said Winkie to himself, standing on the window box, looking around. "So this
is the world."|
His glass eyes glinted in the sunlight, and he stopped to consider what he'd just done. All by himself, Winkie had stood up, shaken the dust from his snout, and sauntered down the bookshelf to the windowsill. Then, with utmost certainty, as if fulfilling some plan, he had picked up a very large book and hurled it through the dirty pane. The clanking crash did not startle him, so fixed was his intention. He crawled out the window between the jagged pieces.
No one was home, and no one had seen or heard him. By the sidewalk, the few, pale leaves of a newly planted tree flickered in the wind. Otherwise the neighborhood was absolutely still.
Almost doubting himself, Winkie looked down at his soft, round little bear's paw, the one that had thrown the book. There were no fingers or claws, no muscles or ligaments, only worn fuzzy cloth and stuffing. And yet this paw had picked up the book and thrown it.
The air seemed to hum quietly with a new expectation. He stepped off the plantless window box onto the hedge. He shuffled around a little on the clipped, prickly branches full of dark green leaves. The prickles poked but did not pierce him. The hedge quivered under his cottony feet.
"Huh," Winkie shrugged. "There are lots of things I can do."
Back in the quiet house, up on his shelf, Winkie had forgotten ever being loved. As the years went by and the dust swirled and settled and the room grew hot and cool and hot again, he had lost all hope of ever being picked up and cuddled. More years. By then he had lost hope so long before, and so completely, that at last he reached a final and transformative purity. He blinked just once, with new and terrible understanding, at the precise moment he reached this point. And in that blink -- a simple falling and rising of his two glass eyes with a tandem click-click -- he had exercised his new power for the first time, not even meaning to. For he had blinked all on his own, without being tipped forward or back by anyone or anything. It could almost have been an earthquake -- and indeed it was that monumental in the bear's life -- but Winkie knew what earthquakes felt like, and he knew there had been no such thing.
Exhausted, afraid to think another thought, he went to sleep for several days, his eyes still wide open. Dreaming countless dreams, each forgotten as soon as it was finished, Winkie groggily began to wake. He seemed to be sitting at the bottom of a pool of clear liquid, looking up at the flickering light of the sky. But then he saw that he was in his pastel room like always, leaning against the same old book, gazing sadly down at the two blue twin beds made neatly, perfectly still. Perhaps time itself had stopped. It was then that Winkie's wish for freedom returned to him, which was the same as knowing it could come true.
Still, out on top of the hedge, on his own for the first time, the bear hesitated. From his customary perch on the shelf, he had glanced through the window longingly at this rectangle of green more times than he knew how to count. And now, here it was, he was touching it, he was making it quiver. Colors seemed brighter. His eyes hurt. He looked down at the patchy green and yellow-brown lawn, across the street at the white, rusted pickup truck parked there. Something about the truck gave him courage. "OK," he muttered. "Let's try doing some more things." And with an "umf" he leapt off the hedge. He let his arms fly up at his sides in the wind and felt his terry cloth robe flapping at his waist. His eyes blinked open and shut as he dropped.
Winkie had thought, given all the possibilities the day had already offered, that he wouldn't exactly fall, but glide downward to the lawn, guided evenly by some unseen hand. But though his descent seemed to take a long time, the landing was fast and hard. Winkie tumbled over several times, coming to rest flat on his belly next to a dandelion, his stubby arms and legs outstretched.
He convulsed, gasped, found air. With a grunt he rolled himself over and looked up at the sky, which was spinning somewhere past the tip of the bright, yellow dandelion. Oxygen elated him. He felt all sorts of strange sensations throughout his plump trunk and especially in his limbs: hidden movements, tingling, minute twitchings beyond him. Winkie became keenly aware of his white terry cloth robe, sewn long ago by some child. "This isn't me," he said slowly, with perfect conviction. He wanted only to be naked. The thought made him struggle to his feet. The robe was his past, old and done with, and he stripped it off and threw it down on the grass, where it lay in a heap. He would have liked it to have been somehow burned away as he leapt from the house to the lawn. He seemed to be traveling in time, whether backward to some prior, purer essence of himself, or forward to some more perfect incarnation, he didn't know. With a dizzy pride he bent and inspected the exposed light-tan fur of his round belly, faded, patchy and worn. "Mange," he said with satisfaction.
Woozily he fell back on his rump and sat looking around. The world, and his place in it, amazed him. In his head he drew fantastic mathematical triangles from himself, to a newly planted tree by the sidewalk, to the peak of the neighbors' roof and back again; then to another tree with red spiny blooms, or the dull flat street, or the rusty white pickup truck perhaps, and back -- over and over. He saw that by the lovely, infinite and specific combination of just such triangles, he was located in naked, ancient, mangy existence.
Winkie had almost forgotten about eating, but there on the grass, several yards away under the new tree, were a dozen or so long brown pods of some kind that had fallen. Not many days before, Winkie had looked out the window and seen an old Korean man and his wife bend and pick up these very pods, gathering them into a paper grocery bag. Then they hobbled down the block, on to the next little tree, and continued gathering. Winkie hadn't realized then that the pods were food. But now he understood: they looked delicious. Crawling delightedly on all fours, Winkie made his way down the fragrant lawn and huddled under the shade of the tree that made the pods. He picked one up, sat down and began to gnaw on it. Quickly he broke it open and sucked on the large seed inside. It tasted like chocolate.
Soon Winkie had eaten every fat seed in every pod that had fallen under this particular tree. He peered up into the sparse new branches overhead and saw more, dangling enticingly, long and brown between small gray-green leaves. He was full but he enjoyed gazing at the minor abundance that he might climb up into if he so wanted. And from below, he began to experience a new, gentle urging.
Winkie had never actually gone doo-doo before, but he had pretended to many times. Now that he had eaten, like a real animal, it should be easy. He scampered to the edge of the lawn and squatted, waiting for something to happen -- as he had seen dogs of all shapes and sizes do on countless occasions. He stared intently at the blades of grass just in front of his eyes. And when in his concentration it seemed that the multitude of crisp, new blade tips had become the entire world, and there was nothing to see ever but green and grass, Winkie felt a slow yet irresistable churning deep within himself, down, down, more profound than he had ever felt before.
The sensation was heavy and slightly prickly, warm as fur and seeming to glitter inside him. It was both gathering within him and pushing slowly and inevitably through him. It hurt but not too much. He felt some unknown inward part of himself solemnly making way. Then a small seam quietly opened, and for the first time, something that was inside him was now coming out. He shut his eyes. In the darkness the new not-quite-ecstacy flowed through him like a huge, rumbling truck in slow motion. Then it was done. Shivering once, he turned to see what he had made, and beheld the brown shining mass nestled in the green. He sniffed it once, and detecting a hint of the brown pods he had just eaten, was proud. It was much better than make-believe. Then he raised on tiptoe and gazed up and down the block at all the little brown-pod trees in a row, and the yellow-green rectangles of lawn, one after another. He wanted to make his special mark, again and again, on each and every plot.
Nearly everyone in this neighborhood was old, and during the heat of the day they stayed safely inside their houses, or emerged from their automatic garage doors already locked inside plush, womb-like, air-conditioned vehicles. Winkie had eaten the pods and done his business on twenty-five lawns before he saw anyone at all. It was late afternoon, and hot, and Winkie was very tired but still determined to continue his newfound activities because he didn't know what he wanted next. The old woman made her way briskly down the sidewalk in a bright turquoise terry-cloth running suit. Winkie disdainfully paid no attention and continued peeling the layers from an especially juicy-looking pod. The turquoise figure advanced in the corner of his eye, the fresh cloth swishing loudly. "She really should take that off," Winkie said to himself contentedly, remembering with pleasure his own liberation from clothing just a few hours before.
The large chocolate-y seed had just come loose and slipped onto his tongue when Winkie realized the old woman had not passed him by but was standing there, a few yards down the sidewalk, staring at him. Winkie turned and glared back angrily with his wide, dark brown eyes.
"What a, what a, what a cute, cute little, little," the woman cooed. Winkie was stirred immeasurably by her high sing-song, which seemed a voice older than time itself. Her hair was bright white behind a thick turquoise band, and her face was as tan and old as Winkie's own. She peered at him through big, thick glasses like two TV screens. She didn't seem to see very well. "What kind of little little boo-boo are you?" She began tisking and holding out her hand enticingly as if offering food. "Are you a little itty pet pet? Baby pet? Now, who'd let such a cute, cute little boo-boo like you get out?"
Winkie felt keenly and painfully torn between two worlds, the human and the animal. The woman's sing-song crooning seemed to be pulling him backward. Forgotten memories of cribs and dolls and hugs and little cheeks crowded around his angry, staring eyes. He dropped his seed pod.
"What are you, what are you?" she sang, a white-haired siren. She was kneeling now on the grass, trying to see what Winkie was. "Who does a little furry furry boo-boo belong to? Does a little furry furry need a home home?"
And even though Winkie knew exactly what he was, and what he was doing at that moment, he was suddenly filled with doubt and loneliness. He had gotten his wish for freedom, and then to eat and to expel -- now what? He still belonged to no one. "Baby, baby, boo-boo?" cooed the voice. "What kind of baby boo-boo is it, now?" Winkie wanted to touch the bright white hair and nuzzle the tanned wrinkled face something like his own. Her milk-blue eyes blinked behind the blurry glasses. Winkie understood that if she came too near, she would see he was neither quite beast nor toy, but something frightening and strange that had never been seen before in the world -- a protean creature permanently in the midst of transformation, ugly, self-invented, stitched together from the body and spirit and will that he'd been given.
The old woman edged a cautious kneeling step closer in the grass, still crooning and tisking in her high sing-song, and Winkie's fear or grief or anger boiled over: involuntarily, he let out a series of high yelps like maniac laughter. He had never made nor heard such sounds before -- but here they were:
"Heenh! Heenh! Heenh!"
The old woman jumped back in alarm. Winkie did not move but kept staring, and she turned and began tiptoeing carefully away. He almost wanted to call her back, but it was too late. She began a hobbling panicky run, disappearing around a corner. Sadly triumphant, Winkie made the sounds again.
Compelled by his new solitary destiny, Winkie made his way that night to the forest. He had spied it from one of the little sidewalk trees, which he had climbed to find out if the pods that dangled tasted different from the ones that lay on the ground. In this way he had hoped to distract himself from the memory of the enticing old woman. Hanging onto a branch, munching without much interest, he looked through the leaves and saw, above the red-tiled roof of a pink house, the faintest tip of a blue, wooded peak. The sun had dropped behind it, and the mountain looked cool and peaceful beneath a perfectly clear, even, yellow sky. Winkie knew that was where he had to go.
For hours he scampered from lawn to lawn, crossing one gray street after another, dodging cars, hiding from dogs and children. "I will go live in the mountains," he repeated to himself, half-crawling and half-walking, entranced. "Like a real bear."
Winkie had been old for so long that he had surpassed being either old or young. He had been the toy of one child, the little girl Ruth, and over the course of time, the toy of Ruth's five children -- Carol, Helen, Paul, Ken and, finally, the little boy Cliff.
But the chain had ended there, and after that Winkie had measured time in quantities of boredom. Ten little boredoms made a big boredom, and twenty big boredoms made a super-boredom. After twenty or more super-boredoms, he lost count. But his period of waiting had never become excruciating, for by then he had forgotten he was waiting for anything in particular. He lost track, and thought about life. In this way he had acquired his own brand of wisdom.
It came to his aid as he made his way through neighborhood after neighborhood, thinking of that mountain peak, and of the life he would have under the trees. He got bored with his journey but he didn't give up. At last the lawns began to grow wider, and sometimes there was nothing but trees and tall grass for many strides between the low-slung sprawling houses. Exhausted, he began to hear strange animal sounds, mysterious calls that both beckoned and frightened him. What if the wild animals didn't like Winkie? But even if he was to be torn to shreds by lions or tigers that very night, then that was his fate, and he would accept it.
Just then the lighted kitchen window of the last house passed out of view, and the darkness of the huge, magnificent night trees closed over Winkie's head. He heard the sound of a creek, off to the left, and nosed his way toward it through thick, tangled, luscious-smelling underbrush.
He broke out onto a small, rocky beach, and there in the moonlight, overhung by the trees, the water flowed by in ripples. Winkie stooped to sip, and then to nibble a few dusky orange berries that clustered by his head. The taste was a wave of pleasure he'd never known, like stars exploding in his mouth. A desire for sleep overcame him sweetly in the heaviness of all his limbs. Winkie had arrived. Dozing off, on a little mossy boulder in the last hours of night, he knew that his truest wishes would continue to come to him, one after the other, and that, sooner or later, they would each be granted.
But when Winkie woke, only a few hours later, he was stricken with a wild, tearing pain in his middle. He turned onto his belly and began to press his soft hips into the stones of the beach. All night he had dreamed decapitations, which were each the culmination of a series of actions and sensations that went forward of their own accord. He rolled over and over kicking until he was lying in dirt and leaves instead of rocks, but the pain was the same, and he began pressing himself into the earth again. It was as if the dirt itself radiated a keen excruciating suffering in warm waves, which arrived more quickly now, and his kicks were forced to follow them. It went on all morning, and all afternoon. When the hot waves had reached the speed of vibration, they seemed to turn to light, there was an obliteration of vision, and Winkie felt as if all his seams would burst. The mass of pain passed through and through him and then out and out, seeming to take forever, so that inside and outside were the same. Then he fell back and it was over.
He was all wet and began to shiver. He blinked to try to wake himself up. He wished he hadn't eaten those berries the night before, and he turned to look at the terrible doo-doo he must have made.
But it was not doo-doo. There, nestled in the grass and leaves, was a baby Winkie.
All those years up on the shelf, and even during these last two days spent in the wide world, Winkie had never stopped to hope to find another creature such as himself. But here it was, only smaller and completely helpless, with a thick coat of fresh tan fur, looking back at him. The creek flowed by gurgling. The little miracle's drowsy eyes winked shut once, opened, and winked shut again with a metallic tandem click-click just like Winkie's own. Blindly it opened its tiny mouth, and Winkie pressed the baby's lips to the mangy nipple at his breast, where pearly drops of nourishing milk had already begun to seep out. The newborn went to sleep suckling.
Winkie held his baby in his lap and quietly took in the world: the quivering high tree branches, the fluttering of thousands of bright-green, star-shaped leaves. As Winkie watched, the breeze intensified, and though still quite green, two or three leaves released themselves with soft clicks and tumbled down through the branches to the ground. Winkie was understanding everything now. He glanced across the shallow water pooling and then eddying past, wish after wish, and in the same instant he realized that some final transformation, even beyond the marvel of childbirth, had taken place in him. Something had happened to his winking glass eyes. They were wet, and overflowing. Drops fell. Winkie was crying.
It was growing dark. Above, between the trees, stars were coming out. Winkie's teardrops landed softly on the new baby's soft, furry cheek, one by one. The little baby Winkie gently woke. It looked up wondering at the cool drops' source, into its mother-father's moist, knowing eyes, and saw galaxies reflected.