Worst-case scenario: he attacks.
But maybe he watches you gingerly set the pastry down. If he eats the croissant, he does it in one conclusive snarf. There’s a good chance he just eyes it. You stand in the forest, bug-bitten, cold yet sweating under your thick jacket. Not much in these woods interests you. There are rocks, a stream, trees of course. You hate camping, the way the ground makes your tailbone ache. Fishing bores you. You should fear the bear based on things you’ve read, but you feel nothing. The forest is supposed to contain something restorative. You’ve read that too.
You bought this croissant from a mom-and-pop bakery, and you would give it a 7/10. It beat the supermarket and gas station pastries stagnating in display cases. It beat all the Starbucks pastries except for maybe one outlier you’ve never tried because it has spinach. You read in a magazine how indulgence can boost your happiness, how giving a gift can do the same. It was the same article that extolled the forest’s virtues.
This golden-brown croissant is flaky, with delicate folds. You’ve watched enough cooking shows to know that making one is complicated. The ingredients must be high-quality and measured precisely. There’s a trick to rolling the dough and folding butter into it. It takes time, and you must really care about croissants. That’s why you bought it instead of baking it. You would have half-assed everything and left the mixing bowl and beater in the sink for two days until the dough dried and hardened.
The bear would eat with gusto just to please you. But even if he could ask what should I do next? You wouldn’t know how to answer. You usually purchase croissants as an afterthought when you’re buying coffee to get you through the rest of the workday. You never savor them. You reach into their white paper bags and rip chunks off as you ride the elevator to your office. Then you throw the empty bags away before reaching your desk.
The bear is hungry. It has been a bad year for salmon, and each season his home gets a little warmer and louder. He has probably lost a family member, and maybe that loss torments him when he’s trying to hibernate on an empty stomach. He has gashes on his legs that are probably from jagged metal. His body is aging and aching just as much as yours—do you think he’s forgotten how quickly he used to run? Despite all this, the bear loves the forest, and he doesn’t hate you.
Your sport utility vehicle is parked at the trailhead entrance two miles away. You don’t want to leave yet because you have nothing to do at home. The bear is burdened by a thousand conflicting smells, the ursine equivalent of an untended inbox. You both wish you could give each other something.
Benjamin Kinney lives and writes in St. Petersburg, Florida. He earned an MA in English from Northern Michigan University and is currently in an MFA program at the University of South Florida. He has published fiction in Cartridge Lit and Blue Fifth and nonfiction in Walloon Writers Review and f(r)iction, where he was a finalist in the Creative Nonfiction Contest. His obsessions include David Lynch, SURVIVOR, and Reese’s peanut butter cups. He has an infrequently updated blog at benjaminkinney.com.