The day after the witch turned my wife into a bear, I took my usual path to collect dandelion greens, nettles, and mayapples. I didn’t take the other path, the one that would avoid my wife. I followed the wildness that hung on the summer breeze to the berry patch. Although she hadn’t wanted me to see her as a bear, I wanted just one look, and when she came into sight, I hid behind the patch of sugar maples and placed my hands over the bark that she had once drilled for syrup.
Over at one of the raspberry bushes, she stood on her hind legs and pulled a cane to the ground. It snapped from her weight. One thick, large paw held the cane, and she smiled toothily as she plucked the berries with her mouth. Her black fur, slicked wet, shimmered in the sunlight, and I wondered which river she’d been bathing in. I tried to not think of the woman who had once taken long baths in the steaming water I had heated on the stove.
All of that had been before the witch turned her into a bear. I shivered at the sight of claws and turned my focus to the berries. When she’d been human, each year she’d grown fat with them. Her fingers had remained crimson long after midsummer.
Since the sickness, her hunger had always been more than bear hunger. It was hunger for life—the berry syrup thick like blood. After she swallowed some berries, my wife, the bear, moaned, low and guttural, just like those nights after she’d eaten in the kitchen and then had come to our bed moaning from stuffing herself.
I wanted to go to her and rub her belly, the way I used to help calm her stomach, but when I moved, leaves cracked under my boots, and she growled.
The shock of her bearness caused me to stumble backwards into a bush. I fled.
Before bed, I removed my clothes and noticed bits of berries stuck to the back of my shirt. I rubbed my finger over the fleshy bits, wanting to stick my finger in my mouth, but I scrubbed my finger and shirt clean.
I went hungry that night.
As I fell asleep, I thought I could still hear her moaning.
Early next morning, I went out to forage. I started to take the other path, but the bear gobbling the berries had reminded me too much of my wife. I refused to be put off by one growl.
Birds whistled, bees buzzed, leaves crackled under my boots, and when I passed the raspberry patch, she wasn’t there. The bushes shook though. I could hear again the canes snapping and the moaning. My wife’s gamey scent still clung to the canes. It was like the bush taunted me because it knew my need for her. I shook the canes until my fingers became dotted with drops of blood.
The swishing and snapping of the bushes went on for a week. She had left behind her hunger for me to find.
Each night I dreamed of my wife, human again, her black braid wrapped around my wrist, her stomach plump, her long fingers running through my hair, our bodies tangled, our mouths bright red from berries.
I walked the path behind the house, but I came home empty-handed. The best places to forage were closer to my wife’s patch.
The witch lived in a cabin surrounded by chickens. Hens perched on her fence and other hens fought over seed as a rooster strutted. The witch was gathering eggs, placing them in her apron, as I came up her path.
I explained to her about the bushes. I forced my words out, with a pause between each, like a bear’s hibernating heart.
The witch wrapped the eggs gently in her apron. Was she more concerned with those eggs than with my wife or with me? “Don’t walk near the patch. Hunt in another part of the woods.”
“Can’t the enchantment be moved?”
“When your wife came to me, dying from the cancer, she made me promise that the patch near her old home would be the berries that kept her in bear form. You want me to get rid of the enchantment? Let your wife die a human?”
I shook my head, remembering my wife’s breast tumor, how she let me rub my hand over the firm lump, and she had said, “I dreamed my body was filled with clusters of berries instead of disease.” That had been right before the enchantment, and I had kissed her, knowing I’d lose her either way.
I picked up one of the witch’s hens and petted it just to feel something warm.
“I’ll see what I can do,” the witch said.
Later that evening she brought me a raspberry pie. She handed it to me and said, “Eat this. The spell’s a forgetting one. Afterwards, the bear will just be a bear to you, and you’ll no longer hear her hunger when you pass the bushes.”
That pie sat on the kitchen table for hours. I paced the cabin floor. Twice, I almost stuck my finger in the pie. The cooked raspberries smelled sweet, like those nights when my wife stirred them boiling in a pot. I could almost see her in the kitchen again, holding up a wooden spoon with a bit of syrup for me to taste.
I wondered then if in forgetting the bear that had once been my wife if I would eventually forget my human wife.
Finally, I picked up the pie and threw it in the garbage, on top of the potato peels and onion skins.
Now, when I see my wife eating from the patch in the woods, I climb up the maple. I perch on the branch for hours to listen to her moans.
Brigitte McCray is a graduate of the Odyssey Workshop for Writers of Fantastic Fiction and the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University. She also earned a PhD in English with a minor in women’s and gender studies from Louisiana State University. Her writing has appeared in such publications as Mythic Delirium; Cease, Cows; SmokeLong Quarterly; Rose Red Review; and Prick of the Spindle nominated her poem “The Bean Nighe of the Wash-N-Go” for a Pushcart Prize. You can find her on Twitter: @bnmccray.