When Sadona woke up the bear was still padding the length of the bedroom — grunting softly now and again, huffing his sour breath into the air. There was still sleep between his teeth, and even though it was eight AM and he should have been on his way to work by now, he hadn’t put on his suit yet.
When his pacing took him past their bed, Sadona extended an arm to graze his skin, but she only brushed air. The last few years had worn him thin, wrung him dry, and hung him in the vast heat. These days burly he no longer was, but even so, she couldn’t shake him clear of his childhood nickname, 熊娃. Bear child.
“I thought Chinese people liked dragons better?” she teased when he first introduced himself.
“Bears are more manly,” he said, taking the bait. “And braver.” It came out as more of a question: “And braver?”
Either way, his parents had wanted him to be both, and they didn’t take liberties with fate. By labeling him a bear, they created their own prophecy, as most Chinese parents did, but his name, as most others often were, was just outgrown. Or in his case, became outdated. After fifty years in the world, the name now sagged heavy on his lanky form, a little too big.
The warm winters of late kept him up at night, so the bear began to spend more time outside. Indoors, the air was too solid, having been recycled through flesh and paper arteries until it calcified into something thick. He spent hours in the woods with the dimpled moon, sometimes even until the sun spilled out onto the sky.
“You should come with me,” he told Sadona, but he never specified when. She felt him slipping away, but he was like a dream – the more she tried to secure him, the more he evaded her grasp. Sometimes, half-awake, she saw shadows shift against the inside of her eyelids, but when she opened her eyes, no one was there.
Occasionally, he returned with swollen mosquito bites, a hard pink of soft flesh. They left bruises after they healed, if they did.
“Do you ever feel wrong?” he asked her one day during breakfast.
“Wrong, like what?” She broke open a fleshy egg white and dropped the ball of yolk in the ceramic, leaving it to drown in the moisture at the bottom of the bowl.
“Like you don’t fit right in your own body.”
Sadona nodded like she understood.
The bear stopped wearing a tie to work, and then cuffs, and then a jacket entirely. He kept his socks on because restless as he was, he wasn’t entirely feral, not yet. He stopped asking her to join him on walks.
He left her on a Saturday for the woods, a mistress Sadona couldn’t compete with in its indulgent lushness. There was no note or goodbye, only a folded pair of socks on the kitchen table.
At his funeral, she heard his real name for the first time in seventeen years. She whispered it, tucking it under her tongue for safekeeping. It tasted vaguely off-brand, but she repeated it to herself until the skin began to peel off her lips.
After, thinking of him awake was hard. Sadona became too conscious, too aware to let him from her sight. Awake, he took up the whole horizon. But in a dream she might get to see the riverbed, where his body washed up bloated and dripping, or where he escaped to if the dream was good.
Angie Kang is a Chinese-American illustrator and writer living in San Francisco, CA. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in The Believer, Narrative, The Offing, The Rumpus, Porter House Review, Hobart, and others. Find more of her work at www.angiekang.net, or on instagram @anqiekanq.