Writing THE BEAR: A cut scene with Anna and Alex

Ⓒ Luke Gibson

Ⓒ Luke Gibson

I ended The Bear with an epilogue. It is brief, but the work behind it was not.

I wrote thousands of words about Anna and Alex and what had happened to them since their lost days in Algonquin Park. Much of that work was about establishing the relationship between them. I cut most of what I wrote. I kept a short section because it showed enough without saying too much. Often that means developing the characters behind the scenes. I had to get to know them.

This is one of the cut scenes. For the first time since it the bear attack, Anna and Alex are on their way back to the island where their parents were killed. They are reluctant to make land. As a delay tactic, they decide to engage in a competitive round of gunnel bobbing.

I’m glad I cut this. I now see that I didn’t have the dynamic them right. But somethings, frustratingly, I have to write something wrong before I can work out what is right.

I stare Alex down from my end of the canoe. My feet are balanced on the gunnels at the stern. I am ready. We have to work together to get the canoe moving up and down like a see saw in the lake first, that's how gunnel bobbing works. Once the canoe is swinging nice and high, all rules are off. It's the person who stays standing that wins.Surprise, fake outs and double-bounces are just a few of my strategic weapons to send Alex into the lake. He may be taller than me now, but he's also too obvious. I still have my wits.I bend my knees first. Alex bends his next. The canoe starts to bob.

Back and forth and up and down and we will keep going until one of us falls. 

I can feel my bangs float up, then my stomach drops back down, higher, higher.

The stern lowers. Alex raises an eyebrow and waits. Inky water laps at my feet. The sun glances off the water. He bites his lower lip, that's how I know. He locks his knees to stop the bounce of the canoe short. I bend my knees more and absorb the shock.

"Damn," he hisses.

We keep going, each trying to send the other flying with a short bob. He lowers his eyes, which means he’s about to switch up his strategy again. Like he's going to try and get me, but can't quite make himself watch.I bend my knees, ready. He sees this and expects me to push harder the next time to throw him off. I don’t. Instead, I miss a beat.

A look of surprise flies across Alex's face and then his eyes go big. Now he's the little brother who's been duped again. Enough with the mind games, he will use all his might to send me flying. He crouches up and jumps down on his end to make an extra hard dip. I focus on my feet and keeping my weight centred over the canoe. Let him try too hard.  All I have to do is stay with the boat.

Then he comes down on the canoe. I expect that, but I’m surprised by the force. He is taller and stronger and I'm not used to it. The boat shoves me up so high that my belly button comes loose. My eyebrows go up in surprise. I am laughing. My hair goes skyward.Alex sniffs victory. He can’t help but go for it again. He winds up everything, face, fists, legs and comes down again. Having barely touched down, I’m on my way back up. Am I half his weight now? It feels like it, because my feet lift off the end of the canoe as I move faster than it.

I scream and laugh and can’t believe it. I look down at the stern and only manage to keep a toe as a connection. I’m crooked in the air and in danger of missing the canoe all together. Alex can see it too, I know because I hear hysterical laughter coming from the other end of the canoe. He thinks he’s about to win. F

or the first time.I can’t give it up. Not now. I stretch out a toe and get one foot on the gunnel. The other leg is out to the side and too far away, so I put all my focus into the one foot and plant it firmly with my arms out for balance. As I’m coming down, I am standing on the one foot and look across to see his face. He didn’t think I had another bob in me. Unready, his body jerks to the right and an arm and a leg fly up.

“Nooooo,” he shouts.

Alex adds an extra twist to his dive and flails his arms and legs to make it completely dramatic. I love him for this.

I hold on just long enough to claim victory, but my weight is too far over and I see the lake coming fast. I gasp and the water swallows me up.I pull up to the surface and cough the water out of my lungs. I feel a splash from behind and turn to see his beaming face at the surface. His smile says what I know.

He will let me win, always.

A special thank you to Luke Gibson for permission to use his amazing photo with this post. You can see more of his work on his website.