The bear went over the m.., p.1
The Bear Went Over the Mountain,
books by william kotzwinkle
jack in the box
herr nightingale and the satin woman
elephant bangs train
the fan man
swimmer in the secret sea
e.t. the extra-terrestrial
e.t. the book of the green planet
christmas at fontaine’s
queen of swords
great world circus
seduction in berlin
jewel of the moon
the midnight examiner
the hot jazz trio
book of love (new edition of jack in the box)
the game of thirty
PUBLISHED BY DOUBLEDAY
a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell
Publishing Group, Inc.
1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036
DOUBLEDAY and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are trademarks of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
frontispiece by kate brennan hall
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The bear went over the mountain : a novel / William Kotzwinkle.
1. Authors and publishers—United States—Fiction. 2. Bears—United States—Fiction. I. Title.
Copyright © 1996 by William Kotzwinkle
All Rights Reserved
with thanks to bronson platner
The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
to see what he could see …
Other Books by This Author
About the Author
A fire raged in an old farmhouse. The indifferent flames were feeding on the pages of a manuscript. It was a novel called Destiny and Desire and its pages curled up at the edges one by one, then flared into light and turned to smoke.
The farmhouse burned quickly. The beams and rafters collapsed into a fiery pile, and when the unsuspecting owner returned, all that was left of his house, and his novel, was a smoking hole in the ground.
The farmhouse had been the sabbatical hideaway of Arthur Bramhall, an American literature professor at the University of Maine. He was ill suited to teaching, as he was subject to depression, and preferred being alone, knowing he was poor company when he was depressed, which was most of the time. He’d purchased the old farm in hopes of having sex with women who’d also moved to the country and might themselves be depressed. Most of these women looked depressed to him, or at least angry, probably about having to live in the country. His plan was that after having sex with them, he’d write a best-selling novel about it. He’d written the novel, but it’d been from his imagination not his experience, for he’d found that women who’d moved to the country wore shapeless overalls, frequently smelled of kerosene, attended solstice festivals, and refused to shave their legs; he thought of them as fur-bearing women, which tended to depress his libido. Consequently, the only excitement he’d had was his house burning down.
Now he stood in the darkness of the winter night with the embers of his disintegrating house lighting his face. Jutting out from the embers were the twisted shapes of his metal file cabinets, his gooseneck lamp, and his typewriter. He paced along the edge of the hole, looking for traces of charred paper. Bright little tongues of flame licked up at him, cautioning him to keep his distance until they were through. He knelt at the edge of the smoking hole and mourned his lost book.
“I understand that Bramhall has built himself a little cabin with his insurance money,” said Bernard Wheelock, a brilliant young lecturer in American literature at the University of Maine.
“Yes, he’s rewriting his book,” said Alfred Settlemire, a full professor at the same institution. Settlemire was a distinguished-looking figure with a high handsome forehead and a leonine head of hair, accented by a carefully shaped goatee on his prominent chin.
“It was terrible, his book burning in the fire,” said Wheelock. “What a blow for a guy who tends to look on the dark side.”
“Well, was it actually terrible?” asked Settlemire. “I’m sorry his house burned down, but as for his book—it was a deliberate steal of Don’t, Mr. Drummond. He told me so himself. He studied all the best-sellers and thought that was the one he could copy.”
“Not an easy task,” said Wheelock, who’d tried it himself.
“Well, but is that why one takes a sabbatical? To copy a best-seller? Successfully or unsuccessfully? Is that, one asks oneself, why one writes?” Dr. Settlemire used the word one a lot. He himself had published a book that traced the use of simile in Robert Frost and among other things it showed that Frost had used the word like as a simile .54 times per page. That was the sort of work that meant something. Work of commitment, one felt.
“Have you read any of Bramhall’s book?” asked Wheelock.
Settlemire let out a snort of contempt. “Before the fire, he sent a few chapters to me for comment, which of course one couldn’t really give him, as one didn’t know where to begin. His heroine is making a go of a run-down farm she’s inherited. She smells of kerosene but is lovely anyhow.”
“Sounds like it might be interesting.”
Settlemire stroked his excellent goatee. “One knows farms. Studying Frost, one must. The farm in Bramhall’s book is a pipe dream.”
“It’ll never be published. One is quite certain of that.”
In his little cabin, Arthur Bramhall rewrote his book. He did not bother to have his telephone line reconnected, and he saw no one except an old lumberjack who lived on the next ridge and occasionally dropped by to chat. Aside from this, Bramhall had no interruptions. The fire had taught him something, about patience, renewal, fortitude. He gave up trying to write a copy of a best-seller and wrote in a fever of inspiration straight from the heart—about love and longing, and loss, and about the forces of nature, into whose power he’d been initiated. By the last page of the book, his new heroine was glowing with an inner radiance gained from being humbled by nature. There was still lots of sex, but it had a connection to the ancient moods of the forests, to crow songs, and fox cries, and the crackling of a fire in the hearth.
“I’ve written the truth,” said Bramhall as he closed the manuscript and patted it tenderly. In the pit of destroying darkness where his lifelong depression had its seat, he’d lit a tiny lamp of cheer. “Tomorrow you go out into the world,” he said to his manuscript.
He put it in a briefcase and carried it with him out of the house. “I’m going to buy a bottle of champagne for us,” he said to his briefcase. A problem for city dwellers who move to the country is that they have no one to talk to but the septic field, or in this case, their briefcase.
He went across the meadow, far from his cabin, and carefully laid the briefcase under the boughs of an old spruce. The boughs hung to the ground and the manuscript was completely hidden. “If there’s another fire, you’ll still be safe.”
He smoothed out the edges
A bear watched Bramhall from a spot a few hundred yards away. Like Bramhall, the bear was a decent, hardworking sort. He followed his own regular rounds, from the stream where he caught trout and salmon, to the abandoned orchards where he ate apples in the fall, to the mountainside where he gorged on blueberries in summer. He was good-natured, and always hungry. He’d recently broken into the kitchen of a restaurant and eaten all the pies and cakes and then the ice cream and chocolate sauce and a can of colored sprinkles. The tastes and smells of these items haunted him; the balminess of spring seemed to carry them on the air, torturing him. The man had left something valuable under the tree. Maybe it was a pie.
The bear liked to roll in meadows and wave his paws in the air. He ate garbage when it was available and enjoyed rummaging at the dump for pizza boxes with splashes of cheese and other delicacies in them. He lived for his stomach and once a year at the first sign of summer had astounding sex. He was wise to the ways of the forest and crafty when it came to the ways of man; when he’d forced the window of the restaurant, a look of extreme concentration had come into his beady eyes, not unlike the look Arthur Bramhall had while seated at his typewriter.
Now, as Bramhall got into his car and drove off to buy champagne, the bear padded across the field and slipped under the branches of the pine tree. He approached the briefcase cautiously and sniffed at it. There was no trace of pie. Still, it paid to be thorough. He put his teeth around the handle of the briefcase and carried it deeper into the woods. When he felt secure, he set the briefcase down and whacked it several times. The latches popped and the briefcase opened. He sniffed disappointedly at the manuscript. Termite food, he said to himself, and turned to go, but a line on the first page caught his eye and he read a little ways. His reading habits had been confined to the labels on jam jars and cans of colored sprinkles, but something in the manuscript compelled him to read further. “Why,” he said to himself, “this isn’t bad at all.” There was lots of sex and a good bit of fishing, whose details he thought were accurate and evocative. “This book has everything,” he concluded. He slipped the manuscript back into the briefcase, clamped the handle in his teeth, and headed toward town.
While his manuscript was being stolen by a bear, Arthur Bramhall was having coffee with a fur-bearing woman. They were in a diner on Main Street in the small town to which they went each week to do their food shopping. “I finished my book,” he said to her, and she said, “Well, that’s exciting.”
“Yes, I suppose it is,” he said, attempting to maintain his urbanity though he was secretly bubbling with happiness. If his book succeeded, he’d never have to return from his sabbatical. He’d never have to see the English department again, nor be tempted to eat greasy pizza in the student union building, where his English students sat around reading comic books featuring space Amazons clad in aluminum foil.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a success,” said the fur-bearing woman kindly, although she’d written him off her serious-relationship list. He had a sturdy build and a pleasing head of wavy brown hair; his brown eyes were gentle, and he had a nice smile, but her sort of man had to smell of pine sap and woodsmoke and the great outdoors, as she did. Arthur Bramhall could never be trained up to any sort of satisfactory level. For one thing, he ironed his jeans.
“It’s nice running into you,” he said. While it was true that he ironed his jeans, he was a decent human being with much natural affection for other people. But because he was shy and introverted, he’d never found a lasting relationship with a woman, and in his loneliness he tended toward moods in which he stared out of his window like a goldfish. Right now he was in the manic phase of his cycle. “What’ve you been doing with yourself?” he asked with genuine interest.
“Oh, I’m still doing my wellness work,” said the fur-bearing woman with a dubious grasp on English but a firm hold on economics. For fifty-five dollars she gave her clients what she called an energy massage. Bramhall had paid her fifty-five dollars only to discover that her hands never touched his body, only swept the air above it with a dyed-purple chicken feather. He pretended to feel much better after this because he liked to encourage others in their work. Now he listened to the fur-bearing woman’s latest insights into energy fields, auras, magnetized water, and tried to find her attractive, despite the smell of kerosene. He tried to think of her as resembling the heroine of his book, but the sensually stimulating properties of kerosene worked better on paper than over coffee at the local diner. She said, “You know that the earth is coming into a feminine cycle, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that.”
“Yes, the feminine force is getting stronger every day. I’m organizing a moon goddess festival to celebrate it.”
Bramhall nodded. The fur-bearing woman loved festivals. On nights when he was only mildly depressed he could help himself get out of it by thinking how wonderful it was that he wasn’t at a moon goddess festival.
The fur-bearing woman took his hand in hers. “Close your eyes,” she said, “and concentrate on success through Jupiter, the planet of good fortune.” The fur-bearing woman was a decent human being too, who sincerely believed she helped others with her purple chicken feather.
Bramhall closed his eyes, and thought again of his briefcase, under the tree. He thought of it the way a Bushman thinks of his carved fetish wrapped in bat skin.
“I see very good things happening with your book,” said the fur-bearing woman. “I see someone taking it.”
Bramhall felt an effervescent thrill in his abdomen, as if he’d swallowed the Antacid of Happiness. With his eyes closed, he realized she had an understanding voice, and he felt her good will toward him. She was a fruitcake, but so were the other fur-bearing women of Maine. The winters were too long for them, and it drove them into peculiar activities. He hoped his little novel might comfort them. Its hero was a renegade archaeologist looking for fossils in Maine; he too had been humbled by nature and had learned to respect it, and to respect women, for they were the crown of nature. Bramhall thought that the fur-bearing women who read it could believe, for a little while, that the hero had come to their run-down farm to respectfully poke around in their fossils.
The bare overhead bulbs of the diner were reflected in the quartz crystal the fur-bearing woman was wearing on a chain around her neck, and it seemed to reflect her isolation as well. He suspected she was as lonely as he. He imagined himself taking her home, running her a hot bath, and leaving a shaving brush and razor conspicuously on the edge of the tub. “I think you might like my book,” he said shyly.
She nodded in agreement. “I have the very strong feeling that there’s an angel watching out for your book right now.”
The bear waited at the edge of town until nightfall. As the town was in rural Maine, there was only one clothing store, but the bear wasn’t fussy. He forced a back window and went in. Going through back windows usually led to shoveling down the sweets, but he forced himself to put thoughts of food aside as he prowled the darkened aisles of the store. A display mannequin caused him to draw back cautiously, but his nose quickly ascertained that the human-looking figure was made of wood. He approached the dummy and carefully studied the items of clothing it wore. Then he went and collected those same items in the store, choosing a suit of the kind lumberjacks wear to funerals. He worked himself into a shirt without too much trouble, but fastening the buttons was difficult. He got a few of them through the little holes and called it good enough. After several tries he got himself into the pants. They were on backward, as he hadn’t entirely grasped the nature of the garment. “Not a bad fit at all,” he remarked as he gazed at his shadowy reflection in the mirror at the back of the store. He slipped into the suit jacket and returned to the store dummy for a quick comparison. The painted eyes of the dummy seemed critical. “A tie, of course,” said the bear, and found one with hula danc
He walked slowly and clumsily, his shoes unlaced. The briefcase handle was in his teeth and this drew the attention of several passersby. They said nothing, but the bear noticed their superior smiles. What could it be? he wondered. He caught a glimpse of himself in a window and stopped. “Something wrong there,” he said to himself as he studied his reflection. Baseball cap is on straight, and the suit looks fine. His small, gleaming eyes stared back at him. Briefcase in the mouth!
Sheepishly, he transferred it to his paw. The old habits are going to die hard, he said to himself as he walked on.
Later, seated in the back row of the diner on Main Street, he opened the briefcase again and examined the title page of the manuscript.
DESTINY AND DESIRE
Title’s fine, thought the bear to himself, but I don’t see myself as Arthur Bramhall. No, that name wants changing. Something snappier. It’ll come to me.
On the table before him was coffee, toast, and two little pyramids of jam and half-and-half containers. He ran his gaze over the containers thoughtfully.
Perfect name, you can’t do better than Jam. Now for a first name.
Again his eyes ran over the labels on the containers.
Or is it too ethnic?
With his paw, he blocked out some of the lettering on the half-and-half container.