Driving home from the Bears’ this last time, everything looks a little different to Goldie. The highway somehow wider. Her town, even more domesticated. Each car Goldie passes advertises something obnoxious about the children inside it. Really, there are more of these stickers than she’s ever seen before. It makes her angry. She counts them while chewing an old banana from her glove box. Three honor roll brags, two soccer championships. One oboe prodigy. The banana is overripe, mushy in her mouth, but she is hungry after her time in the woods. Ravenous, even. When she’s done, she chucks the peel out the window and is promptly pulled over for littering. Goldie wishes the officer would understand that this is just the way of a Bear. To cast off, to shed things. A stolen picnic basket here, a tuft of fur there. The bones from something succulent.
The ticket is written, handed out, but by the time Goldie is sent on her way, she’s already late. The patrol car drives off, its taillights becoming smaller, and Goldie fights the impulse to follow them into the dark. Pursuit, too, is a pleasure of a Bear.
When she gets home, Goldie is prepared to explain, but, as usual, her parents aren’t having it. It isn’t the first time she’s late, but it is the first time she’s come home with a moving violation. Like a child, she’s sent to her room, and all the way up the stairs, the same grating chorus. She’s too impressionable. She’s hanging out with all the wrong types. She’s losing sight of who she is. Goldie locks herself in her bedroom, keeping the lamp off so she won’t have to see the pink of her sheets, their embarrassing sweetness.
Before falling in with the Bears, Goldie tried being a vegetarian for a while, but the diet left her empty, anemic, with iron so low, that for a few months, she felt as if she were living under a sleeping spell, drifting aimlessly through her days. She’d sit down someplace and if she didn’t get right back up in a few minutes, she’d become so bored with herself, she’d nod right off. Since meeting the Bears, though, Goldie doesn’t want to sleep. Since meeting the Bears, she is awake! Her hibernation, over! So what if her grades are slipping? Who cares about academic probation? Because she is learning things from her feral time. Important things. Things about herself. It turns out that Goldie likes the taste of woodland creatures, picking sinew from her teeth. It turns out that Goldie, herself, is a Bear. Has been all along. Only she hadn’t ever known it.
But how to tell the world what she is, especially when saddled with such shining curls? Shearing her head wasn’t enough. Even when she did that, her mom and dad didn’t get the message. Lately the Bears talk about moving out of their place to somewhere even wilder, even deeper in the woods, and though they haven’t explicitly invited Goldie to come along, it is heavily implied. Or at least, she hopes it is. Maybe once she lives among them, no one will question her own Bearhood. And at the very least, if she runs off, it will get Goldie out from under her parents’ thumb. Through the floorboards, she can hear them whispering, scheming about her. Not that it matters, whatever punishment they’ll decree. There is nothing to be done about a creature that no longer wants to be tame.
Goldie fidgets in the pen of her room, scratching at the coarse little hairs repopulating her scalp, peeling black polish off her pinkies. She lights cigarette after cigarette from a pack bummed off the Bears. Her parents will smell the smoke, but, screw it. She opens her window, squints towards the woods, toward the only place anyone ever gets her. The only place she can truly be herself. That, she supposes, is really why she loves it at the Bears’. She’s tired of pretending to hold onto the old Goldie, the one she longs to leave behind. She is her own Bear now. After each smoke, she flicks the butt into the driveway, trying to hit her parents’ minivan, the one with the same sort of infuriating bumper stickers on it. Come dawn, she will climb down there and claw those stickers right off, but tonight she will stay inside and watch the little cherries sail through the dark like rescue flares, their perfect burning arcs, for a moment, just right.