Geoffrey Robert Waring is a recent graduate of the MFA program at Columbia University, and a former staff member
of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art. His work has been published previously in Blue Moon.
Alas, alack! I was caught in one. It was on the way back from getting groceries at Pathmark, about a mile west of my house on Atlantic. I had groceries purchased with money that was not supposed to be used for groceries—my wife had made me break open my special secret savings jar. It was supposed to go toward a guitar, a surf green
Duesenberg Starplayer II semi-hollow bodied electric like the one Shiina Ringo played in the 1998 music video for “Koufukuron.” I had wanted that guitar for about ten years. Even though it was sort of a girl’s guitar, it was the only one I had ever really wanted; and I was nearing thirty, so pretty soon whether or not I could get my hands on the guitar would be irrelevant. There’s nothing sadder than having to pry a middle-aged man’s fingers off an electric guitar so that he can get back to accounting or whatever activity middle-aged men pursue during their weekdays, don’t you agree? They just can’t make it sound right. It’s like every power chord is tinged with the click of dead cicada shells. And if you agree with that statement, then how can you help but agree that I’d
better put in the order for the surf green Starplayer II as soon as possible? I’d saved $72 in total, over a period of about six months. The Starplayer cost $2,899. At this rate, I would be able to buy it in 20.13194 years, at which time I would be forty-nine going on fifty, practically with one foot and one arm and maybe a hipbone or something squarely in the grave.
This was the reason I was so incensed that my wife had forced me to take the $72 I had saved to the market for milk, eggs, chicken breasts, two (two!) bags of bread, yogurt, ground coffee, jelly, plain oatmeal and ice cream. Ice cream! Well, fine. If my dreams were to be held hostage to my wife’s sweet tooth, I might as well let them all fly away in one go. It was this attitude that caused me, after the initial pain, to relish the sweet misfortune of having gotten caught in the bear trap. Now my wife would be sorry she had sent me out—let my pain be a lesson to her! If she was too small to fathom my emotional anguish at having to relinquish my guitar money, she would at least see the bloody marks of mechanical teeth in my ankle and feel sorry, sorry, sorry.
I suppose I could have tugged at the jaws of the bear trap and tried to loosen their grip on my leg, but I just felt too damn bad. Instead, I sat down by my bags of groceries and waited for someone to call the police. Even with this city’s reputation, I figured they couldn’t let someone rot to death in a bear trap, in public, with so many people passing by each minute. Who’s ever heard of so many people being guilty all at once? This was the 21st century, last time I checked.
So I waited.
Well, the first thing that happened was that my groceries were stolen. This was a foregone conclusion—I had already counted the groceries as a sunk cost toward getting out of the bear trap. No one was going to help someone caught in a bear trap when there was a profit to be made from his staying in the bear trap. Or however the old saying goes. It was a boy of about eleven who took them. His mother was with him; squat and pregnant, she whispered something into the boy’s ear. The boy took the bags of food in his arms and waddled away after his mother, who had already started down the road. This was a great relief to me.
After an hour or so had passed, I had given up on a stranger calling for the police and was beginning to regret not having paid my cell phone bill in such a long time.
My wife would get hungry at some point—no, she was already hungry, she’d been hungry for months, but the hunger would become unbearable at some point, as hunger always does, and she would set off to find me, if not for concern about my whereabouts and safety, then at least out of concern for the groceries. There were only so many grocery stores in the area, so it was only a matter of time until she found me. I rubbed at my leg—the flesh around the bear trap was swollen and tender. The bleeding had stopped; the blood had dried and the crust had turned an ominous black. The parts that were still wet glowed green and purple, reflecting the city’s endless webs of neon.
The hour was getting late, the stream of pedestrians was thinning, and the passersby were looking decidedly more haunted. I did not live in a nice area. One man stopped to stare, and I gave him a hopeful little smile. He looked at me as if I were holding a bouquet of penises; then he walked on. I made a half-hearted attempt to pry the bear trap from my leg, but found that I had gotten used to the pressure on my ankle bone and calf muscle, and that even a slight relief in pressure was far more painful than just leaving it clamped around my ankle. Besides, I was pretty sure that I couldn’t remove the trap myself—maybe two men, one pulling at each side, would do the trick, but not one person whose leverage was already severely compromised by the very object that needed removal. I would have to keep waiting for help. Surely, I thought, surely something would happen.
Since I had little to do but wait, my mind drifted to other subjects—but never fully away from the bear trap, of course, because it was sort of refusing to be ignored. But I thought of other things, big existential questions like—who put a bear trap in the middle of a busy city sidewalk anyway? Would the hunter be back to see what his trap had caught? Could he possibly have been hoping to catch a bear in the middle of a crowded metropolis? And then the questions took on a more troubling bent, like: If he wasn’t trying to catch a bear, what was he trying to catch? Was this trap put here specifically for me? Did I matter enough to be caught? Would he even come back for me, now that not only my guitar money, but also my groceries were gone? And so on. My thoughts turned to the subject of laws and morals, but then turned immediately to other subjects, because I couldn’t comprehend the law in a normal state of mind, much less one in which my concentration was contending with intense pain. I began to wish that I had thought about these weighty matters before I’d stumbled into the bear trap.
I saw any number of passing ambulances, but, as luck would have it, they were all hurrying on their way to other disasters in other parts of the city. Though, come to think of it, it would be strange to see an idle ambulance driving around the city. I began to wish I had headphones and a CD player, to pass the time—although this was nothing but a silly little fantasy, since those would have been stolen with the groceries. While I was on the subject of silly little dreams, I let my mind wander to the beautiful surf-green skin of the Duesenberg Starplayer II that I had wanted since the end of the ‘90s, when I saw that awesome music video and felt ambition, the ambition to own that guitar, for the first time in my life. In my delirium, I went beyond the usual fantasy of playing crunchy riffs on the Starplayer, beyond imagining the weightlessness of that miraculous instrument. On account of the pain, or perhaps due to infection—I’m not a doctor—I imagined myself dressed like Shiina Ringo: a short, coiffed and glossy black wig, a blue schoolgirl’s uniform top. Yellow collar. Tight, dual-colored jeans. Red sneakers, brown contact lenses. Apples scattered across the concrete. A gorilla. Angel wings. Apple sauce. It was such a fucking beautiful guitar, I had wanted it for so long, and here I was—I was the puddle of apple sauce. No, that’s not right. I was the gorilla.
My wife did come eventually. She had checked at any number of grocery stores, including Pathmark, where they swore up and down they had not seen anyone fitting my description. She was enraged about the disappearance of the groceries, and threatened to let me die there. Fine by me, I said. Of course she caved (she’s a caver) and called an ambulance. Two firemen in plastic yellow fire-retardant coats and funny red hats like a cross between the McDonald’s clown and the people who ran the lasers on the Death Star came and pried the bear trap from my leg. They took me to the hospital, where the doctors told me the infection was spreading through my blood vessels. It was life threatening, they said. They would have to amputate, they said. Fine by me, I said. Which part is fine by you? they asked. All of it, I said. So they took my leg, and the bill came out to somewhere around a hundred thousand dollars. You’re very lucky, the doctors said.
My wife was crying. She couldn’t leave me while I was sick and one-legged—something she had been planning on and working up the courage to do for months. If she left me now, people would say she left because of the accident. They would call her a monster. My getting caught in a bear trap was therefore a piece of very hard luck for her as well.
I guess I got to keep my wife at least. That was one good thing. But I had to give up my dreams of owning the surf green Duesenberg Starplayer II. There was very little room for that sort of thing in my life at that point, I think you’ll agree.
The police said they would not open an investigation about the bear trap. Its serial number was scratched off; it was covered in rust. An abandoned bear trap, they kept calling it. Possibly a stolen bear trap. Perhaps it was just one of those things that was—you know—there. Nobody’s fault. Just another piece of hard luck.