This week Kellie Elmore provides us with the image below as a writing prompt- too good an opportunity to miss.
When Annabel was a child she talked to bears. Well one bear actually but she could remember it distinctly. She’d found it sitting in a corner of her grandma’s roof garden. She was staying there because her mother was ill and in hospital. When she grew up she learned her mum had ‘mental health issues’ but as a child all Annabel knew was that her mother was often ill and that she, Annabel was often sent to stay with grandma.
Her grandma was some kind of urban nomad and frequently moved from one house to another and one suburb to another in a way that Annabel found perplexing. She never knew just where she’d end up when she got sent to grandma’s.
The time Annabel talked to the bear her grandma lived in a rambling, crumbling house in the dry bush that fringed the outer suburbs. It was a hot summer and the leaves and twigs cracked beneath their feet as she and her grandmother made the long trek down to the shops to buy supplies. Grandma worried about the heat and the chances of bushfire. ‘I’ve got to get out here,’ she mumbled as she brushed away the cloud of flies that had congregated around her floppy yellow hat. Annabel knew then that the next time she got sent to grandma’s she’d go to some other house in some other suburb.
Perhaps it was this sense of transience that made the visit to grandma’s house in the bush all that more intense. The setting was so unlike the barren expanse of the new housing estate where Annabel lived with her mother and her father, a jovial yet somehow remote man who was often away on business. Grandma’s place in the bush had been designed to blend in with the landscape and the roof garden where Annabel found the bear jutted out into the tree canopy. Annabel saw the bear sitting in the shadows at the back of the garden. He was a very friendly bear and he and Annabel had a long chat about the oddity of a grandma who moved around every six months or so, a mother who spent half her life in hospital and a father who disappeared on business for weeks at a time. It was a very satisfying conversation that put Annabel’s mind at rest.
‘There’s no accounting for the behaviour of grownups,’ the bear told her. ‘Your best bet is to just to accept things the way they are.’
Annabel agreed and made her way back down to the kitchen where her grandma was rattling dishes around in the sink. When asked what she’d been doing Annabel spoke about the bear. Her grandma gave her an odd look. ‘There’s no bear on my roof,’ she said. She sounded kind of angry so Annabel decided then and there to keep things like conversations with bears to herself from then on. Grownups were so unpredictable and got angry at the strangest things.
It was a lesson she never forgot. When she grew up herself she discovered a lot of the mysteries she had encountered as a child had a rational explanation but conversations with bears on rooftops was something people still didn’t want to know about. She kept the story to herself until she learned about vision quests and earth magic and other stuff too strange to be discussed in most suburban living rooms. On her first vision quest she met people who called themselves shamans and spiritual healers. They were people who saw beyond the veils of logic and straight into worlds where spirit bears reassured lonely, frightened children. For the first time in her life Annabel felt she’d come home to a place she could rely on.