-I think the market may be collapsing, Janet calls from the bedroom..
A grunt; the daily jingle as he drops a handful of leftover pesos into the little decorative change-bowl they keep on the hall table.
-For Christ’s sake, could you please just take your skirt off?
They pad about the quilted apartment naked that evening. She mixes pina coladas, naked, on the kitchen surfaces. He plays The Girl from Ipanema endlessly, naked, on the piano.
The following afternoon, under the slow pulse of the ceiling fan, she wakes him up to tell him,
-Some man called El Chico is telling the locals that their country’s been overrun by American spies controlling the government.
-What do you mean, ‘and’? I thought you’d want to know.
-I knew we shouldn’t have had a television in the bedroom, he complains. At least the soaps only last an hour. This stuff seems to be on all the time.
On the TV, El Chico is thumping his microphone-lectern and yelling something. The gathering crowd roars.
-They do get excited, don’t they...
Rolling onto his other side, he murmurs,
-Very...convivial people. Now could you please turn it down?
Ten minutes later, muffled in the duvet,
-It’s people in the street, Janet replies from outside on the balcony.
-Did you ever think, Janet asks, it’s possible we might be in danger if we stay here?
He rolls off her.
-I’m doing my best, he says, staring into her eyes. I really think the least you could do is to feign interest.
-So am I. Do you think we have a future together?
Another explosion from somewhere beyond the window.
I’m going to try, if possible, not to refer to the bear at all. What’s really interesting about ‘The Making of Ashenden’ is the way Elkin breaks down the concept of the American upper-class heroic adventurer as an absurd kind of Great Gatsby figure who belongs to no particular place or time. The image of the ‘duel’, which seems to take place in some sort of nineteenth-century world of princes beating their dogs, occurs directly before an up-to-date reference to a Harlem sniper. Brewster’s wanderings appear to be beyond the hands of time themselves, and it is the self-conscious manner of his own narration (“the sort of man who knocks your teeth out if he catches you abusing the water ration in the lifeboat and then turns around and offers his own meager mouthful to a woman or man over fifty-seven”) which suggests that he is not looking for himself so much during these adventures as another role of genteel masculinity he can inhabit. The comedy of his mother and father dying simultaneously and sharing a deathbed for the sake of efficiency lies in its neatness; likewise, the identical girl after identical girl that crops up- before Brewster is confronted by his exact feminine likeness, his anima- suggest a social paradise of a life.
So the significance of the bear? A gross yet wholly original and living feminity (no coincidence, surely, that Jane Lipton is suffering from lupus, literally wasting herself away); a burst of the dark and unpredictable into an apparently perfect lifestyle. And, of course, it’s also a hilarious anti-climactic adventure story to contrast with Brewster’s exploits. The reason the narrative slips from first-person to third-person isn’t a conceit of style; the fact is that this is the one anecdote Brewster would never want to share with anyone. The reader is allowed to become something more than his audience; a voyeur into a curiously private moment.