Small Town Wolf

Beth walks through the park every day on the way to work. It's six blocks to work and the park adds a block but it's her center. The gardens are laid out like the grounds of a palace with a fountain in the middle. There's always time before work, before she spends all day on her feet, before the customers, the smile worn into her face until her muscles ache, there's always time before the crush of civility to stop and meditate on the movement of the goldfish under the lily leaves.

She'll walk back, every evening in the late light, the smell of the day ending, sated flowers well treated by the bees, leaves drooping languorously. She'll walk back and let the day run out of her. It's quite safe, even in winter when it's dark, she's done it all her life. Besides, isn't she the kind of girl who can take care of herself? So independent, the old women whisper, who knows if that's for good or ill? It's not that kind of town, and she's always walked her own path, leaving home so young.

And now it's dusk, summer dusk, the pollen golden on the ground a carpet underfoot, the sky a fraying canopy of red stained silk, shadows sliding from the flowers, dissolving into dissipation. Beth's walking home from the fabric shop where she works in her little red cotton sundress, always dressed so daringly, and didn't the preacher say he could see she was damned, she needed his salvation? She's sure on her feet like a little colt, and never had to fight the world, not yet, and the wolf can see her clean soul but the preacher never has. And the wolves are out tonight. Out in the park.

"I like the white ones best." He's beside her, leaning over the fountain's pool, doesn't he look harmless, he smiles, she smiles back, how could Beth refrain from smiling, the dusk is wrapping its warm soft air around her and he's pointing to the water lilies, a white bloom floating on its own reflected image in the dark water. Beth smiles back. "I read in a book once about a princess who drowned while she was trying to pick waterlilies." He is still leaning over the fountain, his voice is soft and cultured, and though his words make Beth feel nervous, she thinks he is safe. He's well dressed, soft brown hair just falling over his eyes, making him look shy and good-natured. Besides, it's not that kind of town and he's not one of the druggies that shoot up in the park under the roadway, he's just a stranger making conversation.

Beth's never been one to mistrust a stranger. People think she's aloof, but she's just private, and in her private world people are good and kind until they prove themselves otherwise. "I wouldn't let you drown." he says. Beth laughs. "I'm not going to pick the lilies." And she's smiling still, showing him her social mask, her mother always taught her to be polite, to be charming, facile, bright. But he's seen deeper than that, seen her walking in the park, seen the red fluttering untouched thing in her.

Beth's lonely. No-one knows that. Who really knows her? . She's good with customers but the women she works with at the fabric shop think she's strange. They think she puts on airs. She's too quiet and she dresses too fancy, and she reads books, what does she think she is? She's no better than us. Beth feels that at best they treat her like a pet, a wild animal they can't explain or understand.

The boys won't look at her, they say she's a slut, she must be, living alone like that and her only seventeen, and look at the way she walks about, as if she owns the place. Every night Beth goes home to a cheerful little flat above a shop, the peeling wall-paper covered by pretty remants from the fabric shop, watches her television alone, eats a quiet dinner, reads Dickens or the Brontes or George Sand by the light of her bedside lamp, goes to bed early, and wonders when she'll meet someone who knows her for herself. She smiles to know the question isn't hers, it belongs to everyone who ever slept alone.

He's leaning down, smelling the grace on her, the generosity of her trust and naivete. The wolf's life is to hunt, patience, oh, patience, hasn't he waited, watching her since the spring? His brown eyes so soft and gentle, "I don't suppose you'd like to have coffee with me?"

Beth talks herself into a decision. He's handsome, he seems well-spoken, it would be in public, it seems safe, there's a coffee shop right across from the park. She makes up her mind to take this chance. Everyone in town believes one thing of her, why shouldn't she have the frisson, the spark, if she has that kind of reputation. What harm could come? What harm could come of this warm feeling, this golden feeling?

"Sure. We can go to the Bon Ton." she feels his hand on her arm as she turns and has a flash of vision, sees it painted across the blue silk of the evening sky, her pale naked form riding him, and she smiles, a glittering thing of a smile that he's never seen on her before. He grins and they walk together, down the wide path of the park, under the shadows, the wolf and Beth, his hand on her arm still.

His kind has been around since before man stood upright. He's young for one of them. This town used to be good for him. All the churches, and so isolated, old-fashioned. The girls stayed young and sweet for longer than down in the cities. All their little kindnesses, their little naiveties, fed him, fed him, made him fat with it. Not so much any more, the town is going on a slow slide down to destitution, and they all get hooked on drugs or having babies, or both.

There are creatures who feed on fear, and they have come to this town more and more as the factories close and the jobs grow thin, the winters seem colder. But the wolves have never fed on fear. For them it's the kindnesses, the charity at the heart of the women, the trust is a feast. The wolf doesn't want Beth to be afraid. He's seen Beth's heart, the extra time she takes with the old ladies picking out fabric for their grandchildrens' clothes, and listening to the stories they tell over again about the little ones, the extra bit of money slipped to her Mum from her pay packet each week to make the housekeeping go further now that Dad's laid off. He knows the stained heart of the preacher ever needed more saving than hers, but not now, now it's all in danger, his hand on her arm.

He says his name is Alan which is not too far from true, and he insists on treating her, Beth orders a cappucino, sophisticated for this town, and Alan smiles and says he only drinks espresso, watches her eat cheesecake delicately, watches her graceful hands, her little mouth, thinks that in the city she'd have found more like her than here, she'd not have been alone, would have friends to keep her safe from the edges where the bad things are, and he smiles and smiles at her and draws her out to talk about her life and dreams, and charms her and Beth doesn't think to ask what it is he does, only he seems to know a lot about art, and books, she unfolds her life to him all unawares. Another cup, a buzz from these unprecedented feelings and the rush of the caffeine, her pulse jumping, she's had crushes before but never felt the pure rush of the chemistry between two creatures like this.

"It's late, it's dangerous, I'll walk you home." It is late, Beth doesn't know where the time went, and it's not like her to skip dinner, but that's not why she's lightheaded. There is nothing that compares with the first time any man or woman makes a connection to someone who seems to answer the call and response of the rhythm of their sentences, the giddy bubbling up laughter, feeling like he gets her, they are connected by something, his soft eyes bright with comprehension and admiration. She is blush red and shivering in her sundress and doesn't want the night to end. It isn't far back through the park to her flat. It doesn't seem difficult or unnatural to ask him to come up, after all he must be hungry. She offers him food and he hears the truth behind her words.

Apples and sharp cheese, they sit at her second-hand kitchen table on vinyl chairs, the flat is just how he knew it would be, her touch everywhere, decorated with this and that from thrift shops and flea markets.

"Tastes good!" He crunches a piece of apple between his teeth, the sharp juice running over his tongue an aperitif. "Thank you for inviting me up here, Beth." He's reaching out and taking her hand, holding it, tracing a pattern with his finger on the palm. Beth closes her hand around his. She's not sure what she asked for but she knows she's asked for it, and she wants it.

"We'd be more comfortable on the rug." Beth smiles coyly, she thinks she knows how it is supposed to go. They move to the floor, cheap cushions that she's lovingly re-covered scattered under them. Beth takes the lead, frightened, so frightened, but isn't she supposed to be a woman of the world? Isn't that what they all think of her? She wants Alan to think she knows what she's doing, leaning in to kiss him, smelling his strong masculine scent, and he is all too happy to follow, devouring her with kisses, and he knows that she is just what she would hide from him, and that is what he wants of her. He strips her slowly, his fingertips dancing over her skin, he didn't expect it to be so easy, but she is so very young, and he has given her what no other person ever has.

Alan kneels over Beth on the rug. "You're so beautiful." he whispers. He'd say it even if he only saw what she presented to the world, but he sees so much more that he wants, that he can have. He slides inside her, feeling her around him, hears her stifle a yelp - she doesn't want him to know and he's prepared to play her game. They rock back and forth together gently, he's biding his time, taking the basic, simple and yet ineffable pleasure from making love, listening to her little sounds, he doesn't want to hurt her - just wants to consume all that is good in her.

When her small cries have driven him to it, he reaches down and stretches past the flesh and bones of the world to find the place where she dwells. The wolf rips her apart like a blood eagle, not her milky body under him but the essence of her spread out in one violent tearing. To anyone who could see clearly, she lies open throat to groin, what makes her all he desires lying exposed by the ragged wound. She can see it too, in the mirror over her mantle, it looks like her but not quite solid, a water colour image imposed over her, the broken edges of the ribs standing out from the bloody skin.

Beth feels it all rushing out, the love, the hope, trust, the world darkens around her as he reaches in, she can feel it, all engine oil slick as the bad of the world runs into her and he holds her the ribcage of her being open with both hands, his long wolf snout snuffling in there, feasting on the pink and good of her, draining her and the grim liquor of wickedness and human evil comes to fill her up, rushing in where she is defenceless. And then she remembers the vision from earlier, the beautiful image that blazed across the sky for her of the two of them together as man and woman, her body riding his, and she gasps, and twists, grabbing him, struggling.

They roll over and knock the lamp down, smashing the bulb. Beth's foot kicks out and wraps around his leg, and they wrestle, locked together as lovers all the time that she struggles to pull her self back together, knit the wound, find her place on top of him. They sweat and kick as the stars come out, she feels like she's in a far place, on top of a plateau, close to the where the planets seem within touch.

Alan, or not Alan, the wolf she sees him for now, is strong. He is a predator. He is not used to his prey fighting though. It makes no sense to him. It's always been a primal game, the stalking leads up to the seduction and then he's won and he takes his prize and leaves the woman changed, robbed. It was easy. It made human sense too. All the changes gelled together and mostly the women didn't even know what the wolves had done, they had enough of their own shame smearing over their feelings.

Beth is fighting hard. She fights dirty, clawing, and biting until he finds himself flipped over by another of their rolls, and she is mounting him, looking down victoriously, all the loose ends of her soul tucked back inside her. He's so hungry.

Beth leans down over the wolf, looking at him curiously, running her hands down his chest. With a swift gesture, she's undone him, ripping his self open the way he did hers. The wolf howls. Beth is staring into him, her hands buried in his essential viscera, he has never felt such agonies, he is in his turn naked. Beth looks into him and sees the hunger. She starts to laugh a little, a sort of hysterical coughing laugh.

"You're just an animal." She says. "A dumb animal."

The wolf is too hurt to answer. He looks up at her and his soft eyes are pleading with her. He sees compassion in her face.

Beth takes her hands out and sits back, watching the wound knit like hers did, put back together guts and all. She feels sticky and shocked, but in the starlight she can see their bodies are still whole and beautiful in the mirror, her hands not covered in his blood and hers.

Beth stands up.

"You're going to want to leave now." she says in a controlled voice. The wolf grabs his clothes and slinks out. Beth stands before the mirror for a long time. He has not meant to, but the wolf has shown her what he sees, and it gives her a lot to wonder about. She smiles at her naked reflection.

Beth walks through the park to work the next day. The green leaves shake over her head in the wind, the strong green oak leaves frame the sky, crowning the girl with the gift of one day where she knows that what is inside her and what is outside are one and the same, a unity of being. Something in her feels painful, but something in her feels stronger. She was waiting for someone to see her as she is, but she's not waiting any more. Beth knows who she is. There is no wolf who can take that apart.