THE WOLF WHO ARRIVED HOME EMPTY-HANDED
By Wes Tern
After rehearsing the lie he planned to tell his wife as he paced back and forth outside the den, the wolf finally broke down and entered the den and told his wife the truth.
“I was over by the McCoy house again,” he said. “The house on the hill.”
“I know where the McCoy house is,” the wife said.
“I heard a baby crying inside the house,” the wolf went on. “So, I snuck a little closer.”
“Of course, you did,” his wife said.
“Anyway,” the wolf said. “As I stood there listening and staring at the open window of the house, the mother of the baby, at least I assume it was the mother, tried to hush the baby. ‘Shhh,’ she told the baby. “Shhh.’ But the baby kept crying and crying and the mother was beginning to lose it, you know, she was going crazy with all that crying, and she yelled at one point, ‘For God’s sake, stop crying! I swear, if you don’t stop right now, I’ll throw you out to the wolves!’—”
“Let me guess,” the wolf’s wife interjected. “You believed her.”
“What reason did I have not to?” he said. “She sounded like she meant it.”
The wife shook her head. “Men,” she muttered. “You guys are so clueless.”
“I went closer,” the wolf continued. “I know it sounds stupid, but I half expected a baby to come flying out the window.”
“It’s a turn of phrase,” the wife said. “You know. Like when someone says it’s raining cats and dogs, or I’m so hungry I could eat a horse. Or when someone says it takes forever to get to some place. You can’t take words like that literally.”
“People do this all the time. They say one thing but mean another.”
“Can I finish the story?” the wolf said.
“That poor mother,” the wife said. “I know what she’s going through. Do you remember when our little one was born? I didn’t sleep for two months.”
“So, the mother tells the baby she’ll throw it out the window,” the wolf continued. “She yelled this so loud I could hear it fifty feet away, and of course mothers don’t mean things like that when they say them, but the very idea she said it made me think she might, that it was possible, and I got excited about seeing that baby come flying through the window and I tiptoed closer and closer and I stared at that window. The smell made me stop. I froze. I sniffed the air. I didn’t know what it was, then I saw the two German Shepherds. They were sniffing the air too. They were coming around the house, walking toward me, but they hadn’t yet seen or smelled me—luckily, I was downwind—and so I bolted around the other side of the house and took off running, and I heard the dogs start barking a few seconds later and so I ran even faster and I didn’t stop, which is why I was panting so hard when I arrived.”
“And also,” she added, “why you came home without supper.” She looked at their pup over in the corner. “Let’s talk about this later,” she said. “The baby you’re responsible for doesn’t care why you have no food for him, only that you don’t have it. Can you go and get something, please? A squirrel, a mouse, or even a lizard? Anything.”
“Of course,” he said obediently.
He loped off into the forest and felt secretly glad with himself for telling his wife the truth, even though he knew it reinforced the idea she had that he was dumb—or rather, not that he was dumb, but that he made poor choices sometimes. The truth was, he did. He knew it was stupid to go poking around the human neighborhood. He knew he had no business there. Right then, he realized he was trotting in the direction of the McCoy house again, and he laughed at himself. Yes, he would go back there. He would go there and he would end up admitting this to his wife, and he would get in trouble all over again. But not that day. That day, he turned and headed east, toward the river. Every animal stopped there to drink and so it was usually a great place to hunt. He knew what his role was and he played it. That’s why he went to the river. But the whole way there he thought about that baby, its mother, and the dogs. He couldn’t wait to go back and see what was going on at the McCoy house.