help. The witch said ‘You’ve broken into my home and made a mess of it. I can smell that you have good livers, which I like. I think I will have my friend rip out your insides so I can use them.’
“‘No, no, please,’ the boys begged. And the witch considered. She said ‘I’ll give you a choice. You can become bears and do my bidding or you can become ingredients.’
“Of course the boys submitted to the witch’s magic and were turned into bears. Those are the two bears you meet in the woods. They are not to be trusted. They kill young girls and bring their livers to the witch if she tells them to.”
“But what about the mother?” asked the older. “You said there was a mother.”
“Well, don’t you think a mother would go looking for her sons? And recognize their torn clothes in the hut? And wait for them there?”
“And given the choice by the witch to be with her sons as a mother bear or never see them again, which do you think she would choose?"
The girls sank down under their covers. “Mother bear,” the youngest said.
“Please don’t sneak out into the woods,” I asked of them.
“Would you become a bear for us?” asked the older, her eyes narrow.
“Please,” I said. “Sleep.”
The next morning I awoke, and a strange light had entered the house. I was alone–-the girls had gone out again.
But something else had happened. An unclear amount of time had passed. I was older.
I walked outside. Dawn light shone silver in the yard. I saw my two daughters standing at the edge of the woods. It was as close as they would come to the house. I called to them and the youngest took half a step back. Her legs were painted white. I held up my hands, imploring them not to leave.
Everything wild will appear as it is, only that.
How many mornings had I been coaxing them back to the house? I went back inside and searched their bedroom for their school thermoses. I filled them with lemonade.
Outside the birds had grown noisy. I waited in the grainy light with the two thermoses of lemonade.
Then the eldest stepped from the woods. I rolled the thermoses toward her and she picked them up.
This meant I was still her father.
Behind them, in the woods, there were flashes of fur. The girls turned and ran.
I was sure they had gone feral in the woods. I stood in the yard and felt the pain of it in my skin. It would be impossible to lie in a bed now. Each position would be like the edge of a knife on my body because they were gone from me. I thought perhaps I should buy a camera with a powerful lens and try to take their pictures. My heart had fallen out. I imagined a day when they no longer came to the house, no longer even recognized it. When they were simply gone, wild, fallen out of the habit of civilization.
I wasn’t sure what was a dream and what was a thought and what was my daily life.
4 | Psychopomp