What the Wolf Taught / G.G. Silverman

Neither of them could remember how they’d gotten this way, how their marriage had become the stuff of boredom. They’d both become ghosts of themselves—losing color from their faces as their lips froze in a thin line. At dinner, they sat tamely across from each other, pushing boiled white potatoes on their plates, barely eating or speaking. At night, in their bedroom, they’d become shameful of their bodies, rarely showing their skin. They’d take turns undressing quickly in the dark, then slid into bed, rarely touching. Sometimes, after supper, they’d wait a while before declaring bedtime; the husband would do crosswords and the wife would go for walks. She would wander the gray stone path from her home, folding her hands behind her as she passed the boxy houses lined up in a row, all the same with their boxy windows and boxy hedges. Lamps would be snuffed out one by one as her neighborhood retired for the evening. Sometimes, on these walks, an uneasiness crept inside her. She always knew the path; it was always the same, yet staying on the path made her feel lost. The path led to the edge of the woods, and most nights, she never followed it to the end; she stopped at a safe distance. Who knew what lay beyond the edge?

But tonight, a wolf stood at the end of the path. Its eyes shone and the animal licked its lips. The woman felt something stir within; not fear, but something other than fear, like a space inside of her had opened and an imaginary string unspooled slowly from her belly button, floating toward the animal and connecting it with the hollow space inside her.

So they watched each other, the woman and the wolf. They stared until the sun dipped below the trees, and stars blinked forward from the black.

The wolf broke its gaze first, spinning on its heels and darting into the woods, trailing a cloud of breath in the cold.

The woman shivered as the wolf’s form disappeared into the dark space between the trees. She turned in the opposite direction, tracing her way down the path until it led home. She flung the door open, and found her husband hadn’t moved from where he sat. He barely looked up from his crossword puzzle. Normally she’d resume her place beside him on the tidy gray couch, and they’d stay this way until bedtime. Instead, she remained standing; her cheeks stung from the cool evening air.

“I saw a wolf,” the woman blurted. She had never blurted anything before. The words felt strange in her mouth, like it hadn’t been her voice that spoke, but something larger, deeper, vast.

“Hmm,” her husband answered without looking up.

She shrugged and sat beside him, picking up a magazine and flipping the pages half-heartedly. As the minutes passed, she’d forgotten about the wolf, as if it hadn’t been something that happened in her own life, but might have been a fable a friend had told her, or a faint television memory. She became heavy with sleep, and stood from the couch, walking to the bedroom without her husband to change her clothes in the dark. She slid under the covers, the stiffness of cold sheets scratching her face. She exhaled, wondering when her husband would join her. Soon, he entered the room too, also changing his clothes in the dark. She could make out his thin form, his back arching in the shadows as he pulled on his nightshirt. He slid under the covers, keeping a safe distance as his form sunk in the soft mattress. Within moments, he gave a gentle snore. The woman sighed to herself and turned over, closed her eyes, and drifted into a dreamless black sleep.

In the wee hours, she was awakened by a sound—something like a howl. She sat up, clutching the covers to her chest—had it really been a howl? She pushed the covers back and crept out of bed, fumbling for a bathrobe. She slipped it over her shoulders and left her bedroom, padding down the hall to determine the source of the sound. Another howl carried in the distance, this time she was sure what it was. She padded further to the front door. She unlocked it, throwing it wide open. A chill licked her bare ankles, then it wound up her legs, embracing her body under her thin nightgown.

There, under the moonlight, sat the wolf. They locked eyes. The woman noticed the wolf’s calm expression, how maybe it knew things that were wise and older than time. The wolf did not open its mouth, but the woman heard it speak.

“May I come in?” the wolf asked.

The woman hesitated. What did she know about wolves?

“I can teach you things,” the wolf said.

The woman felt something inside her again, something that wasn’t fear or danger. Her lungs expanded; she breathed more deeply than she had in a long time. Her shoulders relaxed; she unclenched her fists.

“Yes,” she told the wolf. “Please come in.”

The wolf stood, then sauntered past her through the open door. The woman remained on the threshold for a moment, then closed the door mechanically, as if wolves wandered in every evening. The wolf then traipsed down the hall into the woman’s bedroom, as if it had known where it was all along. The woman followed, remaining calm when the animal hopped on the bed where her husband slept, his arms crossed over his chest as though dead. The wolf sat with gleaming, expectant eyes. The woman stood, unsure of what to do.

“I can show you things,” the wolf said without speaking. “Here, lie beside me.”

The woman nodded. She climbed on the bed, then lay beside the wolf, who lay beside the woman’s husband.

“You may hold me,” the wolf said without speaking.

The woman curled her body around the wolf, stroking its soft warm fur. Her husband did not stir except for the rise and fall of his chest as he slept. Soon the woman closed her eyes, and tumbled into a dream. There, she was in her very same bedroom, with no sign of the wolf. Her dream-self sat naked in bed, with her husband sleeping soundly beside her. She crawled over him, began removing his clothes with her teeth, pulling at them with hunger. He began to stir, moaning softly. She mounted him, took what she needed, arching her back in the shadows.

She woke with a start, sitting ramrod-straight in her bed in the still-dark room. The wolf was gone. She patted her own body; she was indeed still clothed, as was her husband. He remained in deep sleep on his side of the bed, arms folded across his chest. She slipped away, wrapping her bathrobe around her as she crept down the hall. A cold breeze blew toward her, licking her ankles as it had before. She discovered the door wide open, and a light snow had begun to fall. The wolf was gone.

***

Over time, the couple’s appetites grew. At supper, they’d begun licking meat off their plates, then licking their fingers and lapping the juices from each other’s lips. The woman’s belly and breasts swelled. She’d felt something wild growing inside of her, a new hunger she hadn’t felt before. At night, she sometimes ran the path heading toward the forest. At the forest’s edge, she tore off her clothes and ran on all fours, sniffing the air for the scent of small prey. Her nails clawed soft earth as she ran. Tonight, a rabbit froze before her on the moonlit path, and she lunged for it, catching it in her jaws. Its warm blood filled her mouth with the taste of rust and wildness. She darted home, standing upright on two legs as she leaned naked over the table, streaked with earth and blood. Her chest rose and fell with the excitement of the hunt. Her husband sat there, shirtless as he waited; he, too, with bated breath. She relaxed her jaws; the rabbit’s limp body fell, thudding softly on the table. The man stood, pressing his body against his wife’s roundness. He sniffed her blood-streaked skin with hunger, then darted his tongue in her mouth, tasting the rabbit’s feral scent. He pulled away, pleased. Then they both hunched over the table, tearing the rabbit open with their teeth as they fed.

***

Soon, they abandoned their home, and vines grew over it, returning it to the soil. The woman crouched in the woods, unashamed of her nakedness. Her husband, also bare, circled on all fours, pacing with anticipation. The woman tensed her muscles, moaning and pushing out the creature that had grown in her belly. It landed mewling on a soft bed of leaves and pine needles. The woman cradled the newborn and licked its face, cleaning its eyes so it could see, its nose so it could breathe. She studied the infant. It was not quite human, not quite animal; it had a soft pink snout where a nose should have been, and a thin coat of fur covered the length of its tender belly. Gentle fangs poked from its delicate gums. The woman lay on the earth, curling her body around the youngling, letting it take her teat with its hungry mouth. Her husband lay beside them. They were not afraid.

In the distance, they saw the shadow of a wolf and another woman in her nightgown.

“I will teach you things,” the wolf said without speaking. “I will show you the way.”

***

G.G. Silverman lives just north of Seattle. Her fiction and poetry have won awards, and her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from So To Speak feminist language + art, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Iron Horse Literary Review, The Seventh Wave, Lunch Ticket, Molotov Cocktail, Iconoclast, Ellipsis Literature & Art, and more. She is currently at work on a short story collection as well as her third novel.

Find her online: ggsilverman.com

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