by Richard Garcia
The bear did not return as he had promised. Parachutes bloomed and drifted silently into the darkness of that moment just before sleep, nodding, as if in agreement.
It was then that the boy remembered there were three things he was supposed to remember. Did one go this way, or was it that way?
Maybe one got lost like the soldiers returning from the war and entering the wrong houses. But they were close, the houses were almost like their own houses. They recalled towers in flames, torn banners dangling from minarets.
But still, the bear did not return. Sometimes the boy could sense him in the rustle of leaves at the edge of the forest. He imagined him standing against a tree in a clearing, waiting for silence, for attention, as if he were about to tell a story.
The bear did not return as he had promised. So the child never left the cottage. Never Left the Cottage became his name—that’s what the hunters called him. Never spoke, never answered, although sometimes he did hop about the room like a sparrow on the grass, a tiny sparrow about to take flight.
Someday he would remember and tell them about The Three: three ways at the crossroads, three words to say or not to say, or maybe which three stars to follow.
They noticed that when light came into the room, not just daylight, but a beam with spirals of dust suspended in it like a diagram, the child welcomed it like an old friend, and moved his lips, silently.
The bear did not return as he had promised. So the child never left the cottage. The tree refused to grow.
Grandmother decided to cut it down. She swung her axe into its bark and it bled. Grandmother decided to leave the tree alone.
The boy dreamt that he was the only one who knew the answer to the riddle: The bear, the cottage, the tree. Or was it the stars, the crossroads, the words?
He set off to find where everyone had gone. When he looked back, it seemed the tree was much taller.