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Wolf and Man

Runner-up in the 5th Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest.

It had been outside for weeks. She knew by the upset milk bottles, the cratered footprints and body casts left in the snow, and the howl looping over the roof at night. She hadn’t managed to spot it, but pictured diamond-sharp teeth and a jaw pilled, crisp, with its frozen exhalations. She sensed its nagging hunger. It lurked just beyond their walls without clear form, like the seed of an idea, a maddening, slippery shadow.

She was dreaming of it, its blue and white face, the morning she awoke to find Max gone. The sheets beside her were empty, cool like the cool patches you encounter swimming in a sun-warmed lake. She knew immediately he wasn’t in the house. She counted the missing things: the moan of the tap, the rattle of paper, the scorched scent of a match held to the stove’s pilot light. The daily mug of tea he brought her was not on her bedside table, steeping into a more bitter intensity the longer she slept, sliver of lemon ready to shudder her tongue awake. She remained in bed, barely breathing. It wasn’t a complete shock. Max had been complaining for some time about how there was nothing. No perfect paragraphs falling from his mind, no fleshy images connecting in his imagination. His speech tumbled endlessly, contrasting with his blank pages on a plain desk. The problem, he worried, was that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had all the proper materials, the careful diet, the flaring, brilliant synapses. His descriptions of himself filled her dreams, unfurled into scenes of them both, somewhere green and melting where their ankles rooted in funnelling sand. Three of his black hairs lay on the pillow beside her like careless pen strokes. She would wait because there was nothing else to do, continue mixing ingredients together and listening to the voices that lived in the radio. Her guess was that he would cross the mile-long icy shell that separated their home from the highway and stick out a thumb. Without looking, she knew the desk would be gone. It was just a small table, really, but he was so superstitious.

Her waiting, though—it would not be passive, or limp, airless—it would be an art. When he returned, she would gesture to the rows of preserves, stacked in a gleaming palette of beet and apple shades. She would open the door to the study so that an avalanche of unsent letters spilled out, turning the hallway white. He would see the wolf she had tamed, who circled the house like a guard.

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BILL ENGLESON

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