The Miniature Bear
Byron James Kimball
He would spend hours staring at the bear, painting, adding, and removing new pieces, usually puffing on a pipe of medical weed as he did so. The bear took an honored spot on the center of the desk underneath a halo of light from an IKEA desk map. In a previous life, it had been a Kuma the bear figurine from the Tekken game series. But it had transformed under his watch into his bear.
It wasn’t the only figurine Ryan had modified. His childhood room was filled from floor to ceiling with scenes he had crafted. Most had action figures--hailing from Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Escape From New York- as their centerpieces, each surrounded by partial cardboard walls and miniature tchotchkes strewn about to set the scene.
At first, the bear stood alone without a scene to anchor it.
For his last boyfriend before me, he added the first modification. A penis. It was hardly larger than the tip of my pinkie, rolled from dried leather which he had covered in two layers of brown gloss paint. On the bear, it was cartoonishly large and he hammered it into the board of the beast’s crotch so the phallus exploded past the bear’s stubby legs, like it was perpetually screwing the air.
The second modification, when he ended up single again, was a joint of weed when he got his medical card for anxiety, which he only had when it was time to renew it. It hung haphazardly from the bear’s hand. Between that and the bear’s empty smile, it was as though it was already stoned.
And the bear was the first thing he showed me when we moved in together; when I packed my things and flew down to Sacramento and rented the spare bedroom in the house he shared with his disabled mother. At first, like most things in the relationship, I was politely enamored.
“That’s interesting, I guess,” I said.
“It keeps me busy.”
And indeed, it did.
* * *
Look,” he told me one night. “It’s supposed to be you.” He had this habit of talking with his hands and as he drew out each word, his hand traced over my body like he was mapping out the bear’s contours over my own. “You know, except for the--” He jabbed a finger into my crotch.
When I was high school, (although that’s not entirely apt, I homeschooled), I would shove a folded sock down the front of my panties whenever I had the house to myself. As his finger collided with my crotch, the emptiness between my legs slammed against me like a wave.
I know you want one,” he said. “No offense.”
He had likely given the same line to every boyfriend before me--that the bear was for them. Likely while he was laying in bed with his exes too. But I said nothing. I crossed one leg over my crotch.
“Babe, you upset?” He grabbed the pipe of weed, puffed on it, and then replaced it with a cigarette.
“I’m…” I stared out the window now. It hadn’t rained in weeks and the grass outside was saffron and crisp. Each stalk was so thin, so dead, it looked as though it would turn to dust if you ran a hand through it. “I’m alright.” I swallowed, hard.
“You’re my bear.” He planted his lips on my jaw, his stubble prodding against my bare skin. “Always.”
I didn’t take my eyes off the window.
* * *
Even when he would work on the other miniatures and their scenes, he kept returning to the bear.
It looks fine to me,” I would always tell him.
“It’s missing something.” His eyes trailed over my body.”
The days tended to follow the same routine. We’d wake up sometime around eleven in the morning. I’d work in the office, a cracker box room I rented that was piled high with years’ worth of garage sale junk and half broken appliances his mother had collected. I would hammer articles and ghostwritten essays away on a card table coated with weed crumbs and cigarette smoke that kept piling up no matter how many times I wiped it away. After dinner, if I didn’t try to squeeze more work out, we’d migrate to the bedroom. We always fucked missionary. It kept him quiet for five minutes. At some point, we’d drift off to sleep.
Some nights I’d wake up after a nightmare I’d usually forget and he’d be at the desk, working on a miniature or looking over the bear. That’s how I found him when he made the flower.
His narrow shoulders were hunched together as he cut away at a ceramic, purple rose, an old, partner-less earring that his mother had tossed out, with a Dremel. His concentration never broke from the flower once.
Though I was still half asleep, with cold sweat trickling down my forehead, I watched him in silence. It was one of the few times he was actually working on something in peace without even a forgotten techno song, the only genre he ever listened to, blasting in the background. A childlike calm had come over him, his brow smooth and a slight, meaningless smile parting the corners of his thin lips.
There was something off about the whole scene. And then it hit me. It was the first time I had ever seen him truly relaxed.
His hands weren’t shaking, his body wasn’t tensed up. He even hummed as he snipped off a couple petals of the flower and held them under his desk lamp with a pair of tweezers, turning them over under the light. He frowned, but only once, as he shaved them down, continued shaping them. When these petals didn’t turn out to his satisfaction, he cut another pair of petals, just as careful as the first pair. Again he shaved them down, adjusted them, turned them over under the light.
This time, he seemed satisfied and he stretched back for a moment, sighing. He reached for the bear. I tried to place the petals, decipher what they were supposed to be. From across the room, they were two smooth waves of barely distinguishable purple, hardly larger than a toenail.
He grabbed the bear and flipped it over so its stubby legs stood in the air. With surgical precision, he set the petals between the bear’s legs, glued them in, and set the bear back on the desk. The meaning was clear. He had made a vagina.
* * *
“Now it looks like you.” That was how I awoke again that morning, with him kneeled over me, holding the bear. He was whispering when he said it.
“I gave it a pussy.”
The rolls of the petals were barely visible between the bear’s legs but they were there nonetheless, hidden behind the girth of the leather phallus.
“It’s my favorite part about you. Very special.” His hand found itself between my legs. I wanted to bat them away, get up, but instead I just felt sick. “Don’t mutilate yourself.” He drew out the ‘t’ in mutilate so the word cut the air.
“I…” I sat up at last when he had moved away, putting the bear back on the desk. “What do you mean?” But I already knew the answer.
“You don’t need a penis,” he said.
I stared at him. “I don’t think you get what transgender means.”
“You can be trans without one. You’re not supposed to be like the other guys.”
Later that night, when he fucked me, I was somewhere else.
* * *
When his friends would come over, the bear was always the first thing he showed them.
Adam, in particular, would home in on it every time he came over. They had been automotive school friends. And like all queers did in a macho environment, they had homed in on each other without knowing quite why at first. They had fucked each other once but Ryan, for whatever reason, figured Adam wasn’t relationship material.
Both of them had dreamed of becoming mechanics. Only Adam became one, working at a Hyundai dealership half an hour out of town.
“How’d you make this?” Adam gestured to the bear’s phallus with the tip of his thumb, still coated in grease. He grabbed it, turning it around in his palm, chuckles rumbling in his throat.
Ryan, as usual, launched into his spiel: it was dried leather, rolled it up, then I glued it. But Adam’s gaze had drifted on the bear. It settled on me. My laptop, which I sat behind on the bed, became a shield.
My binder somehow felt tighter than it ever had before as Adam scanned me over. The corners of his eyes crinkled. Ryan and Adam lit cigarettes and puffed at them in tandem. The smoke curled thick in the air, weighing in my throat and lungs. I coughed. Between puffs off of his cigarette, Adam licked his lips. He winked at me as he followed Ryan out of the room.
* * *
“Make me happy, baby bear.” Ryan puffed on a cigarette, his third since Adam had come over. The smoke lounged in the air. His other hand wormed its way onto the inside of my thigh. He squeezed, hard enough to make me squirm under my jeans.
“I dunno if it’s the right idea,” I said. My voice faltered.
“You told me you wanted a threesome.”
“I said I’d consider it. With the right guy.”
“Why can’t Adam be the right guy?” Ryan traced circles into my jeans. He breathed smoke right on the nape of my neck. I held my breath. “You know, he could put up with…” Ryan’s hand slid up from my crotch until it found my binder. He played with the hem of it. “Guys like you.”
“I don’t know about this.”
“You’ll be safe.”
“I…” I swallowed. My throat had gone dry.
“Think of me for once,” said Ryan. A growl curled on the edge of his words. “It’s not all about you.”
“What did I miss?” asked Adam. He stood in the entryway, already puffing away on a fresh cigarette. As he sat down across from us, he tapped a fat wad of ash into the overflowing ashtray.
“Byron and I were just talking.” Ryan gave my hand a squeeze- firm enough that I could feel bones pop. “I have a proposition.”
The room spun, clothes peeled off, belts unlatched. I was a puppet, shifting out of my binder, out of my packer, out of my jeans until I was exposed. My hands were shaking the whole time. I wanted to throw up. I didn’t have a car, hell, couldn’t drive. The house had never felt so small then it did right now as I sat naked and shivering on the couch, both arms over my chest, over the pockets of fat and skin and hate that Ryan was trying to touch now and Adam was eyeing.
It all seemed to happen at once--Adam between my legs, Ryan somewhere else, me on the living room floor with my bare back scraping against the carpet. Thrusting, panic, nails digging into skin, into the carpet. Adam was going at it, grunting like a boar as he powered into my crotch, his belly slapping, throwing me back and forth. I was doing all I could to stabilize myself, keep my neck from whiplash. Sweat beaded down my neck but I couldn’t tell if it was from panic or the exertion.
Ryan, where the hell is he, I swear--I noticed him at last. There he was, standing off in the corner. In the heat of everything, he had slipped his boxers back on. A shadow came over his face as he locked onto Adam.
Adam finished, slapping the side of my thigh as he pulled out, got up. And then Ryan came in, pushing his way to my side. He didn’t take his boxers off before he took his turn.
Each thrust he took, he slammed against me, squeezing my ankles until the points of his knuckles turned chalk white. He was small, slight. I was taller than him, even, but he pounded at me like he was trying to dig me into the carpet. Pain radiated, more panic rose.
“Babe, please.” I tried to wiggle out from underneath him. He didn’t meet my eyes once. He watched Adam, his lips curled back in a snarl, as Adam got dressed. “Could you slow down?”
He finished and slid out. They did not smoke cigarettes together after that.
Adam left without Ryan saying another word. And when the door had closed and when we were both sure Adam had gone, Ryan grabbed his pipe of weed. His hand was shaking almost as hard as mine were. He nearly dropped the lighter as he tried to ignite the weed. “Did you see that? How he touched the miniature bear?” He fell back onto the couch. “Just grabbed it. With his dirty fucking hands.”
I snuck off to the bathroom and threw up once I had cleaned myself up. I had bruises on my legs for almost a week. Ryan never spoke to Adam again.
* * *
He added an otter once I’d been living with him for four months. It was a plastic, painted toy he had snagged from a hobby shop with the last of his bottle deposit money after he’d blown the rest on cigarettes. The otter was a tan, sleek thing with an empty, placid grin. It stood eye level with the miniature bear’s crotch. He’d raise an eyebrow every time I tried making the otter look like it was sucking the bear’s dick.
“See, look.” He held up the otter, pushing it into my nose. “This can be me.”
And like the bear, the first thing he gave it was a molded phallus, which protruded awkwardly from the otter’s hind legs, giving the impression that the otter now had two tails.
He gave both the otter and bear sunglasses- the otter had gotten a pair to cover up its lopsided, smudged eyes but he decided that the bear, in any case, needed to match. And when he had done that, he built a world around them. There was a sofa, a miniature iMac on a desk proportionate with the bear, iPods for the both of them, bottles of Mexican cola (the only cola he drank) strewn around the two figures that he had fashioned out of carved plastic. Anything he couldn’t make on his own, he begged me to buy.
When the Adam thing blew over, when Ryan was finally calm and smiling again, the days began to bleed into each other. Work, sleep, sex. We didn’t leave the house too often but when we did it was to the same handful of places- the hobby shops, Best Buy, Dimple Records. He was a creature of routine. It wasn’t often that I could convince him to break it. On a good day, I could sometimes convince him to take me to IKEA.
The months blurred by- April into May, May into June.
I had planned on going to college in Sacramento but I couldn’t meet the math requirements. So I worked more. At one point I even had office hours. Officially, I was to work from ten in the morning until six at night, Mondays through Saturdays. I even used to have a paper schedule taped onto the office door but when I worked past seven a couple nights, he tore it off and ripped it in half. I never dared to post another one.
I waited for my insurance to clear me for hormones, for the gender clinic to let me schedule counseling. I closed my eyes every time I took a shower.
“You’ll look amazing with hairy tits,” he told me one night, half asleep.
“I’m not keeping these.”
“You don’t have to mutilate yourself.” By the tone of his voice, he was done with the discussion.
* * *
At least once every couple days, I researched top surgery on the down low, set up a savings account he didn’t know about. Sometimes, in another tab, I’d look up one-way plane tickets back to Oregon. I cleared my history every five minutes.
“You know I’d never hurt you, don’t you?”
We were laying in bed. He spooned me, cupping his hands over my chest. I had my shirt on but wasn’t wearing a binder and I tried not to move too much so I wouldn’t feel my chest wobble. I nodded back to him.
“Good. You’ll always be mine. Always be my bear.”
The miniature bear stood tall in the dark, illuminated only by the scant light from the street lights outside his window. The bear seemed so helpless now. You couldn’t even see the otter in the shadows.
Ryan’s grip tightened on me. “I’m so glad you’re not mutilating yourself.”
Nausea slammed against me. I threw his hand away from me.
“I’m getting top surgery.”
His breath was hot against the back of my neck. “What?”
“You heard me.”
He sat up now and the mattress, a twin he’d had since he was a child, creaked under his weight. His nostrils flared but if anything, the confusion ran thick. He ran one hand back through his hair as he reached for the weed pipe. A deep furrow formed on his brow.
“I don’t get it,” he said at last.
“You never will.” My voice was flat but heat rose in me. I was dizzy- Christ, why was I so dizzy? I could feel panic hitching. I swallowed it down.
“You’re acting weird.”
“I’m not keeping these.”
“You can still be a man if you want to, baby,” he said.
“They don’t belong on me.”
“Not even after the testosterone?”
I shook my head firmly. I had gotten up and I sat on the edge of the bed, my feet brushing against the carpet, turned away from him.
He coughed as he took a hit of weed. Then, he was quiet. The smell of old, already burnt marijuana rolled into the room, pushing out the faint traces of nicotine that still remained in the room. “I like them,” he said at last.
“They’re not yours.”
“You can’t be selfish.”
I blinked. “They’re not on you.”
“I deserve to have a say in this, don’t I?” He grabbed my shoulder, pushing me down. “Don’t I?”
He kneeled over me. He drew in a deep intake of air. “Why now, why are you doing this?”
I put both arms in front of my chest. “You haven’t been paying attention, have you?”
I love them, I don’t--” He swallowed. “Damn it!” He threw his lighter against the door. It smacked against the wood then bounced back until it slid halfway between the door and the bed.
Blood pounded in my ears. I coughed. He was only an inch away from me and yet I had never felt farther away than I did right now. “I tried to explain. Time and time again.”
“They make you special. I don’t get it.”
“I don’t want to be special,” I hissed. “I want to be me.”
“You are you.”
“I’m what you wanted. You can’t just add and take away whatever you feel like. I’m not the bear. I’m not your miniature bear.”
He reached for a cigarette instead, slamming the weed pipe onto his dresser. This he smoked while he stared at me. His Adam’s apple descended rapidly with each puff, each swallow he took. He coughed, then I did. “I made that bear for you, you know.”
“You made it for yourself.”
His lips were pressed into a single, tight line.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I said, finally. The smoke from his cigarette twisted in the air until it vanished, leaving only the ghost of its scent behind.
I slept in the office that night. I wore ear plugs to drown out the sound of his sniffling.
* * *
The day I left, we hardly spoke.
My brother drove down to help me pack, help me leave. Ryan didn’t dare greet him or come out to say good-bye as we sped away.
The first thing I saw when I stepped into the bedroom for the last time was the bear on the floor, an inch away from the trash can where the otter and the other miniatures lay on top.
When we rolled out of Sacramento, I didn’t look back once.
Byron James Kimball is a freelance writer based in Salem, Oregon. He has previously written for publications including TransGlobal magazine and the Appzine and advocates for his local queer community. He attended Western Oregon University and is in the midst of completing his first novel.
This issue of Chelsea Station was co-edited by
Mitch Kellaway, AJ Sass, and Noah Grabeel.