‘Polar bears are bullshit,’ Tom said.
‘Pardon?’ Jess asked, taking a trepidatious sip from her straw.
‘Polar bears,’ Tom repeated, testily, ‘are bullshit.’
‘You don’t like them?’
Tom snorted in disgust, ejecting stringy strands of beery mucous from his nostrils.
‘Like them?’ he spat, incredulous. ‘How can anyone like them? They don’t fucking exist!’
‘Is this a game you like to play on a first date?’
‘It’s not a game. It’s a fucking conspiracy.’
‘Polar bears are a conspiracy?’
‘Think about it, Jess: have you ever actually seen one?’
‘Sure, at the zoo in Toronto—I saw a mother bear and her cu—’
‘Wrong! You saw a common-or-garden brown bear that some scumbag had bleached white.’
‘You’re dripping on the bar.’
‘Your nose—it’s running—you’re dripping on the bar.’
‘It’s the oldest trick in the book, isn’t it?’ Tom said, wiping his chin with a clenched fist. ‘Painting a mule to look like a zebra; changing the colour of something in a photo or a film. It must be so easy when the thing in question “lives” in the snow and is being coloured all white.’
‘Why would anyone go to the trouble of faking a whole species of bears like that?’
‘It probably started with some enterprising prospector trying to scare people away from his claim. Then an oil company got in on the act—painted an army of grizzlies white and set them loose around the field, trying to keep rival drillers away from their wells.’
‘I fucking knew this was about global warming!’ Jess exclaimed, slamming her empty glass down hard upon the bar. ‘The second you mentioned polar bears! I’m sorry, I can’t spend another second in the same room as someone who actually thinks global warming is a hoax.’
‘But the Inuit, they—’ Tom called after her, pleading, as she marched toward the door.
‘Bye, Tom. Thanks for the drink.’
The following summer, Tom flew to Nunavut alone. Stalking the wilds of Qikiqtaaluk one afternoon, he came across a lone white bear upon the ice. Before he had quite had time to yank a tuft of fur free from the roots for testing, it had bitten off his face—and half his head with it.