said. "A buddy and me went fishing up in the mountains, four, five hours from here. There's a great spot, Silver Creek, my dad took me there when I was a kid. So, there I am, thigh-high in this frigid current, peaceful as a baby in the womb, and not 50 yards upstream, I see this bear. And he sees me. Like he really sees me. We stare at each other forever. And my first thought was, this bear is going to maul me and my buddy's going to see my body float past him downstream, but after a moment, and he's staring at me, I'm not scared, and he nods at me, lumbers into the river, grabs a fish in his jaws, turns back to me and nods again and then he's gone."

You told him that was quite a story, but he said that wasn't it. That was the beginning. The setup. That was the story that starts the story. "Oh," you said, ordering another round. "Go on then." And he did.

"So, I kept thinking about that bear, but I didn't say anything about it, and then I had this dream. Have you had one of those dreams where you wake up, but you really haven't, and you don't know you didn't wake up until you do wake up? So, I wake up in this tree, and I'm scared and I don't know why I'm in a tree, but I look down and I see this bear, and he's made a mess of things. Like really, he's destroyed everything. And I say to him, what are you doing? And he looks at me again, stares right into my eyes. Stares right through me, really, and I'm terrified, and he says, 'Your mother wanted to name you Francis, after Sinatra, but I was an Elvis man. Always loved the King. We settled on Aaron Albert.' And it shocked me that this bear like knew my name and then that he was talking and that's when I woke up and realized it was a dream."

"That's crazy," you said. "Not that you're crazy, but it's a crazy dream."

He nodded and there were more drinks, and he started talking again. "So, the next day, we're fishing again and I'm looking for that bear, but he never shows up, and I'm a little disappointed and a little relieved because I'm not sure what it means, or if it means anything, but that night I have the dream again, and I'm in the tree and the bear says to me 'Your mother was an unfaithful woman, but it wasn't her fault. We were too young to know better.' And I wake up again, and I'm wondering why is this bear talking like he were my father, but saying things my father had never said to me. My father rarely ever said anything to me. And he was dead now. Shot himself in the parking garage of his office building when I was 15."

And then you were hooked and your tab was growing like a weed, but it was worth it because maybe this guy was full of shit, but he seemed to believe his own story, and in turn, you believed it, too. "And then what?" you asked.

"I'm getting there," he said, and he turned back one more drink. "So the last night we're there, and my buddy falls asleep because we're heading out early in the morning, but I can't sleep. I won't sleep. I'm waiting for the bear to come and I'll be damned if it will be in a dream because I want some answers. I took some of the fish from the cooler and I put them just beyond the campsite, and sure enough, just as I'm about to nod off, I hear a noise and I'm frozen for a second, but I get up, and my legs are shaking, but I follow it and I don't see anything, even though it's bright outside, like it's full moon bright. And I'm wandering around and then I'm in this clearing and I'm about to give up, and then it gets dark, and I turn and this bear has blocked out the moon. He's up on his hind legs, and I'll be goddamned if he isn't 10 feet tall. And I stand there and he stands there, and I'm frozen, but my mind is racing and trying to push words out of my mouth, but all I can say is Why? And he shakes his head, and he roars, I can feel the heat of his breath on my face and my hair stands up, and the next thing I know, it's morning and I'm awake in this clearing. When I get back to camp, my buddy's waiting and he thinks I was just in the woods doing my business, and I don't tell him any different, and we go home, and I don't tell anyone anything. Not until now. Not until you."

And now, you're looking at his picture in the paper, and remembering how you felt a little high that you were his confidant, but you're thinking back and there was more to it. It had gone downhill for him, and that was clear to you then, as clear as it is to everyone else now who might read the paper or watch the news, but they don't know the whole story.

"So life goes on," he said, "and I tried to put it out of my mind, the bear and the things he said, but one day, I've got my kids and I take them to the zoo, because kids love that, don't they? And we're having a good time, but we stop in front of the bears' den and they're laying about, but this one... This one bear raises his head and I catch his eye, just like the bear at the river and we lock eyes, and my boy, he says, 'I think that bear knows you, Dad.' And he's right. He's just joking, of course, but I know he's right. I laugh it off, but I can't shake it. And I start thinking about the bear all the time, and I go back to the zoo, alone, and I look for the bear. It's early and not many people have made it out, so I shout 'Dad' and nothing happens, so I'm standing there feeling like a fool and just then he comes out of the darkness, walks to the edge of the ravine that separates us from them and he stares at me. And after that I go back every day. I'm missing work so I can go to the zoo to watch this bear, and I want to talk to him, but there are always people around, and the things I need to know are not things that can be shouted in the zoo with children around."

"So, you think it's the same bear," you asked.

"I know it is. And I had to talk to him, so I do it. I don't know what possessed me, but my body just started moving over the fence and I'm about to jump the fence and then all of a sudden there are zookeepers and security guards with pistols drawn and they're shouting at me to freeze, to stop, don't move another muscle, and they're dragging me back over the fence. And they're all 'What in the hell were you doing?' and I tell them I dropped my wedding ring and I had to get it back, and they explain to me that climbing over that fence was the stupidest thing I could ever do, and I was never to come back to the zoo, but if they found the ring, they would mail it to me, and they took my name and picture and escorted me out."

"Wow," you said. "You are a crazy sonofabitch." And you ordered a double round. "You've got it bad."

"You have no idea," he said.

But now you do. Now, you have the best idea about it all. Probably better than anyone else, and you're looking at his picture, and the headline that reads "Local man mauled by bear" and the story that says some crazy sonofabitch had broken into the zoo and climbed into the bear exhibit and he was torn apart. And it goes on to say how one of the bears has injuries, but they were bites and gashes from claws, and they're not sure, but it seems like he might have been trying to protect the man from the other bears, and the zookeeper said it seemed very odd indeed.

And you order a Scotch and soda, burn a lime and drop it into the drink, and then you raise your glass to this man, whom you knew, but didn't really know.

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