Williams by Mark Putzi

Williams: Nellie Fitzwater and I were camping in the Gaermantine area near New Brunswick
when one morning we were awakened by a bear. We heard it poking around in our supplies,
making a lot of snorting and grunting noises, knocking over packages. We peeked out from our
tent and watched it push things around with its nose, and finally munch a package of dried
apricots in little more than a bite. The creature then began to boot a can of tuna about with its
paws. Apparently it could smell the contents of the can, but had no idea how to obtain it. The
bear became enraged, finally crushed the can between its teeth and spit it out, then moved back
toward the tent and began sniffing. It wasn’t long before he was tearing at the canvas and roaring
and as he poked his head inside, we stormed out the entrance, splitting directions and heading for
trees. The bear bounded off after Nellie and I was terrified, and not just for her. She’d told Fitz
she was going up to her Aunt Sallie’s that weekend and instead she went camping with me. I
knew if she’d get hurt then Fitz would know exactly what had been going on. And if she were
killed, god, he’d never forgive me. I took a branch — one that looked stiff enough and long
enough to poke the bear and get it off her — and I ran to the tree that now she and the bear were
climbing. I kept jabbing the bear in the rump but it ignored me, just climbed slowly,
methodically, while Nellie scrambled frantically hand over hand until she got to branches that
were too thin to support her. The bear had to stop short of her elevation for exactly the same
reason, as branches started tearing off beneath him and falling to the ground well before they did
for her. But he was smart and shook the branches, causing Nellie to sway in a broad pendulum
arc and she was screaming and crying and the bear roaring and I was down below yelling up to
Nellie trying to tell her not to be afraid that the bear couldn’t reach her, to hold on tight as she
could, when suddenly she came crashing down right beside me, so that if I’d wanted to, I might
have held out my arms and attempted to catch her. But she fell too quickly for me to decide. She
hit and just about broke in half on impact. And as I took a step toward her and stood over her in
confusion, wondering whether or not I should have broken her fall, the bear started its slow
decent, moving exactly opposite of its climb as it backed itself out of the tree. I looked at her,
saw her neck might be broken. I could see she was still breathing, but she didn’t look to be
conscious anymore. The bear now was halfway down the trunk and moving quickly. I had to
decide if I could pick her up and save her, or if I had to leave her there, or if I could use the stick
to defend her from the bear and then seek help. Well, about the closest I could do to any of those
things was run away in terror, because the bear came roaring after her as soon as it touched
down. I ran and hid behind some rocks and cringed as I heard Nellie gurgling and weeping, and
with that broken neck she made little squeaky noises while the bear grunted, slowly worked his
jaws, and every now and then thumped the ground with his paws. It wasn’t a long time before
Nellie stopped her whimpering, and I felt better after that, knowing she had gone to her rest. I
knew Fitz would never forgive me for what happened, but I resolved anyway to bring her
remains back through the woods to have them buried properly. I quickly gave up this rather lofty
ambition as I found myself by day pursued by carnivores. By night Nellie’s corpse, subjected
time and again to mutilating scavengers, was made to look more horrible by degrees. It became
evident that if I ever found the edge of the woods with her, she’d be little more than a pile of
bones. So I resolved again, this time to bury her, and while I was digging a hole I thought deep
enough to keep the badgers and coyotes off her, some animal came and stole her away from me,
leaving some insignificant morsels scattered on the ground. It was before this mess, what little
remained of Nell, that I finally allowed myself to grieve. I don’t know how long I cried, feeling
helpless and alone, reliving again and again the entire sordid episode, and racking my brain in an
attempt to discover whether or not there could have been something I could have done to save
her. Finally, when I’d cried so deeply that my eyes were sore and the tears refused to exit me, I
begged Nell to forgive my cowardice, told her if I ever had the opportunity I would somehow
make this up to her. I told her I’d go directly to Fitz and tell him exactly what happened, and if he
wanted to kill me I’d help him. I’d allow him to torture me to death if he wanted. Then because I
am obviously insane and a sick decrepit human being I laughed, because I knew I was lying to
Nell even after she had died. I’d got her into bed by lying to her. I hadn’t exactly ripped her from
her husband’s side, because she’d gotten sick of him. But still, I’d taken advantage of someone
very lonely and obviously wounded and promised to be devoted to her and to be her new
husband should she ever decide to divorce herself from Fitz (although secretly I did everything I
could to encourage their continued banns. I talked to Fitz regularly, encouraged him to treat his
wife with greater affection since he came to me with a problem, suspecting his wife of infidelity.
I told him to make every effort to re-assert his love for her. It was a special thrill, you see to have
something that wasn’t mine). However, at that moment, imploring her, begging her, and tempted
to confess all, having wept beyond my tears, confessing love and trying to express pity, and
feeling shame and hatred for myself, the fact I was yet able to lie to her was for me a revelation.
At once I was freed of every obligation to her, and I was able to think fondly of her once again,
as one often thinks of a long lost love. I shared this moment of quiet contentment with the image
in my mind of her, then looked again at what was left behind by the animal, and I was not afraid.
It occurred to me that I’d been helpless to do anything, that the likely result of my holding out my
arms to catch her would have been two broken arms and more of a feast for the bear. With a
strange mixture of justifying logic and chagrin, I recalled her excitement over our decision to
camp out together. Her husband had a conference in Detroit, and she didn’t expect him back for
four days. The child she left with Celia her friend. How carefully she had planned for the
opportunity to be an adulterer. And I remembered driving out, the beautiful scenery on I-73
passing to either side, and thinking to myself that it was I who had finally been trapped by this,
that the relationship had long since lost its luster (one can only be excited about sleeping with
another man’s wife for so long, after all), that this deeper involvement, symbolized by the trip
together, by all the effort involved in secrecy, was an indication that I was in fact being taken to
advantage. That she was the seducer and no longer the seduced. Nell, I thought, perhaps you got
what you deserved. Immediately I was plunged into a renewed sense of grief for her. From this
new perspective, she became all the more appealing. I was jealous of her and also angry. I had
provided for her all the best elements of a secret life, and whenever she wanted she could go
back to her husband. She had both security and adventure and I had neither.
I thought about this for a long time. It made me want her: At the same time I was
repulsed by what had happened. I surveyed her bloody remnants and decided I would take at
least something of her back with me. There was some shredded fragment of an organ, possibly
her heart, and this I wrapped in a handkerchief and placed inside my backpack. I had a few miles
of hiking ahead of me before I would reach the road and eventually the town. Then it occurred to
me I’d left the Land Rover at the campsite.
Fitzwater: I travelled that night by train from Washington D.C. to Detroit. It was summer and I
remember still in the daylight the ruined houses and barns of the Appalachians, nestled in-
between hills. It occurred to me, after this scenery became tedious, that I had only my overnight
bag with nothing to read and nothing particularly to keep me occupied for the night. I tried to
sleep. At first I was concerned for my belongings, but the porter seated very alertly at his station,
and surveying now and then the passengers made me feel more comfortable. Finally, I felt
completely at ease when a small light came on over his left shoulder, and I could see, spread
between the edges of his hands, the wings of a newspaper. There was much whispering and low
yammering going on in the car, but all of it seemed to blend in a comfortable fashion with the
thumping rails, and before long I felt that the train itself was singing me a lullaby. Thus I slept,
completely immersed in that otherworldly sense that this was not my bed and I was an
adventurer. I was going to meet a cousin I had never known before and together we would take
in the sights.
Quite unexpectedly I was awakened when a man tapped my shoulder and explained to me
that it was our turn to go to the dining car. I waved him off and fell asleep again.
The following morning, when I awoke, I discovered he had pinched my wallet. I looked
among the many passengers in the car to see whether one of them might respond to my
distempered glance with a shamefully submissive response, indicating guilt. But as everyone
turned their eyes away from me as soon as theirs met mine, I could not make an accusation. I
looked frantically on the floor of the car, both behind and in front of me, and in the
aisle…nothing. I took up the matter with the railroad, but have yet to see my money returned. I
have been assured that the porter would be reprimanded, but this I doubt, nor do I find it in any
way comforting. The porter should have been reprimanded before he gave whoever stole from
me his opportunity. The final blow came when the creditors started calling, saying I’ve been
maxing out my cards in a matter of days. I’ve never owned these cards. I have done as much
explaining as I can to the retailers; jewelers, booksellers, even grocery stores. All in Brooklyn.
He must be in Brooklyn whoever he is. But they have said that until I can prove that I am not in
possession of the cards they will not be satisfied. In retrospect, in at least that way, I look upon
my present situation with a kind of relief. I will eventually prove the cards are not mine. Several
phone calls I’ve made many days ago now to the police, the credit bureaus, Mastercard, Visa,
Discover, even Diner’s Club, online merchants, department stores, basically anyone who would
listen. “This is not me!” I’m forced to say, “they’ve stolen my identity!” Add to this the fact that
Nell has simply disappeared again. Who will do the laundry? Wash the dishes? Clean the
house?!!! Who for God’s sakes will cook my dinner? And what about little Hedwig? How will
he get off to school? This is absurd! That woman!
Willy and Fitz: I made an appointment to see him in his office: 2:30 in the afternoon, plenty of
time for him to digest his lunch and make him feel kind of tired and ready for a nap. I’ve got a
package with your name on it, but it came to my address. Yes, I’ve got it right here. Open it?
Sure. Hmmm…doesn’t shake. What? No, it’s not a wallet. It’s something packed in ice.
It’s…Oh my god…it looks human.
I knew the police would look me up later that day, but I decided I’d rather tell them than
risk going directly to Fitz with the story of his wife. Wiped the sweat off my brow when I left his
office after that one.

Mark Putzi received an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin -- Milwaukee in 1990. He has published fiction and poetry in many online and print venues both in the US and in other countries. Most recently his story "Glory Days" appeared in The Antonym, an online publication based in India. He lives in Milwaukee and works as a retail pharmacist.

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