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2013 Fiction Contest Winner: ‘Wolf’

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“Oh, 31?” Neil retorted. “He’s been there since before sunrise. I recognized his voice, which made it quite clear that he was somewhere in that stand of alders.”

Ashley swung her scope 45 degrees to the right, as if she’d suddenly become aware of a whole new wolf situation and Neil, who’d pulled back from his scope for the argument, couldn’t resist pushing his eye back against the eyepiece and swinging his that way, too. I bet there was nothing there at all. Ashley was just messing with Neil.

The entire group usually stayed all day, until the last possible chance of a sighting at dusk. “See you in the morning!” they’d call out quietly at the end of the day, packing up their scopes. On our last night in the park that second trip, Jim and I overheard them making arrangements to have dinner together. Michelle was cooking spaghetti for everyone at her place just outside Silver Gate. Jim was hurt that we hadn’t been invited.

“Why would we be?” I asked him, appalled at his feeling of belonging. “We don’t know these people. We have lives 200 miles away, a house, grown children, and grandchildren. We have jobs.”

After dinner in our hotel, while Jim interrogated a wildlife tour guide he’d found in the lobby, I sat on a nearby couch and called Barbara. I felt as if I shouldn’t let him out of my sight, though I couldn’t name what it was I feared.

“Mom, it’s late. I’m trying to get the kids to bed.”

“I know,” I whispered, feeling as if I were betraying Jim by telling on him to our children.

“We’re back in the park.”

“You mean Yellowstone?”

“Yes.”

Barbara paused, and I was gratified that she was finally getting the situation. “So that Dad can look for wolves again?”

“Yes.”

In her silence I heard her decide that she couldn’t do anything about my problem. “Girls,” she called to her daughters. “You want to say hi to Grandma?”

After she put them each on an extension, I greeted my two granddaughters, 3 and 5 years old, by telling them, “Your grandpa wants to become a wolf.”

The older one, Bella, giggled, but Heidi said nothing. I may have scared her. Bella said, “Grandma, that’s not possible. That only happens in fairytales.”

“True,” I forced myself to admit.

There was no call for frightening my grandchildren. Nor was it fair to hope for support from five- and three-year-olds. But children can sometimes believe the unbelievable, and I needed someone to witness this change in my husband. Bella snickered again, and Heidi started to ask a question, but Barbara took the phones away from them and announced bedtime. I heard shrieking, and Barbara hung up without saying goodbye. She often assumed rudeness was okay in the wake of parenting, and that I’d understand having had two children myself, but I could have used a “goodbye” and “I love you.”

Two weeks later, we were back in Yellowstone, and this time Anatoly had me drop him off in Lamar Valley. We both doubted very much that the National Park Service condoned camping in the backcountry, at least not here in the most common wolf territory, but there was no talking him out of it. I tried the tactic of telling him that if Joe, Gregory, Zack, Michelle, Ashley, Louise, or Neil found out, he’d be shunned. Not disturbing the wolves in their habitat was the supreme rule.

Never mind the fact that he’d never camped a day in his life. Here we were, though, in the Lamar Valley, in the pitch black of extreme early morning, so he could get out of sight before the wolf watchers arrived. He’d outfitted himself with a backpack, tent, stove, and snowshoes. I insisted on no meat products in his pack, which he agreed was a good idea, but nothing else I suggested held any weight.

I love my husband and I feared for his life, I truly did, but after 30 years of marriage you do learn that you can’t stop anyone from doing something they want to do. You really can’t. And in the case of my husband sleeping with the wolves, “want” wasn’t an even close approximation to the verb needed to describe what Anatoly was after.

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