All winter we ate Alexander
Nadya rose to her feet and leaned over Olsen, embracing him and laughing. He bore with it with no loss of composure. She sat down at last, the bear skin across her knees. Josef came over and picked it up.
‘You have not seen this, I think,’ he said. ‘This was Alexander. We had him before Katerina.’
‘He died?’ Jones asked.
Josef grinned. ‘Yes, he died. One day, when he was five years old, he became nasty – he turned on Stefan when Stefan was cleaning out his cage. Stefan called, and I was near with a small rifle.’ He brushed back the fur that covered the head. ‘You see there? Just above the eyes. With one shot.’
‘A good one,’ Jones agreed.
‘I tell you something else,’ Josef said. ‘So we had the body. It is something, burying a full grown bear – you must dig a big hole. Instead we skinned him; and then we ate him. What we could not eat at once we put in salt. All winter we ate Alexander.’
‘Was he good?’ Olsen asked with interest.
‘I have never tasted such fine meat. When people called, we would say they should stay for supper and they would ask, do you eat your bear? When we said yes, they would say no, shaking their heads. But when they had tried one little morsel, they were ready to eat their bellies full.’
‘It is what the bear eats,’ Mrs Simanyi explained. ‘Fruit and nuts and honey – carrots and things like that. That is how they have sweet flesh.’
‘And Katerina?’ Mouritzen asked. ‘Will you one day eat Katerina?’
‘Ah, no!’ Mrs Simanyi said.
‘She is a wonderful bear,’ Josef said. ‘She is like a daughter. One would not eat a daughter.’