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2013 Fiction Contest Winner: ‘Wolf’

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The problem was getting him out, and hopefully back, without anyone seeing him. Even though he was setting out well before the wolf watchers arrival, I dropped him far from any of the pullouts, and then he had to hoof it fast, headlamp strapped to his forehead, to get out of sight of the road. How he’d get back to the road the next day, without being spotted, I didn’t know. Or even care. By this time I thought his arrest might be the best outcome.

I lay in bed that night, back in the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, reading a book. I’d already gone to the ranger talk and eaten a multicourse dinner, to pass the time, but there was no television reception out there, so I was left with a book and my thoughts. I’ll spare you the gratuitous details of those. I did sleep for a couple of hours.

The next day I sat in the Ford Fiesta, the engine running so that I could have heat, and scanned the landscape with my binoculars. Earlier, as I scraped the ice off the windows of the car in the dark, I felt like a fool. Why I had allowed this, I didn’t know. I should have insisted on a counselor. I could have refused to be an accomplice. He wouldn’t have been able to get anyone else to help him. I could have put a stop to the whole enterprise.

Instead I had dropped the man off in the soul of February, temperatures barely hovering over zero degrees, in wolf country. My own husband. Seriously, I was the one who should have made an appointment with a counselor.

“You’re enabling,” Barbara had told me a few days earlier.

Mark only laughed, angering me with his blithe reaction. Men supporting men’s harebrained schemes.

What had I done? Introducing my husband as Anatoly was an embarrassment. But explaining that he’d lost his life because I left him off in wolf country in the middle of a winter night was probably criminal.

I saw a dot on the snowy ridge. A moving dot. Just one, with two legs. I trained my binoculars on the animal and whispered, “Got ’im.”

As my husband loped toward me, I checked his gait for a limp. None. As he drew even closer, I looked for blood or pain on his face. Again, none.

I’d wanted him to live, of course, but I realized then that I’d also hoped for pain, for a terrifying experience that would cure him of this newfound love of the wild. Hope and expectation are two different things, though, and seeing that he was fine, just fine, I shifted into the latter. I knew what I would see when he reached the car. A hard, wolfish stare. Maybe a growl. Claims of spiritual visitations. I half-expected him to have found a downed animal and be hauling the pelt, maybe wearing it draped across his shoulders. We’d gone past the chance of a counselor helping us. We’d need an intervention.

Jim pulled the door of the passenger seat open and stuck in his head. “Open the trunk?” I heard him dump his sodden backpack on top of the extra jackets and boots, followed by a clacking of snowshoes, and then he was back at the passenger door, opening it, and dropping into the seat. Would he howl at me?

For the first time I wished for the company of Joe, Gregory, Zack, Michelle, Ashley, Louise, and Neil. Unfortunately, the wolf watchers were in a different part of the park that day, but if they’d been there, they surely would have reported my husband to the Park Service and every other wildlife protection agency. They would never again allow him to set up his scope alongside theirs. He would be a pariah, this man who would disturb the wolves, who believed that he alone could beat his own DNA, join, even for a night, a different species. But they weren’t there, so I was left on my own to accept my husband’s experience.

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