I swallow a stuffed bear on Tuesday. And then another and another. I eat them until my stomach is full of mama bears and lost baby bears and hair balls of my own hair balled into embryos.
Kevin wins all the bears for me at the fair, fairly from a pastel row of grizzly prizes pinned there by a grizzly man. They fill up the back of our pickup truck and also my empty belly, Ursa uterine minor and major. I pull up my red fleece hoodie over my face so he can't see me eating stuffed bear and not the bear meat he stacks up like cordwood in the garage freezer that should be full of breast milk bags and ice cream and frozen pickles.
If you come across a real bear, you should stand still like a statue carved out of wood by a Smoky Mountain craftsman who has obviously never met a real bear.
I tell Kevin with a mouthful of beer-soaked fair bear fur.
Stop it, he says.
He steps outside to pat our Smoky Mountain wood bear statue that looks more like a big dog than a big bear but had to ride shotgun next to him and his shotgun on the way back from our honeymoon, instead of me. We got pulled over on that trip and the cop was surprised to find a bear wife seat-belted and a real wife gripping the truck bed sides.
For once, I stand up to him and the fake bear like a bear, a real one. He screams at me and runs away into the forest behind our splitting-up split-level to search for a just-right house without a stuffed-bear-eating-wife. Or maybe to find more bear steaks for our anniversary dinner, I don't know or care which option he chooses.
On Wednesday, he comes back looking for me and doesn't find me at home. I'm lying on the side of I-95 full of roadkill, but not killed. He calls an ambulance and they load me in asking for my allergies and health issues. I mumble I'm allergic to fur and stuffing and big bad wolves and big bad husbands.
I'm drug in, drugged in like carrion, splayed on a stretcher. They feed me furry hospital charcoal that leaks out of my nose and mouth as I clutch my stomach and whisper.
I see the look in the nurses' eyes as I tighten my lips and teeth, and snarl, Go away. They bring me three bowls of hospital oatmeal and plop them down on a gingham napkin. I growl and spin blond hair around my fingers.
My husband has left and left me a Steiff bear on the metal bedside table because he knows I won't eat a bedside table Antiques Roadshow kind of bear because that's a real bear for a not-real boy.
I hear a chainsaw morning-moaning and look outside. Kevin's carving a hospital garden sapling into the shape of a bear, a skinny one that looks more like a giraffe than a bear but is still more than I can bear.
I eat a bite of oatmeal. It is too cold.
The clerk cuts off my father's nose. She stuffs it into a tiny card catalog drawer. Soft C she stamps on his face, on his passport. The drawer rows are filled with noses and hard consonants and truncated Mcs and Macs.
I cover my nose but the clerk doesn't see me. Father doesn't cry. He silently takes our documents and leaves his nose behind.
My tiny-nosed mother leaves a pocket potato as a gift to our nose-chopping greeter.
"Why?" I ask.
She holds a shhh finger over her mouth and takes a new nose out of her pocket for my father, sewing it back on with olive-colored thread.
We're happy to step away from the cargo-carrying boat full of cars that don't go and cans of baby La Seuer peas rolling like bocce balls around us for weeks until my nose and face were pea green too. When we step onto solid ground, I feel myself pinking up again.
We live with an uncle on my mother's sister's aunt's father's side. Once removed. He serves pickles out of barrels with a jar of pickled noses on the counter and rows of canned vegetables spelling out the alphabet. I learn to read — can labels, flour bags, perfume bottles, and penny candy cellophane.
Mama makes us peas for dinner with a little butter and pasta. I eat them and wonder if La Sueur had the La chopped off at entry too.
I tell my father's favorite joke at recess about Italian tires that go wop wop wop and am sent to the principal's office even though everyone laughs.
"You can't say that." The principal says.
She calls me by the wrong name. No one can spell or say my last name. They don't know what to do with the starting c that feels wrong in their mouths, and mine.
"Why can't I tell your joke, papa?" I ask at home.
He points to the scars on his nose with one calloused finger.
"Let's learn a new joke," he says.
For years, I feel peas rolling under my mattress. I take the ferry to Ellis Island with a baby pea can in my pocket and a baby baby on my hip. My stomach turns over from the boat and a second baby riding belly cargo.
I look into the ocean for my father and see only my own nose splitting the waves.
has words at sites including: FlashBack Fiction, Popshot Quarterly, Flash Fiction Magazine, X-Ray Lit, Stymie Lit, No Contact Mag, Streetcake Magazine, JMMW, The Molotov Cocktail, Lucent Dreaming, TunaFish Journal, Reckon Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Flash Frog, Janus Literary, Leon Review, Perhappened, The Mitre, Cabinet of Heed, Spartan Lit
and others. Her work has been listed at NFFD, Reflex Press (3rd place), Retreat West, Bath Flash Fiction, and TSS Publishing and nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Microfiction. She's a Fractured Lit Associate Editor and reads for CRAFT, Taco Bell Quarterly, Retreat West, The MacGuffin, and Narratively. Her flash collection "Mother Figures" is forthcoming at ELJ Editions, Ltd in summer, 2021 with a collection of food essays also forthcoming in summer, 2021. You can find her on Twitter at @amygcb