April 10, 2017


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Meghan Callahan

Tell it like this: she meets the wolf.

She invites the wolf out for coffee on a whim. Perhaps he is tall and broad and barrel-chested and he laughs at her bad jokes on the subway. Latte? she asks. Yes, he says, but what he means is mine.

Or maybe it starts like this: he is someone she knows, but not well, from the office or the bookstore or a night class. She’s always taking night classes—pottery, mostly—and this time he asks first. He’s got holes in his skinny jeans and she outweighs him easily, well-fed and well-mannered. He is everything gaunt and hungry.

Tell it like this: the day was bright.

It’s usually sunny on days like these, light coming through the leaves and sliding in between curtains. And who could feel afraid behind a bookshelf, a counter, a drive-through window, with mundane sounds of receipts printing and the soft hiss-hiss of tires on pavement? Make it clear that she was not expecting this. Make it clear that she should’ve been.

There’s a list, so recite it.

Record what she carries in her basket and in her pockets. Or say what she kept in the trunk of her car, if she’s old enough—the snow shovel, the rug, the box from the last pregnancy test, open and empty. Spark plugs, cat litter, a pair of flats with holes in the soles, sheet music—anything a girl might carry. But somehow there’s never a spare tire, not even when she has the receipt sitting in the glove compartment as proof of purchase. Her fingertips turn red in the cold and she cannot read the cost, just dark lines on a thin page. The wind could tear it away from her with a breath.

There’s a certain way the story goes. Don’t stop to play. Don’t leave the path.

Flowers bloom and stink along the dirt trail, bloated like corpses, lavender and rue and daisies. No matter the season, keep the scent. There is no weather or time underneath the trees and in the heat of the day it is cooler. When the leaves change the forest becomes a watercolor she can walk in. If trees won’t suffice, use streetlamps or skyscrapers or sand dunes or the silhouette of the gray faded barn. It’s not the location that’s particular, that’s peculiar—it’s her. And even she looks more beautiful inside. The wolf already knows this, but he has to see it himself. He has to get to know the barest parts of her, taste the root of her. He wants to climb into her skin and look out of her eyes.

She leaves the path. She always does. But after that, there are choices.

Say the wolf was sleeping, and she happened upon him when he was half-dreaming and she was red and red and white. (Say white, but not her skin—her skin is any color—white for the insides of her, the bone of her, marrow and salt). As the wolf was waking he was also starving, too many gerunds, a winter full of words that meant nothing and letters without sound, and he opens his eyes and sees spring. There was no expecting something like this. Someone like this. There was no expectation.

Perhaps she stops to talk, or he speaks first. Mouths open and close with the sound.

He’s a businessman, a real estate agent, a financier, a waiter, a busboy. He’s between jobs or perpetually jobless. He coaches soccer at the high school. He’s seventeen. He comes from money or he’s never bought new shoes or he’s made of gray fur and claws. When the wolf speaks first, he calls her by name or by title. Little girl, he might say. Little red. She isn’t always little— impossibly, even she must grow—but she is always alone.

Sounds fade out and the forest takes them. It’s too late now to be unseen.

Explain how it feels to move together, the way they fall in step with one another easily. The streetlights are smears in the rain, and her heels sound like people knocking against the pavement from beneath. He offers her his arm. She buries her fingers in fur without thought, the warmth and weight, the drag on her skin is heavy and it clings. Sensations bombard her, so new and fast that she’s drunk with it—he buys her sweet vermouth, vodka and orange juice, Shirley Temples spiked through with amaretto. No taste lingers long enough to make an impression, hard and stiff in her throat but they go down easily and she swallows and swallows and swallows. He drinks nothing but his tongue is out.

He is nervous—this is another thing to become.

Dig for answers as if for bones, six feet deep and two feet wide.

Males are often (not always) the predator of the species. Think of hyenas, for example, he says. They’re outside the museum gift shop, drinking espresso from cups so small she can hold them with three fingers. Lionesses, she suggests. Under the table his knees are bent so that they almost touch hers. Yes, the wolf nods. The pleat of his suit pants is sharp enough to cut her. But this was never a story of boy meets girl, or girl meets boy. This was always just about the meat.

She goes forward, and he goes faster.

There’s a destination at the other end of the path—the grandmother’s house, the corporate office, her bedroom, a parking lot—and he knows how to get there because she told him the way. When she lies down it is as if she’s sleeping, but turn her upright and her painted eyes open and her beeswax mouth sings and sings and sings. The wolf couldn’t silence her even if he tried. Secrets are for other people.

Now the wolf, alone and dressing.

It’s not always the grandmother. He has many disguises designed to entrance and ensnare, fake faces and words he’s memorized to whisper under sheets and into skin. He is nervous—this is another thing to become. Mirrors would be helpful, but this is the wrong story for mirrors, so he cannot know exactly how he looks as he stokes the fire. Lace bonnets become knockoff watches and silk ties even as his hands become claws. Maybe his pupils dilate or he paces up and down the fire escape. There’s no telling what a wolf does alone. And though his pack stopped answering calls long ago, he sends a message. Wait, he types, I am coming, but what he means to say is that she’s almost here.

The wolf and the woman are together at last.

It was always coming to this. She drops her purse and takes off her shoes so he can see her painted toes. Sometimes, he’ll ask for more. Take off your clothes, he whispers with a fake mouth, with his real eyes, with no rights or reason. She can feel his voice vibrate inside her own lungs. There’s a tenderness to the request and she unbuttons a thousand tiny pearls. Or he’ll set his teeth in the collar of her blouse, the polyester layers of her dress, hide his paws in the pockets of her jeans and strip her. They’re beyond decision now, with his animal breath hot on her face and the way her nails are sharpened too, scoring his back with crescent moons.

The words come quickly now. Don’t blunt the teeth.

From inside the story, they know and don’t know at the same time, and the inevitability of it is a comfort. The way he moves is the ocean beating on the shore and she strokes at him like green growing things. When he says I can’t help it, it is her mouth that speaks, and if ever there was a time to talk about the cost it’s passed now. He thought he knew what he wanted, hungry, so hungry, but it is different now. She is different now, nearly drawing blood, and the wolf is a new kind of starving, his heart beating in his throat like prey. He wants to be owned like this, by her. Her mouth is open and she swallows him and chews.

Catch the sense of it like smoke in the thicket.

There are two hearts beating but when they pulse in tandem like this both sounds are animal and human. Hear the woodsman, the police, father, brother, those outside the room—all are coming up the steps, carrying axes—as they approach. The door is open and unlocked. There’s no keeping them out, but the wolf already knew this, and so does the woman as she uncurls inside him, stretches.

Tell it like this: she meets the wolf.

When the axe comes down, the wolf is sleeping. But the woman looks out from inside his eyes and sees and sees and sees.

Meghan Callahan is a Denver native and MFA student at Ohio State University. Her work has appeared in decomP magazinE. Find her on Twitter @meghanc303.
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