Author: Janet Shell Anderson
“Who’d slash a fifteenth-century Madonna?” That’s the question the robots at Zup’s grocery in the far, far north of Minnesota asked. They didn’t talk about Nils or the bear.
I was accused.
Last summer, up at the lake to buy Nils Andersson’s land, I rented a log house on Wakemup Bay, usually rented in winter by snowmobilers, ice swimmers, neo Paleo hunters who try to find paleo elk. There aren’t any. The house was owned by people from La Jolla, who thought all the Swedes, Finns, Jamts, tribal Anishinaabe were stupid locals. The locals pretty much despised them too, their robot dog sledding, their fake elk hunts.
The La Jolla woman, monstrously tall, gray, insect like, unhappy to leave her house full of Martian Santas, Lunar reindeer, and the Madonna, sneered at me. I noticed the garbage cans had no protection from bears. She insisted no bears exist. I got her out, had the house to myself. Three herons owned the dock; five eagles fought over the Jack pines. Sven Leander lived close. I left the Iron Range to get away from him, came back.
It was an odd summer; silken pines bent under hail, ferns flared red as autumn. Twilight dominated. Nils, my great-great-great grandfather, was reputed to see the future, was from Lapland, could turn into a wolf, or anything, people said. Sven looks like old sepia pictures of Nils, fabulous and remote. Beautiful, those faces.
Alone after the first night, I found paw prints in patches of snow. The second night I heard a deep “huff” outside the door. A dark, heavy body moved on huge, soft paws. I’d left nothing in the garbage cans, took everything to the dump on Highway 24 . In the misty light, he stood, studied the house as if he knew something terrible. In the twilight living room, I looked at the Christmas trees aloft on the high log wall, the Martian Santas, the Jovian angels in place in July, the Virgin, lovely, innocent.
Snow fell, just a whisper of it. We’re all dying; the world’s dying. Summers are over forever in our time. “Help us,” I thought. “Help me.” The Virgin looked rueful, as if being a Christmas decoration in a log house in Minnesota was an unexpected experience. Alexas stood on guard, listening.
The bear came back under a faint gilding of dawn, under a streak of rose just at the bottom of the eastern sky. He reared up in the front yard, his small eyes troubled. I filmed him as he turned away into a brief swirl of snow.
“Who are you?”
I bought Nils’ place. The morning I left the rental, the La Jolla woman messaged me that I’d ruined her Madonna, ripped it across the face. She swore she’d sue. There was no lawsuit. I’d filmed the house and the Madonna with a time-stamped video before I’d departed, filmed the paw prints in the snow on the porch.
I went south. Married. Came back.
The log palace was gone, burned to the ground in the middle of the worst snowstorm Northern Minnesota ever saw, and the La Jolla woman perished. Someone claimed to have seen the bear, denned up under the porch for winter, run into the forest during the fire.
“She musta ripped that Madonna herself, bad karma,” is what the robots at the checkout at Zup’s in the far, far north of Minnesota said to me and Sven when we shopped. They don’t talk about the bear much. They’re afraid of bears.