Ursa Major

by Jen Corrigan

We are eight years old when our father begins to change.

After the first doctor’s appointment, we sit on his lap in the big chair, a sister to each knee. He shows us the coarse hair sprouting from his forearms. We run our palms over the bristly patches, and he jokes about his right to bear arms. Lifting his shoulders, he flexes, one arm over, one under, like a glistening bodybuilder posing on stage.

When we don’t want to go to bed, our father chases us around the house, growling and snarling, gnashing his teeth in jest. He catches us in his hands, more paw-like each day, and lifts us to his mouth as if to eat us. Our mother stands against the wall, hugging her chest.

At breakfast, our father lets us take bites of his cereal, calling us both Goldilocks, even though our hair is short and muddy brown. I bring the spoon to my mouth and declare his plain Cheerios too hot, my sister echoing too cold. Our father grabs our heads and kisses our foreheads roughly, proclaiming we are just right. We pull away, red marks where our father’s fangs have pierced the skin.

In the winter evenings, we lie on the floor and snuggle into our father’s sides. He watches survival shows on TV while my sister and I watch the flicker of snow against the window pane. His chest has grown outward, his shoulders muscled and knotty. We run our fingertips along the curved blades pushing from under his nails although our mother tells us not to. Our father lies belly-down against the floor, arms out, eyes glassy and mouth open. When I’m old and gone, he jokes, you can turn me into a rug and keep me forever! When we are shooed off to bed, I turn in the hallway and peer around the corner, watch my father pull my mother down onto him in an embrace I am not meant to see.

After the last doctor’s appointment, our father is solemn and withdrawn. When he snaps his jaws at my sister for the first and only time, our mother banishes him to the bedroom. She brings him his meat, increasingly rare, three times a day, then four, five. We are not allowed inside. When our mother goes to sleep in the guest bedroom, we creep down the hallway and sit on the floor outside our father’s room. We press our ears against the door and listen to the growls reverberating through the wood.

Our father becomes unruly, impossible, when winter breaks into spring. He stops speaking, communicates with roars. When he knocks our mother to the ground, she knows it’s time. It’s for the best, she tells us, her eyes wet and red.

She makes us stay in our bedroom that night. He wouldn’t want you to see him like this, she tells us, but we watch through the upstairs window anyway. We listen to the snap of our mother throwing open the bedroom door, then the front door, hollering to startle our father out. The house shakes as his heft gallops, slowly at first, then faster. It is a dark night, but clear, the stars bright as fire. We watch our father’s body move over the grass, the dew shimmering in his fur. I grab my sister’s hand and bring it up to the window. We point together at the sky, tracing the handle of the Big Dipper, the only constellation we ever learned. 

A nominee for the 2017 Pushcart Prize, Jen Corrigan’s prose has appeared or is forthcoming in The RumpusPithead ChapelSeneca ReviewElectric LiteratureThe Boiler, and elsewhere. She is a prose editor and book reviewer for Alternating Current Press. Visit her at www.jen-corrigan.com.
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