Our second night of vacation, I awoke in the dark in our one-room mountain cabin, a man in his white briefs climbing into bed beside me. He wasn’t my husband: blond versus black, leaner and younger. He reeked of beer. When I ordered him out, he looked around, stupefied. Get out, I repeated, louder. He struggled into his jeans, grabbed his shirt and jacket, and disappeared through the cabin door.
Just as the door banged closed, my daughter, seven, bolted upright on the top bunk bed. I shushed and soothed her, worried our son, five, would also awaken. Worked-up, she pleaded to sleep with me. I tested the cabin door’s latch—a sigh could open it—and peeked through the dusty grey curtains, no one in sight and the other cabins in darkness. I pushed the wooden dresser out from the corner and placed it squarely in front of the door.
I cuddled with my daughter on the fallen-in mattress, her small feet icy. She pressed her cold button nose to my chest and complained I smelled of garlic from dinner. Her breath felt warm on my skin, and was tinged with the scent of jam. Raspberry jam, buttermilk bread, and all things lovely, I fake-teased, still edgy. Outside, from the stables, the horses whinnied and burros brayed. They sounded wounded. Her arm tightened around my stomach, a space that would never again fill with miracles. She worried about the dark and the bears, and complained that she missed her daddy. He’d returned to the city earlier in the day on pressing business. Again. I hugged her tighter and stroked her black hair.
Long after her breathing turned short and shallow, I lay awake shivering. My eyes darted about the black cabin. What if the stranger hadn’t left so easily? If he’d forced himself on me? What if he returned? I couldn’t rid my mind of his coming out of the darkness, climbing on top of me and pushing into me, his mouth stinking. The picture morphed into my husband leaving for the city earlier, his cell phone at his ear. Of late, he was always leaving.
In his wake, I’d stared at the closed cabin door and listened to the SUV’s engine diminish in the distance, knowledge in its noise, Morse code. Our son had climbed onto my lap, his small brow creased, and slapped at my chest.
“Don’t look like that, Mommy.”
A sliver of moonlight reached through the window and illuminated my daughter’s pale face. From across the cabin, my son’s heavy, rhythmic breathing.
The horses and burros started-up again. I imagined myself outside in the redwoods under the full moon waltzing with a bear. A grizzly bear like they have in Canada and other places, the grizzly bigger than our black bears, smart and powerful. I didn’t doubt they were also fiercely protective and loyal. Round and round the grizzly and I danced, me holding tight onto his bulk, my head against his soft chest, keeping time to its beat.