Wolf: A Brief Sketch

Nell Payton

1. I like her feet best, her legs next, and her face worst; if she could walk on her hands it would all be alright but unfortunately, she is not much of a gymnast. Her sister had taken home gold for the beam in Montreal (in 76’ before I was born) but this sister is a different creature all together. I have been told that the sister can also do the splits, even now, almost forty years after her Olympic debut and this thought, despite the fact that my wife is in bed beside me right now, excites me immensely.
             We spend most of our time at home, which is best and, since my wife stopped working, there has been no electricity and all is more beautiful by candlelight. She makes dinner on a Bunsen burner salvaged from my days in the Boy Scouts and I take care to remind her that without me we would waste away (and perhaps her face would look nicer if her cheeks were to hollow out some). She is not fat but has a thickness to her limbs and to her midsection that makes her seem unbreakable; still, I try sometimes. She is taller than I am by several inches and, in different circumstances I imagine I would feel inadequate or even undeserving of her.
             She is quite an incredible artist, my wife. She worked (before) as the floor manager at a large restaurant in Evanston and this allowed her no time to focus on her creations (this is her word, not mine) and therefore she could not bear it (again, her words). Still, it was she who made me the wolf, as per my request.
             2. The wolf, the only wolf among many dogs in our quiet suburb, is quite magnificent. In between the lopsided ears, there is a muzzle, roughly sketched, a blob of a face. The wolf’s eyes are large black squiggles and its tail a ragged pencil line, smudged deliberately with a fist to be the downy fluff of fur. The wolf’s body is shrunken, perhaps my wife grew tired, and it is scrawled, puffy and in some places bald, as if drawn by a child’s unpracticed hand. The beast is large, its nose reaching almost to my elbow and it towers, a stupid giant, over the mixing bowl we have filled with raw beef and bloodied pork. It is house-trained, nearly but occasionally leaves liquid pools of swirling graphite on the carpets. My wife shoves the wolf’s nose into its mess; I am glad that it marks its territory.
             The wolf is well received in the neighborhood. It rarely threatens cats and only once has ripped a hydrangea bush from a garden, thinking, perhaps, it concealed a family of cottontails. I report this to my wife and she dutifully renders bunnies with a leaking red fountain pen until the wolf has had its fill.
             A boy and his sister have been hired to walk the wolf (on its chain) three times around the track at the Y and back to our house. The girl keeps her distance but the boy loves the wolf and returns home each night with small bite marks on his wrists—the wolf is gentle but does not know his own strength—and his palms scarred with paper cuts.
             3. We fight because I tell my wife I would die for the wolf; she says I should offer to die for her instead. I argue that I can do both but I don’t mean it and I hold her while she cries, letting her wipe her nose on my coat, her ink-colored hands grasping my face. She cries while she walks the wolf, her hand in mine; she cries while she draws. She cries when I sell my manuscript and we again have electricity: the microwave flashes 0:00 and everything is uglier in the harsh white light.
             I worry the wolf is unhappy and this gnaws at me day and night. Then I cannot take it any longer and I tell my wife I am taking the wolf north to be where he belongs. We will find the tundra and the last frontier. She laughs and says nothing.
             The boy and his sister are bounding up the stairs. My wife is quick with her hands and she ties her thick pink eraser around the end of the wolf’s tail. (To my horror) when the boy appears, the wolf wags and wags, his whole behind shaking with naïve pleasure until he has erased himself completely and all that remains are four legless paws (out of reach of the unexpected weapon) and rubber shavings in a pile we will have to sweep away. My wife turns out the lights because in the dark I love her most. 

NELL PAYTON‘s work has recently appeared in or is forthcoming from [PANK], Echoes, The Glass Coin, and Jersey Devil Press. She lives in New York but sometimes dreams of moving to a place with more trees.