By Nancy Moir
From her home, all that she could see was water. On calm days, the ocean almost resembled the land, an unending plain of not quite blue, just as she was no longer almost white. Her pelt had yellowed and began to ripple, to mat. It seemed to crack when she turned; it swayed from her sides as she paced the edges of her home, considering the water, diving in, then briefly returning. She hated her home, but if she hated it too much, it would leave her. If she stayed on it too long, she would burrow it down to its core.
She was hot blooded, but not warm; nothing made her warm anymore. But she was warm enough that she left caverns where she slept. She’d already scorched a path on the perimeter of the iceberg. Its tip kept rising, but so did the water. Sometimes, at night, she stood on her hind legs and roared at the sky, trying to threaten snowflakes from its clutches. When they fell, they covered her iceberg and melted into the water, but nothing changed, not really.
There were rocks on one edge of her berg, gritty, primordial slabs that jutted upwards like teeth, a suiting figurehead for her vessel, which gnashed the water as its backside was dissolved. The previous summer’s thaw had revealed them, and she’d imagined they were seals—despite the absence of their scent—and thrust herself upon them, all teeth and claws and fur. As she closed her mouth over the rock, her heart was pumping with lust for the slick, oily blood, but the only blood she tasted was her own. She retreated to the corner to nurse the cuts to her gums. Other than an occasional surfaced carcass, she ate fish, fish, endless fish.
Occasionally, she saw signs of humans beyond the gyres of plastic that nicked her berg—mostly in aircraft, sometimes on ships. Despite her shaggy coat, she was invisible within the soiled snow, the snow indiscernible from the depleted ocean. So no one stopped, even though she stood still and majestic, watching them as they watched her. The ferocious polar bear of the past had thawed.
Finally, a ship approached. It was a moderate-sized vessel, equipped for exploration rather than exploitation. Two men dropped a small boat into the water, then sailed next to her, impaling her floe with a hook and reeling themselves in. She fell back on her haunches to watch them. She let out a half-hearted roar, then yawned.
The men studied her with narrowed eyes. She did not resemble the specimens from their books. Her flanks were sallow, her coat like a pelt that had already begun to pull away. There were hollows above her eyes; her tongue was pale. She was a child’s teddy bear, thrown from a moving vehicle, left out in the rain, the sun.
As they discussed the situation amongst themselves, she watched them curiously, moving nothing but her ears, her eyes. They had brought a gun. The tranquilizer dart entered her skin easily and she slid down into a heap. The two men were sweating and sore by the time they got her onto the deck of the ship. Her pelt and bones were heavy, if not with mass, then with expectation.
Perhaps the change of scenery placated her, or maybe it was the seal meat they excised from their research specimens, but she peacefully coexisted with them on the ship. While she had been asleep, they’d estimated her age to be in the late 20s, based on her teeth, though she was in such poor physical shape that that may have been an overestimate. She did not get much exercise on the ship, though she paced the section that they cordoned off for her. The speed at which the water passed gave the illusion of movement, and the oily taste of seal blood blossomed within her.
Finally, the ship docked. Below her, the land was the colour of a ptarmigan’s foliage—tundra and rock and snow, ice. She could smell it; she could smell seals and foxes and hares. One of the men set a plank over the edge of the ship. She climbed it carefully, then splashed into the water and hauled herself up the craggy shore and onto the tundra. A newcomer looked at her, then at the men, and said, “Was that a…”
“Yes, yes,” they shouted.
“I thought they were…”
But their words were invasive, unnecessary; the wind dissolved them. This was not their place nor was it their story. They watched her as she trotted away, drunk on her sea-legs. Her shipmates smiled, and cried, and hoped that they would never see her again. “Yes,” one of them said, “I thought they were extinct, too. But maybe she is the last polar bear.”
“Maybe not,” the other one said, hopefully.
On the tundra, she lifted her nose to the sky. Yes, yes, her heart sang. I smell another of my kind.