Thank you for opening this letter of tales and imagination. There’s a special relationship between reader and writer, something unique to the medium. Without you, there’s no story. True, the writer facilitates the journey, but it all comes alive when you, the reader, make it truly amazing. So here’s a story written for you, and I can’t wait to see what you make of it. ~ WM
Bobby hated his older cousin Melinda. She looked scary. She’d lost her hair and her charcoal eyes made her appear like the monsters did in the black-and-white horror films daddy watched when Halloween time came around.
One time, Melinda played a fairy in a spring play at elementary school. She had a wand and a sparkly crown that mommy had a special name for. It sounded like “tarrara”. Everyone said Melinda looked pretty, but Bobby thought that the adults were lying.
It was a boring drive to Duluth—all the way up in northern Minnesota—to visit her in the hospital. They did it a lot. One time, mommy bought a huge teddy bear in the gift shop and told Bobby to give it to Melinda. Her room in the hospital was white and had too many lights and curtains—there were curtains over the windows and between the beds.
Melinda was sitting up in the bed with a pink bandana around her head and a matching bow on it.
“Oh my gosh! Hi, Bubby!” she said. She always called him “Bubby”, instead of Bobby and it annoyed him.
They lifted him up onto the bed. He handed her the bear.
“Hi,” he said.
“He’s for me?”
Bobby ignored her and examined the flowers on the bed-stand. Rose petals–dry, crisp, almost black–had fallen around the card propped against the vase. The card said “WE MISS YOU, MELINDA” in big colored letters. There were kindergartners’ signatures all around the card.
“Melinda’s talking to you, sweetie,” mommy said, and brushed his cheek with the back of her finger. Bobby looked up at mommy, helpless.
“Is he really for me?” Melinda asked.
“Yes,” Bobby said with an exasperated breath. He plucked at the hospital blanket. It was coarse like the blankets he had when he was a baby. He said, “it’s a present for you.”
She hugged the bear tightly and looked at Bobby for a long time before she turned away from him and said, “I’m sleepy”. And everyone in the room, except Bobby, kissed her and left. But he felt a little bad about the way he had talked to her and said “Bye” as they left. He could hear her say, “Bye, Bubby” as they passed the small gurney for little kids outside her room.
Just before school let out for summer, daddy drove them back up to the hospital one last time. Mommy was wiping her nose with a tissue and would sometimes clench her fist and beat it in a rhythm against the inside of the door like she was counting seconds. She turned around from the front passenger seat and said, “Sweetie, this may be the last time you see your little cousin. She’s very, very sick… very sick.”
“I know. Gosh,” he said. “You don’t have to keep saying it.”
Mommy ignored him. “She may be leaving us soon.” Bobby didn’t respond to that, because he didn’t know what it meant. He just assumed it meant she would go on a trip somewhere, maybe a long walk to see friends.
When they arrived at the hospital there was a nurse at the elevator on Melinda’s floor who met them. The nurse took mommy into an adjacent room and started to tell her something that made mommy cry so loud that she leaned forward and hugged her tummy. Daddy picked Bobby up and kissed Bobby. He could hear Aunt Emily at the end of the corridor sobbing and saying, “I don’t understand,” and, “Why?”
When they entered the white room with the curtains, they lifted Bobby up so that he could see Melinda lying on the bed. Her eyes were closed so she didn’t look as scary. She just looked like she was sleeping.
Just before Thanksgiving, mommy told him it would be nice if he went up and stayed with Aunt Emily. “Your aunt’s having a very difficult time. This’ll be her first Thanksgiving without Melinda. She’ll be spending it with Raymond’s family.” Raymond was his uncle. “I told her that you’d love to see her. It would really mean a lot to her…and to me too.”
Mommy helped Bobby pack his overnight bag, and then she drove him up by herself. “Melinda loved you so much, sweetie,” she said. “She just thought the world of you.” Bobby looked out of the window and watched the leafless birches pass by, wondering how much longer it would be until it snowed.
Aunt Emily hugged him when he arrived. Mommy and Aunt Emily talked for a long time in the kitchen, they cried again, so Bobby walked over to the window and looked out onto a grey landscape. He didn’t like it when mommy cried, because it made him feel embarrassed and he didn’t know what to say.
After Mommy kissed him and left, Aunt Emily took Bobby up to Melinda’s room. That’s where he would be sleeping. She made the bed and arranged everything for him. Melinda’s room was at the top of the house, and the ceiling leaned in on both sides, because it had originally been the attic—that’s what Aunt Emily told him as she was fussing around making sure he had enough blankets.
The walls and cross-beams were painted white. There was pink trim and pink wallpaper. Even the carpet was pink. The bathroom was just outside the door. There were two small windows on one side of the room.
The bedspread had scenes from Goldilocks on it. On the table by the bed was a tiny nightlight. It was almost like a dollhouse lamp—it was so small. Its shade could fit in Bobby’s palm. He cupped his hand over it because he’d never seen a nightlight like that before.
On the bed, propped up against the pillow, was the teddy bear. “Melinda called him Little Bubby,” Aunt Emily said and pulled back the covers. “You were Big Bubby to her. She loved you so much.” Mommy had already said the same thing, but he didn’t have the heart to tell Aunt Emily that because he had a feeling she would cry if he said that all the adults kept saying the same things.
Aunt Emily tucked him in and kissed him goodnight. There were tears in her eyes. She was a girl—like mom—and girls cried about stuff like this. Aunt Emily turned out the light on the wall but left the nightlight on, and then she went back downstairs.
Bobby looked at the shadows on the peaked ceiling, then looked over at the two small windows. The wind shook them in their panes. He looked over at Melinda’s toy-box and at the dolls in the far corner of the room, and then he hugged the bear and closed his eyes.
He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep. But when he opened his eyes it was still nighttime. Melinda was sitting on the toy-box in that stupid fairy costume with the wand and the “tarrara” on her head. He wasn’t surprised—was completely calm. Her hair was still gone and her eyes were shrunken and hollow, but she didn’t look as sad as she had been. She smiled at him.
“Hi Bubby,” she said.
“Do you want to go outside and play?”
“I can’t. It’s too cold.”
She waved the wand and the teddy bear grew and split open at the middle. Suddenly there was a zipper running down its front. And now “Little Bubby” was a costume, like the ones he wore on Halloween. “Now you have something to keep you warm,” Melinda said.
Bobby climbed in and zipped it up.
“Let’s go outside and play!” Melinda said.
The windows opened, and even though they seemed impossibly small, he found himself hunched on the ledge of one, looking at Melinda, who was hunched on the ledge of the other. She smiled and together they sprang to the ground.
Bobby loved the bear costume. Not only was it warm, but he could run and jump really high. He could even run on all fours like the bears on TV. Melinda ran in front of him, looking at him over her shoulder, smiling and laughing hysterically. She bolted far ahead. Then other bears came and ran with Bobby—an entire family. Melinda, Bobby, and the bears came to a stream.
Bobby realized he was no longer merely in a suit but had become a bear—a real grown up bear! He slipped on the stones, and splashed around in the stream, which wasn’t very deep. He almost caught a fish, but the fish sprang from between his paws and another bear, probably Bobby’s new brother, caught it.
He was having so much fun. If this was what it meant for Melinda to “not be with us much longer” and go on her trip, he couldn’t understand why it was that the adults were so unhappy, or why it was that they didn’t want to join her.
Bobby rose up on his haunches near the edge of the stream and roared in the night. It was a full-throated real bear’s roar. Melinda laughed and said, “You’re so strong!” She even smiled as a startled hunter, seeing Bobby in the aggressive stance, leveled a shotgun from the other side of the stream. He fired.
“I’ll miss you, Bubby,” Melinda said as the bullets tore through Bobby’s bear suit. “I’ll always love you.” The other bears ran off into the woods.
Aunt Emily woke when she heard the commotion upstairs. Her husband was still asleep. She turned on the lights in the hall and padded up the carpeted steps. When she opened the door to Melinda’s room, she couldn’t comprehend the scene. Both windows were thrown open. Bobby was nowhere in sight. The bed was undisturbed, as though it had never been slept in. Propped up against the pillow was the stuffed bear, Little Bubby, with its stomach ripped open. Hundreds upon hundreds of rose petals whirled up out the bear’s guts to play about in the cold wind that filled the room—whirling and coiling in the gust, only to fall upon the carpet in the glow of the tiny nightlight.
Bobby had disappeared. His picture was hung up in stores and printed on leaflets stapled to telephone poles, but he was never found. And his mother never talked to Aunt Emily again.
After the April thaw, deep in the woods near Duluth, Minnesota, along a purling stream, two young hikers, a boy and a girl, were startled by what they took to be the decayed remains of a man who’d been shot—maybe murdered. They ran back the way they’d come and took their beat-up car to town. They reported what they’d found to the sheriff and led him to the site.
The sheriff laughed and shook his head. It was a bear’s carcass, chewed over by the wolves, almost completely decomposed.
“Bear and human remains are hard to tell apart,” he told the youths.
That summer a patch of roses sprang up from under the carcass, mantled the bones with their thorny stems, and bloomed between the ribcage. But the roses faded too, and the curled petals fell, withered, and blackened on the hushed banks of the wooded Minnesota stream.