the minnesota review is pleased to feature each of our nominees for the 2012 Pushcart Prize in the coming weeks. This week we are excited to bring you an excerpt of Maxim Loskutoff‘s “The Dancing Bear.” Please check back next week for more on our nominees and their work.
The Dancing Bear
First, she was the sound of a breaking branch. A splintered knuckle crack shattering the quiet of these western Montana woods. It is a heavy quiet here, and no good comes when it is broken. Red men, gunslingers, and all manner of goldcrazy downandouts plague this wild country. My heart went to scampering.
I took up my Winchester and crept to the door. Early light played on the muddaubed timber walls. I built this cabin ten years ago with naught but a hatchet, five yards of rope, and Jeremiah—a mule by then more dead than alive. Damned if I would give it up without a fight.
Another branch snapped and I toed the door open. The smell of dewwet pine wafted in. I slid the rifle’s nose into the crack. I held my breath.
She was up on her haunches, weight back—all six hundred pounds of it, her arms raised—like the dancing bear I saw in Bar num Bailey’s Fantastic Roadshow when I was a boy. But this was no dancing bear. She was a grizzly. Eight feet tall and used to having her way in the world. Her dinnerplate paws thrashed apples from my apple tree. She huffed and snorted, blowing clouds of steam. She was gorging on fruit, preparing for hibernation, and I believe she was enjoying herself. The rising sun smoldered the crest of Scapegoat Ridge above her massive head.
I thought to shoot her. Even leveled the Winchester’s barrel. Her pelt would have fetched a hefty price. But I could not pull the trigger. She was magnificent. All the dreadful beauty of this territory was bound up in her figure. She ate the apples whole, picking them up between her paws and crushing them with her molars. Her fur shim mered and rolled in waves, like the windy prairie where I was born. Her pink tongue swept stray apple chunks from around her mouth.
I wondered if she had lips.
She stood to her full height, reaching for an apple high in the branches. Her body was shapely: trunk thighs widening into hips, slimming a bit through her middle before expanding again into the muscled bulk of her shoulders. She jumped and swung and caught the apple on her first claw — her index claw — and, with a snarl, tore it from the branch.
I had planned to save the apples and enjoy them as a treat on cold winter nights (nights when my cabin is a lump in the snow), but I was not angry at the bear. I was happy to watch her. I wondered if there were breasts beneath her fur.
I suddenly realized I was erect. Confusion and shame roiled my gut. I had never thought of lying with a bear before, but once I began I could not stop. I knelt, hiding my swollen cock behind the door jamb, and, instead of thinking of protecting my home, I imagined running into her great hairy arms. Licking her throat. Inhaling her thick smell. Finding her tongue with mine, tasting apples. Tumbling back into the high grass, her legs clamped around my buttocks, both of us sticky with apple juice. Warmth. Brown eyes. A roaring tangle of limbs.
“The Dancing Bear” was first published in issue 79 (Fall 2012) of the minnesota review, and was Maxim Loskutoff’s first story accepted for print publication. Since then, he has had four more accepted (in Narrative Magazine, Slice Magazine, Nano Fiction, and Willow Springs) and is hoping to complete a collection in the next year. Loskutoff is currently a Global Writing Fellow in Abu Dhabi, where he is basically sequestered in an apartment building in the middle of the desert, subsisting on Lebanese takeout and spending most of his time working on a novel about a small town in Montana, a coyote, and the end of the world. You can read more about Loskutoff on his website, and you can read the rest of “The Dancing Bear” by accessing our online archive at Duke University Press, available here.