How the sun depresses me. It glints off the bars of my cage, sending sharp rays into my eyes. I am so hot I can hardly stand it, and my water is tepid and dirty. Today, the heat bakes the remnants of a blue Slushie some kid threw on me yesterday into a sugary, mucky crust. If I could turn around better, I would lick it off myself. “Downtown” is playing in the distance, on a crackly 45 RPM record.

I am The London Bear. I live at Bertha Windsor’s England World in Waterproof, Louisiana. Bertha’s real last name is Berthiaume, but she doesn’t want anyone to know that. She wants everything to sound and look like it is from England. She even speaks in a British accent, which mainly is her saying stuff like “pip pip!” and “right-o!” and “time for tea!” in more or less her same Cajun accent with the ends of the words tilted up. She calls her husband “Giles,” which he hates. His name is Floyd. Don’t like that guy.

I glance over at Bertha. She wears a very high poofy black wig with a tiara stapled to it, and a sleeveless Union Jack minidress. She has fat knees. People who wander off of the highway looking for gas or some food have to drive past our place, the exterior of which resembles a castle, but it’s only a board-and-fake-rock veneer with a ‘50s-era ranch behind it. There’s a ditch dug about a quarter of the way around the house, which was supposed to be a moat, but Floyd decided it was too much work. He usually stays at the back of the house and chain-smokes and swears at the TV.

The two front rooms of the house are Bertha’s museum with all the things she has collected from England, or thinks seems related to England. For two bucks, our random curious visitors get to see a lot of tea sets, Princess Di memorabilia, James Bond movie posters, lovingly-curated scrapbooks about Susan Boyle, Lulu, Twiggy, Petula Clark, and Sarah Brightman. There are Queen Elizabeth commemorative spoons, napkins, tea towels, calendars, pens, and decorative plates. Every square inch of space is filled. For another two bucks, you can get a very very dry home-baked-by-Bertha scone and a cup of Earl Grey tea, served in Queen Elizabeth commemorative china cup.

But frankly, most people stop because of me. It’s always the same sound: tires on the gravel road, slowing, then someone says, “Hey! That’s a bear there!” And then someone else says, “I wanna see the bear!” and someone else says “Aw, look how cute he is there in that hat!” and then the car crunches a little more, and stops. Bertha pops out the front door, which is painted red and has a large brass lion head knocker on it, and greets everyone the same way, every time: “Cheerio, travelers! Welcome to Bertha Windsor’s England World! Our museum of rare British treasures is located in the parlor rooms, where you may also take tea with us, if it be y’all’s pleasure. Would you like to hear the story of The London Bear right here?” Of course, they nod “yes,” and then Bertha gets the two bucks out of them, 50 cents for children under 6, no senior discount.

Do you know how sometimes people tell a lie so often that they can’t remember the truth? I think this is how it is for Bertha and The London Bear story. The fact is, I am just a regular Louisiana black bear. A hunter shot my mom when I was just a tiny thing, and sold me and my sister to a roadside circus. Rumor went ‘round that the feds were on the sheriff to shut it down, so the owner moved us all in the middle of the night, went to a bar and bet us all away in a drunken poker game. That’s how Floyd brought me back to Bertha. He had heard that bear cubs taste a bit like pork, and I was going to make a nice few dinners. Bertha wouldn’t have it. Instead, she bought me a Palace Guard’s hat, those very tall black furry ones, and taught me how to drink a cup of tea with both paws. But in Bertha’s mind, this is how I came to live in Waterproof…

“Well, I say, this here is the one and only London Bear, internationally famous for being the cleverest animal ever to escape from the London Zoo. He slipped past his keeper one chilly night, and wandered the cobblestone streets of Britain, hidden by the heavy fog and cloak of darkness. Well, it came to be that he happened upon Queen Elizabeth’s very own home, the Buckingham Palace, right as the Palace Guards were changin’ and the footmen were lookin’ at their feet instead of the front door and this very bear just went right on in, he did! He made his way up to the Queen’s very own bedroom, and I tell you this: when she woke up in the morning, she sat bolt upright in her fancy bed and saw that bear sitting at her little morning tea table, drinking a cup of her tea with those two big paws! Well, she let out quite the yell, I hear, and the bear went on a tear all through the Palace, past Prince Phillip and all, until the Palace Guards caught him in the garden out back.”

“It so happens that I correspond with the Queen on a regular basis, and I had told her around that time that I was making the England World museum here in Waterproof and would be honored if she would attend our Grand Opening Ceremonies. I heard back from her personal lady secretary that Queen Elizabeth’s schedule was already full for the year, but would I be able to accept a very special personal British gift from Her Majesty for my museum? And that gift was…The London Bear!”

Bertha would quickly then produce a cup of tea for me, so she didn’t have to entertain many questions about my origin. A bear in a big furry hat drinking tea is pretty distracting. The people would ooh and ahh and laugh and say, “Look! That bear can drink from a cup like a real person!” Then Bertha would herd them into the castle-ranch for as long as they could stand to hear her talk about how that Prince William is such a fine lad and how to add milk to tea. She’d turn up the volume to “Downtown” or “To Sir With Love” if Floyd’s swearing was getting a little non-royal.

My god, it’s hot, I think as I try to itch the Slushie spot. No one is coming by today. From inside the house through the open window screens I hear Bertha calling out.

“Giles! Giles! Go give The London Bear some fresh water and some food! GILES! NOW! Pip pip!”

I hear a door slam from the bowels of the castle, then Floyd opens the front door with some force, causing the lion knocker to clatter. He strides angrily over to my cage and unlocks it.

“You goddamn mangy bear. I’d shoot ya as soon as look at ya, and I’d rather look at Bertha naked than you, and that’s sayin’ somethin’.”

He shoves my water bowl back into my cage, spilling most of it. I look him straight in the eye. He doesn’t like that.

“You. Goddamn. Bear.” Floyd seethes, his jaw tight, his beady eyes shiny, staring me down. My hat tilts to the side.

Ready to stop looking at Floyd, I begin to turn away to drink what is left of my water when I see his eyes flicker oddly, showing the whites. As they roll to the back of his head, he crumples down to the gravel and dirt around my cage. I watch him for quite some time. He never moves. The sun lowers in the sky. The theme from “Cats” is playing from inside the house now. My cage door is still unlocked, and when I lean my hat against it, it creaks open. Stiffly, I amble out and sniff at Floyd. On a bearish whim, I take a good chunky bite out of his rather stiff forearm.

Tastes a bit like pork.