Winner of the 2023 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose

Brian Sneeden

In August your father goes up the mountain in a bark suit with bear claws to harvest cloudberries. This is the season of rain and buried sunlight. When he comes home you’re stuck inside for two days with the windows sealed to keep out wasps, boiling juice in the vat, poking the pulp into jars. Afterwards, the smell of cooling metal and your father smoking. Of the planets in the evening as the steam disperses his is darkest. One day you find his bark suit hanging in the attic and put it on, swaying your claws like a bear in the aubergine patch. When it happens you see nothing but a drip and think you manifested berries in the air. That it was your gift. Later, changing rags over your brother’s missing eye, he describes the unbearable pain of seeing without dimension. You imagine your punishments: changed into a bear and chased by your own dogs, locked in a tower with nothing to eat but soup made from your hair, your arm sewn into a beehive and stung a thousand times a day for a hundred and one days. When your father comes home your brother says: the bear got away. Winter came. The season of brine and black bread. All day it sleeps in the attic, its peeling barkflesh fuzzed with burrs. Any bird would avoid it. In the mornings you leave out a bowl of melted snow, and at night can sometimes hear the awkward graze of claws.