‘The bear came forward, growling again, swung its head and lifted its wounded paw from the ground. Honey, she thought to it, honey. Not sure if it was enticement or endearment.’
Extract taken from This is our Undoing
By Lorraine Wilson
Published by Luna Press
She was sitting below the Seven Lakes peaks in a high clearing where true forest was giving way to dwarf pines and juniper. There were late crocuses in the snowmelt and their colours shone ethereal in the lowering light. Lina had laid honeycomb in the grass below her and the bear’s tag was already moving this way along the contour of the slope because there had been honey here last evening and the evening before, drone-dropped by Lina in readiness.
‘Come on, sweetie,’ Lina whispered to the forest edge where the bear would hopefully emerge. The telescope and the barrel of the rifle were cool beneath her hands and habit made her check the loaded syringe again. A black woodpecker called to her left and its heartbeat flight crossed the clearing in the corner of her eye. Two ravens passed overhead, painted by the sun when they turned their wings, and the dot on Lina’s tablet screen paused then moved forward again. The bear appeared between the trees, lifting its delicate muzzle into the air, tasting honey, the coming rain, probably her but hopefully not more than a trace.
She moved slowly, one steady swing so that the bear coming towards the waiting honey did not think to look up. It was favouring its left hind leg heavily, and although she couldn’t see it from here the tag had told her plenty. Fever, leucocyte count, hunger. Two things now: she only got one chance at a shot, and if it felt the needle hit it might run towards her. Unlikely, as she was uphill and the slope was strong. But it was a possibility you had to be aware of before you took the shot. Thiago was further behind her, waiting with a rifle that was loaded with a flare instead of antibiotics, and another loaded with neither, but he had never yet needed either.
The dim screen of her tablet lit with a message icon but Lina barely noticed, her hands steady and grass around her shoulders. The bear lifted its head again, turned a little, poised like time itself held still, and Lina fired.
Two partridge exploded from the grass just behind her and them, or the shot, made the bear spin her way, groaning anger and confusion and fear. Lina lay the rifle down, pressing her palms against the earth, aware of Thiago above her so strongly it was as if he had reached out to touch her. The bear came forward, growling again, swung its head and lifted its wounded paw from the ground. Honey, she thought to it, honey. Not sure if it was enticement or endearment. Her tablet flashed again beside her, but the bear when it growled again sounded only sad, its voice low and lonely in the quiet clearing and she knew it would turn before it did so. Knew it would go back to the honeycomb before it did so, the bright flash of the syringe already fallen from its dark fur.
‘Nice shot,’ Thiago murmured beside her and Lina jumped. The bear had gone only a minute or two ago and, despite listening for him, she had heard nothing until he spoke.
‘You bugger,’ she said without weight.
He laughed softly. ‘Ready?’ But she was already coming stiffly to her feet, feeling at last the cold that had crept into her legs. Above them, the mountains were an amber chiaroscuro as the sun slipped away, and it was a long walk back to the truck. But the bear was full of antibiotics now, the balance of anthropogenic harm a little redressed. Besides, it was always wondrous to see such an animal with her own eyes, to be beside it in the wide world. She smiled at Thiago and knew that he knew exactly how she felt.
They were down into the trees when she remembered the message. The ground underfoot was black mulch scattered with ferns and fungi, so she did not slow as she pulled the tablet out. The message that had come while she waited in the grasses was from her father and only eight words long.
JH arrested. State investigating connections. Be careful, love.
Lina didn’t realise she had come to a stop until Thiago’s voice reached her, repeating questions from some vast distance. Arrested. Investigating. Christ, she thought. Christ, oh fuck, oh Christ. His smile, his hand on her thigh, his dark face in the dawn full of fear and courage.
‘Lina? Lina, what is it?’
It took an eternity to get the tablet back into her bag, to then look up at her friend without … without screaming, without crying? She was not sure. She’d known this would happen eventually. She’d warned him. Jesus, she thought. Oh James. Jesus.
‘Yes,’ she said, the muscles of her mouth numb. ‘I’m fine. Just … just my dad checking in.’ Shaking her head slowly. ‘It’s nothing.’
But it wasn’t nothing, and those eight words were so vast that it felt impossible to contain them. Thiago was watching her in the coffee-rich dark, and her mouth was opening to tell him, when she froze. State investigating connections, her father had said. She shut her mouth and stared at Thiago. She trusted him with everything, her life, her soul. But you didn’t trust, even when you wanted to. That much of Lina’s old conditioning remained.
‘Lina,’ Thiago said, so quietly it was barely more than air.
She wanted to turn and walk into the forest until she was alone. Have time to separate out her father’s words from memories of love and from Thiago here, black-eyed and waiting. State investigating connections. Oh god, she thought again. Oh James, what have you done?
This is our Undoing by Lorraine Wilson is published by Luna Press, in August 2021, priced £4.29 on Kindle.
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