(Prose) Elys and the Mother Bear by Glenys Livingstone


Once upon a now, who knows for how long, there were women who lived most of their lives locked in one room of their vast houses. They didn’t know that their houses were vast, many storied and many roomed, because when the women were children they were repeatedly only told of this one beautiful room, where it was said their greatest happiness was to be found. Its colours, textures and furniture were sung about by the greatest authorities. And so it was that many a growing girl aspired to this room, and many a woman eagerly sought it; for to miss it, it was said, would be the greatest of tragedies, if not indeed the greatest of transgressions. But many more women simply tripped into it by accident, since everything else was a bit obscure.

Now some of the women truly adored the room, some despised it, some found it just somewhat other than they had expected; and a lot felt differently at different times. Many of the women who never could find the key to unlock the door which had shut behind them, spent many an unconscious moment dreaming about what was in the rest of the house, some of which they had glimpsed in younger days. Some of these women went mad with the unknowing and the isolation, some died inside, some raged, some grew bitter. Some of the women knew where the key was, but believed great disasters would befall them if they ventured out; though sometimes these women’s dreams surfaced so strongly that they actually did unlock the door. But often terror filled them and all hell appeared to break loose, so that they quickly came to believe that their inner drives must have been wrong.

Yet still a few others, and one of them was Elys, once having realized that there was a key that would let them back into other parts of the house, timidly began to use it from time to time. They would sneak about their houses, and they were daily amazed.

Though Elys had proceeded cautiously at first, she soon began to feel less fear, gaining strength from the house itself. She even began to run with delight through the light and rich hallways and wonder-full rooms and up all the stairs, and to slide down the strong banisters. She found beauty she had never been told of.

Elys soon began to sleep in whichever room she felt like – changing as the mood or need took her. Sometimes in the night she became aware that there was a creature that roamed her house, but during the day it resided in the room where Elys had been a prisoner. Elys came to recognize the creature as a mother bear.

Elys was also coming to recognize that there lived in her house a young maid/freespirit: for Elys had seen her in her dreams – and she realized that they had known each other before Elys had fallen into that room. Now, great was their desire to be together, so they could fill the house with music and laughter, stories and dance.

Art by Cynthia Baxter 1980
Art by Cynthia Baxter 1980

So Elys became serious about the task of finding her friend, but she was concerned about this mother bear who roamed at night. It seemed she was associated with Elys’s loss of her friend. So one day, Elys snuck up to that room where the mother bear was, and she shut and locked the door; and by golly she was going to throw that key out a window!

Oh but the mother bear roared, she growled, she sobbed, she moaned. The noise was so deafening and it vibrated through the whole house so, that it became plain to Elys that the mother bear was even more of a nuisance locked up like that. And for a teensy weensy while, Elys felt so sorry for the mother bear that she nearly forgot the longing she had for her freespirit friend. Elys, in tears, went and sat outside the door, with the key still in her hand, and she just cried for a while. Then she began to talk to the mother bear for the first time.

Elys angrily accused her of being the one who locked the door on her those several years ago, and of being the one who locked the doors to the same room in other women’s houses. Elys remarked how treacherous she was. The mother bear let out a howl and protested. The mother bear began to tell Elys that there were things that Elys didn’t understand about her, but that she had surely been a prisoner too; and that most women had not even come to recognize herself and themselves as distinct selves. The mother bear seemed to hint of a time or a possibility when the room was not/might not be locked, when she and the women had/could be free to wander about day and night , in and out and through, when she and the women and the freespirits were/might be friends, colleagues, sisters. If Elys would let her out she had much more to say, and much more to give.

J2-Miko_Kami_Dogu (1)
Bear Goddess Icon by Lydia Ruyle

Elys unlocked the door, and hugged the mother bear, and as she did so the key just disappeared. As Elys turned to go find her freespirit friend, the mother bear walked with her, telling her who she was and where she came from, that she always was from the very beginning of time, that she lived in the great space/cosmos. She took form whenever a woman entered that room, but for some time now, for how long she couldn’t remember, she had mostly found herself imprisoned there too.

Elys wondered to herself what other stories the mother bear had to tell, what treasures she had to share, and what the three of them would do about the locks on the other women’s doors.

© Glenys Livingstone 1980

Read Meet Mago Contributor Glenys Livingstone.