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2013 Fiction Contest Winner: ‘Wolf’

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The wolf watchers aligned themselves with their scopes and began scanning. Jim opened his mouth to ask a question, and I put my mitten against his lips and shook my head. He nodded his thanks, knew that I was right about silence now. The wolf howled again.

Jim looked over his shoulder, as if the beast was about to pounce on him, and then did a quick 360-degree search. I thought he was startled, maybe frightened, but then I realized that the look on his face was deep calm, intense concentration. That howling wolf spoke to his heart more directly than the cries of our babies had.

That night, while Jim was in the shower, I called Barbara from our room at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and told her, “Your father has fallen in love with a female alpha wolf.”

“Meaning?” I could hear the background clanking of dinner pots.

“There’s this culture of people who go into the park every single day, and they stay all day, looking for the wolf packs.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“And this has what to do with Dad?”

“I think he does know.”

“Call Mark. Have him talk to Dad.”

“Mark,” I said a few moments later, “I think your dad is considering joining a wolf pack.”

Mark laughed. “Sounds about right.”

“It does? How so?”

“He has that wandering in him.”

This almost offended me. “He’s never wandered from us.”

“No. But essentially he’s a nomad.”

Separate. Quiet. Restless. Yes, the word fit, but I didn’t like it.

“That’s crazy,” I said. “What are you talking about?”

“It just always seemed like he needed a passion.” Mark hesitated, not wanting to hurt my feelings. “He’s always been a little bit sad. Not a lot. But a little bit.”

“And a wolf pack is going to make him not sad?”

“It might.”

Clearly there would be no advantage to putting Mark on the phone with his father. Nor could I make myself tell him that I thought Jim had introduced himself to the wolf watchers as Anatoly.

“Hey, it’s not another woman,” Mark laughed. “Not a human one, anyway.”

“That’s very comforting.”

“What did Barbara say?”

“She said to call you.”

Two hours after sunrise that first morning, the Lamar Canyon pack was spotted. “Got ’em,” said one of the three gray-bearded observers. Later I’d know them as Joe, Gregory, and Zack, but it wasn’t until the next trip that I could tell them apart. He spoke quietly, but with a load of triumph.

“Where?” everyone asked in unison, and the man identified a ridge in the distance, began describing clusters of trees, shapes of long shadows on the snow, and snags that could not be seen with the naked eye.

Jim literally squirmed with the desire to see. One of the gray beards motioned him over to his scope. He spoke quietly, explaining that the alpha female was to the far left, out in front, and that four other pack members were running along behind her.

“Let me adjust the scope,” he said. “They’ve probably run out of view already.”

I saw the others slide their scope handles to the right, following the running wolves. Jim looked again after the adjustment and almost cried out in his joy. He held back the cry, though, and won points, I’m sure, with the viewing pack.

“Did you see?” the gray beard asked, and Jim nodded.

What I saw was my husband’s relationship to those wolves. It was visceral, visual and audible both, as if I could see and hear his heart bursting out of his chest and whizzing out to that pack of freely running canines.

“She…” he said to me later in the car. “She…” So moved he couldn’t finish his sentence, but I knew he was talking about the alpha female, her silvery coat and sprightly legs, her clarity of purpose.

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