LIFE LESSONS • by Judy Hull

She spoke sometimes like shaving cream. Her lips opened in an “O,” the words landing in a pungent spiral in his cupped hand, ready to be spread onto his face and then rinsed down the drain.

“Why are we going? I like us here,” she said, stirring a second envelope of Sweet’N Low into her Coffee-Mated brew.

“We need a change of scenery,” he told her. “Some place neither of us has ever been.”

In the end, she packed the new backpack just like he showed her, full of new camping supplies he chose for her.

“What’s this?” she asked, holding up a nylon sack with a drawstring.

“To stuff our food in at night, to keep it away from the bears and the bears away from us. Don’t worry, I don’t think we’ll see any.”

Her face loosened then, the line between her manicured brows faded, and she resumed her packing, including a bag of jelly beans. “In case I got hungry,” she later told the sheriff. “I thought I might need a midnight snack,” she sniffed.

To survive an attack by a bear, he remembered from Boy Scouts, roll into a ball, your head tucked to your knees and your vital organs protected. If you can, sock the bear in the nose like you might a very naughty dog, one who has just growled at your great aunt Betty who only shuffled across the room to turn the channel on the old TV. But then, after socking the bear in the nose, roll back into your vital organ ball, your back facing the bear. While he did what they said to do, she ran from him and the bear and the claw-torn tent to the car. The passenger window was cracked open so he could hear her shaving cream shrieks and her non-dairy wails.

He had wanted to remember why he loved her once, why he promised he would forever, that’s why he drove them to this desolate campground in fucking February, why he built a fire, put up a tent and tied their food up in the nylon sack and hung it from a leafless tree, just like the Boy Scouts had done. But even the stupidest Boy Scout knew better than to keep a bag of sweet-smelling candy in the fucking tent.

Judy Hull is an Oregonian living in New York with her husband, her two children and her dog. She is a charter member of Rivertowns Writers Collective and has studied with Wild Geese Writers and The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. “Life Lessons” is her first published work.

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