Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Inventor and the Bear, Part II

Sometimes friendships are forged under the most unlikely circumstances. The Bear, however, quite liked to think that his friendship with the Inventor was not in the least bit unlikely - if anything, it was a certainty from time immemorial.

The Inventor loved having the Bear over for dinner. His wife, ever the charming hostess, never failed to prepare an excellent meal for their guest, and the Bear, ever the respectful guest, never ate more than was offered, and never failed to offer assistance in washing the dishes afterward. The Inventor, ever the hospitable friend, never failed to offer the best brandy on hand, and the evening would turn to conversation of a kind never to be found at the neighborhood parties.

Between two such intellects as these, everything in the scope of the imagination is fair game for conversation, and the Bear found the Inventor to be a particularly stimulating companion. The gold-rimmed spectacles would shine with the enthusiasm of the eyes they framed as the Inventor spoke of the fascinating marvels of the physical world - the many exotic beasts roaming the earth, the theories of gravity and sound, the astounding behavior of chemical compounds, the ingenious workings of machines that seemed to defy the laws of physics precisely because they obeyed them so well. He had a brilliant understanding of such things, but infinitely more important was the sheer joy, the tangible thrill he took in his observations, which made them come alive in his mind; any man may be able to describe a tiger or a cannon in such a way that it strikes fear and awe into a child, but the Inventor had the uncanny ability to enrapture grown men with his elucidations on a mouse or a doorknob. The Bear would listen to these wonders for hours on end, his massive frame canted at a comfortable angle in the chair, deep pools of fascination in his eyes, a small but sure smile engraved on his marble jaw. Occasionally, he would ask in his quiet way that the Inventor repeat himself, or return to a topic from conversations past, and begin again, never for lack of attention or memory, but always simply to revisit anew.

The Inventor found the Bear to be the most curious listener. Often, children whose parents read them bedtime stories will pull the covers all the way up to their chins and ask for their very favorite stories, the tales they have heard echo over and over in the space between dreams, the dialogues with dragons they want to hear for the first time again. The Bear seemed to hold just such a childlike fascination for all the ins and outs of the everyday world. Every time the Inventor explained the physics behind a catapult or the biological process of digestion, the Bear's smile would gradually widen to include his eyes. At first, the Inventor thought his new friend was perhaps dull or uneducated or forgetful, but that impression soon gave way to the intriguing realization that the Bear was, in fact, filing all these things away very accurately in his rather impressive memory - he simply took great delight in hearing them again, as if for the first time.

But as much as he enjoyed regaling his friend with these stories of real life come alive, the Inventor cherished their conversations most for those rare moments when the Bear would lightly sip his brandy, sit back in his chair, and paint the Inventor's colorful offerings upon the canvas of the cosmos. He had a way of taking the Inventor's observations of the world and sending them soaring into the stratosphere, drawing parallels between the space between stars and the space between hearts, sketching an exquisite portrait of the Watchmaker based on the exquisite details of His Watch. When the Inventor spoke, it enthralled the Bear; when the Bear spoke, it edified the Inventor.

Occasionally, the Inventor's wife would sit in and listen. She was a pleasant woman, fond of wearing white, which made her beaming smile seem to glow all the more. Her energy and passion was infectious, and while she did not possess the meticulous intellect of her husband nor the Bear's planetary expanse of thought, her curly red locks framed a sparkling wit and a brilliant sense of humor. She would come and sit at a slight distance from the two men, content just to watch the two minds ruminate over the mysteries of the universe, and counting herself blessed to be the benefactor of their musings.

On one such evening, having divined the Divine from dust particles, the conversation found its way to matters of romance and marriage. The Inventor and his wife found the Bear particularly interested in their insights on the subject, and their curiosity was piqued.

"Well, what are your thoughts?" the Inventor asked. "I've never seen you wear a ring, never heard you mention a wife. Not married, I presume?"

The Bear responded with a smile and a shake of his head. "No. Not married."

"Is there a lady friend, then? Someone special who's caught your eye?" the Inventor's wife pried, a gleam in her eye.

"Oh, hush, dear! Don't be nosy," the Inventor scolded, but the Bear waved him off, having taken no offense.

"No. Not romantically," he said matter-of-factly, shrugging his massive shoulders.

The Inventor was a bit bemused, but elected to keep his inquiries to himself. Not so his wife, whose blessed naivete plowed forward through the underbrush. "Do you ever think about it, though? About getting married? About whether there's a lady out there for you?" The Inventor opened his mouth, wholeheartedly intending to get her to shut hers, but again the Bear waved him off with a smile.

"Let her ask. Questions never do harm. Only answers can do harm. And both are harmless at the moment." He leaned back, casting his eyes into the distance, the ponderous weight of his thought pressing his chair into the floorboards. "I do think about marriage often. It is a beautiful idea, positively transcendent in its meaning. In fact, I dare say there is nothing on earth so full of meaning."

A brief silence; then, it was the Inventor's turn to pry. "Beg pardon, my friend, and don't think for a moment you need to answer, but if it means so much to you, why don't you pursue it yourself?"

The Bear chuckled quietly. "It is precisely because marriage is so meaningful that I choose not to pursue it. I would very much like to be married. I would not refrain from it if I did not think so highly of it."

And for once in his life, the Inventor's swift tongue failed him. Even long after the Bear had retired to his own home for the night, the Inventor sat awake, moonlight filtering in through the windows, puzzling over the meaning of these contradictions in a man who clearly bore no contradictions whatsoever.

Surely, the Inventor thought, there must be more to it than that.

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