Dying in 1983: Paul William "Bear" Bryant

 

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant (b. 11th September, 1913, d. 26th January, 1983) stepped out into the sharp winter air, breathing heavily as he made his way along the verandah.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant ate fish for dinner. Trout, usually, sometimes salmon, or swordfish if he could get it.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant sat in the rocking seat on the verandah and pulled a thick blanket over his legs. The weak January sun began to warm his face as the blanket drew the chill from his bones.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant often wished he was the youngest in his family, but he wasn't: he was the eleventh youngest of twelve. He thought about Louisa, his younger sister and the attention she got for everything as a child, drawing a picture, setting the table, chasing pigeons out of the vegetable garden, or playing the violin. After Louisa came along, he faded into the mob of brothers and sisters, no longer the youngest; no longer special.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant blinked his watery eyes, the blue irises turned milky with age, and looked over his lawns at the bare birch trees. A bird sang nearby, a robin or something, maybe a cardinal.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant drifted off to sleep in the sunbeam, the clear air refreshing his lungs. He dreamed about coaching his football team, about shouting from the sidelines, about devising the plays, and motivating his boys.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant drifted between dozing and sitting still with his eyes closed.   He thought wistfully about the 1970s. 'Fuck the 1980s', he thought, 'I haven't had a really good time since Thanksgiving, 1978.' Resentment boiled up within him, 'Up yours, Reagan administration', he thought, 'screw the Falkland Islands; shove it up your ass, Cold War.'

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant felt his heart begin thrash like a harpooned whale. It boomed arrhythmically, shuddering in his chest before falling still.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant wondered, not for the first time, if this was the end.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant gasped as his heart jolted back to life, now pumping frantically to make up for its recent inactivity. His blood sang in his ears, twirled in his eyes, and danced in his wrists. Breathing in short, shallow gulps, he felt like his heart had expanded to the size of a watermelon, crushing his lungs against his ribs with every beat.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant felt his eyes water as the palpitations subsided. He thought that it was no worse than watching the quarterback of his football team throw his fourth interception to lose them the final of the College Bowl.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant had been sleeping badly since he retired four days ago. Last night, however, he slept peacefully and awoke to a bright spring day feeling refreshed and pleased and congratulated himself on overcoming his insomnia; but he then awoke properly from the dream to find it was still dark and he was cold and more tired than ever.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant thought about the time when he wrestled a bear, back in 1927, when he spent a summer working in the theatre. He was thirteen years old. He didn't know how old the bear was at the time.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant remembered the muzzle the bear wore and the look of dull terror in it's black eyes. He thought about the trembling of his guts and the metallic tang of fear in his mouth as he climbed into the cage; the bear cowered in the corner as men poked it with sticks, trying to make it move. The assembled crowd jeered and hollered, any words they were saying lost in the cacophony.

 

Paul William Bryant danced from foot to foot like a prize fighter, his husky adolescent frame bursting with energy from daily games of after-school football, where he put his size and speed to good use as a linebacker. The bear growled, a deep rumbling that vibrated through the floor of the cage and rattled his heart like a die. Angered by the incessant beating of the sticks, the bear reared up and lunged toward him.

 

Paul William Bryant grabbed its forelegs and grappled with the bear, hanging on to the animal, his feet dancing as he tried to avoid being crushed in its embrace. Although the wasted muscles of the bear sagged around its prominent bones, it's strength forced him back. The matted black fur of the animal smelled like a damp, decaying carpet. They staggered around the cage together as the crowd roared, the bear trying to escape him, to escape them all. The paws of the bear pushed hard at his shoulders, trying to tear him with claws that had been torn out many years before. 

 

Paul William Bryant held on for as long as he could until the bear wrenched itself away and retreated to the far corner of the cage with a snarl, away from him and the crowd and the sticks. Thirty seconds after he had entered the cage, he stumbled out to have a crumpled dollar pressed into his hand by the leering theatre owner, and the same hand was held aloft for the crowd to cheer, their shouts resolving into a single word, chanted over and over: "Bear".

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant sat in the rocking chair on the verandah, looking out at his lawns and the bare birch trees with watering eyes; he heard the birds singing, and felt his heart churn and a chilly sweat bead on his forehead as his fingers and toes began to throb.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant told people, especially women, that he was called "Bear" because he had a birthmark in the shape of a Kodiak Bear just above his penis. He didn't like telling the bear-wrestling story anymore.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant shifted in his seat as pain began to squirm in his chest, like a clutch of snakes hatching in his heart, growing and writhing in his ventricles, tunneling through his arteries and veins, with tongues flickering and bodies pulsing.

 

Paul William "Bear" Bryant thought it would be a good thing to go to the hospital today.