When I said Grandma had been devoured by a wolf,
They all believed--
Each villager, each lumberjack, each huntsman.
No matter that no wolves live in that forest;
They did not question that there had been a wolf.
There were blood and bodies.
Surely that was proof enough.
No need to look too closely at the wounds,
To notice that the slashes and gouges
Were never made by teeth.
They believed, or wanted to believe...
Which is almost the same thing.
They did not ask
Why a mother would send her only child
Deep in a winter wood
Filled with feral dogs and catamounts and bears,
Why she would make me wear
A cloak of a color to draw a hunter's eye,
Or why a woman would let her old, sick mother-in-law
Dwell far from a village,
Far from human company,
As alone as if
She had no family at all.
They did not ask.
They did not want to.
The tale I told was almost true.
My mother did give me
Cakes and wine for Grandma;
She did bid me not to stray from the path.
Of course I strayed.
The path was long and straight and dull,
And I knew the forest and its shortcuts
Better than my mother dreamed.
I arrived at the cottage quite soon
And found the door was ajar.
I knew that something was wrong.
Grandma feared bandits
(And worse things she would not speak of)
Too much to leave the door open.
Leaving the basket outside--
In case I had to punch and kick--
I crept into the cottage.
I will not say the house was too quiet;
Grandma's house was never noisy.
But this stillness was oppressive--
A hungry, eager silence
Of something that lurked in shadows.
Oh, I wanted badly to flee.
But I had to get my grandma out of here.
So I pushed open the bedroom door,
And smelled the coppery stink of blood.
I did not say, "Grandma, what big eyes you have,"
For her eyes were forever closed;
Mine were the ones as large as millstones.
"What big ears you have."
My mother said that
When she turned,
Axe in hand,
From butchering my Grandma's body--
A pillow still over its face--
And saw me gaping
At what was not true,
What could not be true.
In that terrible instant,
I was supposed to stay on the path--
The long way round--
Or else stray from the path
And get lost
A disobedient child, suffering a tragic accident.
Even if she did not kill me,
Who would not suppose,
If I vanished,
That dogs, wildcats or bears
Had devoured me as well?
And then she would be free of both of us--
The mother-in-law she hated,
The child she did not love,
Did not want,
And could not afford to keep.
I had spoiled everything by arriving too soon.
I thought this in a second.
Then I fled,
My mother's footsteps quick behind me.
I was almost to the door--
And then she reached out
And grabbed my red hood,
Pulling me back,
Trying to strangle me,
Trying to break my neck.
I fought and bit and struck and clawed;
I let out low wavering howls of shock and pain.
I was more animal than girl,
And so I did not beg for my life.
I did not dare
To waste a precious second
She held me fast,
Gripping me by the hair and the hood with one hand,
Pinning me to the wall with her legs and body
As she swung her bloodstained axe at me with the other.
I tried to bob and dodge,
But there was not much room...
And then...the axe.
The axe came close enough
For me to grab it.
She had to shift position
To try to wrench it free;
In an instant, I was no longer pinned,
And both of my hands
Were gripping the handle of the axe.
She was older and stronger,
But I was crazed with fear and rage and hate--
And what happened next was very simple.
I do not wish to speak of it.
Afterwards, I stood--
I know not how long--
In silence, staring into nothing
Until I heard a whuffing sound,
And for a moment
I thought I was dreaming.
For I saw a wild dog enter the house
And then another,
And some pups.
The smell of both had attracted them.
Or else, whispered a dark corner of my brain,
My mother taught them not to fear fire
But to see the cottage as a source of food.
The male dog stared at me with golden eyes,
Then padded into my grandmother's room.
The female began tearing at my mother's arm.
The pups started licking
Her congealing blood from the floor.
And I knew, suddenly,
That I could bear no more.
I ripped the bloody cloak from my shoulders,
Threw it to the feral dogs,
And ran through the woods
Until I saw hearthfires
I told them my story...
Or as much of it as they could bear,
As much as they would be willing to hear.
I still keep silent;
Silence is safe.
My mother was a monster
(But no one else need know that)
And a monster slew the monster
(No one need know that, either).
I'll hide my beast-face 'neath my girl-skin--
At least until the weather is warm,
When I can flee the woods of winter
And leave the sounds of screams
And dripping blood
I wonder if I will live happily elsewhere,
If I will outpace the soft pad of patient paws behind me,
If I will see a woolen cloak that is not soaked with blood,
If I will look into my own eyes in a pond
And not see a wolf and my mother staring back.
I do not think monsters are allowed to be happy,
And I learned for all time this winter
That no one lives ever after.
All I can do is hide;
We wolves are good at hiding.
I'll find old-fashioned clothes,
Put on my grandmother's name,
And find a place to live
Far from these woods and wails and whispers.
I will smile, and play at being human.
But I will keep my tooth sharp--
My blood-stained metal tooth
That I have borne since that day.
What's sharp keeps you strong.
You need sharp teeth
When you are a wolf.