Death of a Bear

"Can you kill the pope?" Leroy said from the mud.

"Can I kill him? I don’t think I could kill anybody," said Herbert.

"Oh, yes, you could."

"Nope." Herbert dumped a pail of mud onto Leroy’s pants. Both laughed.

"Anybody can kill somebody. You just don’t know it," Leroy said.

"How do you know what I know?"

"You know what I say."

"Well why would I want to kill somebody for?" asked Herbert, very confused. Herbert was a year older than Leroy and four inches taller, but he became confused very easily. He stomped in the mud and sent a projectile blob, brown but not sticky, onto Leroy’s head. Both laughed.

Leroy laughed and sighed at the same time and did not wipe the mud from his hair and thought he may vomit. Ralf, was what Herbert called it, but he did not like Ralf.

"I don’t mean you want to kill somebody, just that you could," Leroy said impatiently.

"I could?"


"Could you?"

"Sure. Anybody could."

Herbert’s face wrinkled and he stuck out his tongue, as he often did. He thought for a few seconds as Leroy watched his brown tongue.

"What about grandma?"

"What about grandma?"

"Could grandma kill somebody?"

"Sure. But not with her hands. She’s too weak, now," Leroy answered.


Leroy cupped some mud in his hands and let it ooze down through between his fingers in plups below, on his pants and on his stuffed koala bear.

"So anyways," he said. "Can you kill the pope?"

"I dunno." Herbert was confused."Isn’t the pope, like God or somethin?"

"Yeah, he’s sposed to be. But he’s really just a guy who knows a lotta stuff."

"Like dad?"

"Yeah, I guess. More like Hitler. But he’s got a big hat."


"No, not Dad."

"Hitler?" Herbert’s tongue was out.

"No, the pope, phallus head."

"Are you bein’ funny?"

"No," Leroy didn’t care. "I think you can kill the pope. I think people just want ya to think you can’t."

"Yup. Like mom. But I could never do it."

"Yes you could." Leroy let the mud ooze through his fingers. Plup, Plup, . . .

"Could not."

"Could so."

"Well I wouldn’t wanna anyhow," Herbert corrected himself. He knew Leroy was right. Leroy was always smarter than he was, and he was glad. He liked people who knew lots of stuff.

"No, maybe not." Leroy scooped another cup of mud. "Nah, me neither. But you could."

"And you could too, right Leroy?"


Herbert was glad to be right. He liked it when he knew things.

"Hi HO!" came a voice from the sidewalk. It was the postman with the blue face. Both Leroy and his brother liked the postman, but someday they would not.

"Hi, taco!" both said to him. Neither knew why people called him taco, not even Leroy.

The postman rushed on by, not rude but late. It was the only thing he had ever said to the boys, and he had probably said it to them a hundred times. This was O.K. Mom said not to talk to him anyway.

"Leroy, why is taco’s face blue, anyhow?" It was the first time either of them had asked.

"He paints it that way."


"Yeah. That’s why his mustache has little flakes in it."

"I heard he had a disease," said Herbert, reluctant to say things if he didn’t really know them.

"Nope. That’s just what Mom says, so we won’t go near ’em. But it’s only paint."

"Well, why’s he do it? Is it part of his uniform?"

"Nope. He just likes it blue."

"I thought maybe they made ’em."


Herbert’s tongue popped out again, and his face wrinkled.

"Wouldn’t you get sick of it? The blue, I mean?"

"Maybe he got sick of white," said Leroy.

"I think I’d get sick of it. After a while, I mean." His face was still wrinkled.

"Sometimes I get sick of white."

"Yeah, but you never painted it before."

"Nope. Mom wouldn’t let me, anyhow."

"You asked Mom if you could paint your face?"

"No, but she would never. You know Mom," Leroy said lamentingly.

"Yeah," Herbert did.

"I heard he killed a guy," said Leroy.

"Taco?" said Herbert. Leroy nodded. "Who’d he kill? His boss?"


"The pope?"

Both laughed.

"No, just a guy," Leroy said.

"Why’d he do it?"

"I don’t know. Got sick of him, I guess. Got sick of him and painted over him red. But I don’t believe it, anyhow. I think it’s just a thing people say."

"Yup. Why do people say things?"

"Who knows."

"Yeah," said Herbert. He looked down at the mud. Leroy, who was still cupping some in his hands, put them up to his mouth and sipped. He looked up and smiled a runny grin at Herbert’s astonished face.

"Fuck you, Leroy!" He had learned the phrase from listening to his mother talk to her hairdresser, when she thought no one was around."Yuck! That is sick!"

"It’s not, really," Leroy said. Then they both laughed."Should we go over to the brown house?"

"O.K.," said Herbert.

They went, and on the way back they were not quiet, but not talkative. The mud had dried into a light brown crust on their pants. They felt like astronauts.

"How come they live together?" Herbert said finally.

"I don’t know. I guess they want to."

"But why?"

"Cause they must like each other."

"Like Mom and Dad?"

"Like you and me. But we’re not grown-ups."

"Yeah, but why do they do that? . . . to each other?"

"I guess they just want to."

"Is it O.K. though?" asked Herbert.

"What, to watch?"

"No, to do like they do. Is it O.K.?"

"Yeah, I think it’s O.K., if they want to do it."

"How come mom doesn’t like ’em?"

"Cuz they’re different, I guess." Leroy answered, but he did not really know.

"Mom doesn’t like lots a’ people, does she."

"No, I guess not," said Leroy.

"She likes them at church, though. How come them two ladies don’t go ta church?" asked Herbert earnestly.

"I don’t think they’re allowed," said Leroy.

"How come?"

"Cause a’ the way they are."

"Cause they live together?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"I bet if they went ta church, though, people’d find out they were real nice n’ like ’em a whole lot better, doncha think, Leroy? And Mom’d even like ’em, cause she likes them at church, right, Leroy?"

"It wouldn’t help. Mom’d still not like ’em."

Herbert’s face wrinkled, tongue out slightly.

"Are we gonna live together some day, Leroy?" he asked.

"I don’t know. You wanna?"


"We won’t be able to go ta church though."

"That’s O.K.," Herbert said lightly."I never liked church much anyways."

"Me neither," said Leroy.

They walked in silence for a while, each hearing the gravel beneath their shoes that was so often there but ignored. They walked slow and close.

"You wanna go back to the mud?" invited Herbert.

"No, I don’t think I do."

"Should we go home and eat? Mom probly wants us home. Look, you can see the moon. Mom always said we should go home when we can see the moon."

"I don’t care. I like the moon. I like to be out and look at the moon, and I hate Mom for never lettin us be out with it."

"Fuck you!" said Herbert. "You do not hate Mom."

"I know. But I still like the moon. And I’m not hungry anyhow."

"You wanna go ta Jamie’s?"

"No, let’s have it just be us," said Leroy. He walked slowly and stared at the moon.

"These pants make me feel like an astronaut," Herbert said.

"Me too. We should take ’em off."

"Fuck you! Not right here," chuckled Herbert.

"No, not right here, I guess. But we should take ’em off."

"Well let’s go over there . . . behind the church."

"That’s not even our church," said Leroy.

"No. That’s Jamie’s. We don’t like our church anyhow, Remember?"


They walked a bit quicker now, towards the church. It was a warm night, sweaty, like fly paper.

"We should hose ourselves off," said Herbert.

"After. We’ll do it after."

"O.K.," said Herbert.

The moon watched them walk, fun and innocent, towards the church.

"Hey! You left your bear back there!" shouted Herbert suddenly.

"It wasn’t really a bear."

"Aren’t you gonna go back and get it?"

"No, I don’t want it anyhow. I don’t want what she gives us anymore."

"Mom’s gonna fuck you, Leroy!" He still hadn’t mastered the phrase, one would guess.

"I don’t care about Mom."

Herbert made no remark.

They walked beneath the moon to the back of the church, where it was dark and cool and moist with the evening, and began to remove their hard, crusted corduroys.

"You know, Leroy," said Herbert, "I don’t think I’ll go to church when I grow up."

"No, me either," said Leroy as they stripped.

Herbert smiled. His face was not wrinkled and his tongue rested dreamily in his mouth, undetectable. He was feeling very well, and was glad. He liked it when he knew things.

Copyright 1995 by dustin hansen