Before they sell it, she comes back
fiction by Roppotucha Greenberg
Before they sell it, she comes back
In the front room they’re chewing and contesting the will, but in the back the window faces the lake. It’s deep, but two dogs are running right across it.
It’s her voice, but I don’t turn just yet. Their teeth are huge, and the eyes ice blue. Their paws splash cold water. A giant catfish rises, and one of the wolves steps on its back. I feel her breath on my neck as we watch. Behind the glass, underneath the water, a mile or so away, but we see the fronds of seagrass as they dive. The wolf is carried into the depths. Her fingers drum on the window sill. Have we just witnessed a death? Terrified, I turn and I see her big face, her mad hair, her dirty-blue jumper. When I look again, both wolves are safe on the island.
‘Got anything to eat?’.
I follow her to the kitchen where she makes two massive sandwiches.
She pushes the smaller one towards me. I bite it to feel her hunger. Three months in the cold earth would drive you mad for meat. She tells me we need to do a run for supplies, and I think yea right, has she met our pick-up truck; it stalls every time, the bastard, and it’s freezing today. Then I remember that it’s hers. The house welcomes her back; drainpipes unclog themselves, thresholds stop tripping, and the men in the front room talk louder. They’re trying to get rid of me and do a fast sale: that’s why she’s come back.
Later a wolf-cub shelters in our house. His fur is all tangles and dirt. She swathes him in an old coat and feeds him milk mixed with leftover soup and beef hash. We take turns wiping up the puddles. His teeth are like needles and we run out of bandages for our ankles and wrists. At night, he is too scared to sleep by himself, and now my feet are cold and my room smells of wet wolf.
She says she found him, but I know she took the boat out to the island when I wasn’t looking. I can’t trust her. I can’t even talk to her properly. She dusts the banisters, cleans behind the fridge or she’s in the kitchen gobbling slabs of bacon. She never asks what those three months were like, so I rinse the dishes in cold water and tell myself to be grateful. Her return does not end my grief; it negates it. Her suffering shrinks it. Now things insist on just being: these dishes, this soap, this now nearly frozen lake, this January light. She is asleep on the couch, the cub on her chest. I never ask her anything.
At night her body is full of moonlight, but I get lost. I’ve never been great at sex. They’re howling on the island as I weave the lake into the room, let it seep through the walls as I dive under the green ice. I sink past the sleeping catfish and deeper still, but then I’m alone. Splash, and I rush out and run towards her, scraping my feet on the ice. I reach the shore, but there is nothing left of me. Our nights are different from our days.
The truck cooperates, but the roads are iced over, so we barely make it to the village, and when we get there, they are out of everything except beans and condensed milk. The sales assistants either look right through us or give us dirty looks. I’m used to this, but she swears all the way back. She says if we could only get out of here, drive all the way to the city, have a life. The wheels skid, and I’m sick of hearing it.
‘Well, then why did you do what you did, then? If you wanted to have a life. And why did you leave that house to me? Some joke’.
‘You know they’re going to sell it from under you’, she says.
‘Oh I know. You think I don’t hear it day-in and day-out, along with all the pretty names your family choose to call me. What did you do that for?’
She says nothing, just stops the car, tells me to drive, and falls asleep. I smoke half a pack and blast the radio. Back in the house, she agrees to help out with the sandwiches, but then the cub yelps and she disappears. So I’m left alone to feed her pack of grand-uncles and cousins twice removed. Oh I know they’re trying to get rid of me, but I refuse to be impolite. Not that I plan to stick around to watch them chew and grimace. I take the cub for a walk.
The lake is now solid ice. I shuffle behind the cub as he sniffs out a way to the island. I look straight ahead: the frost came on suddenly and there might be ducks trapped underneath, and I don’t want to see that. On the island, the cub lets out a yelp and whizzes off into the bushes. I call him, and then search until the sun goes down and my face goes numb with the cold.
The moon is uneven, half-eaten, and the stars are covered up. The walk back is so long I can feel my limbs stretching, my eyes turning into saucers, my teeth into needles. The house is a black heap, sold by now perhaps, not-ours anymore, and the men are gone. If she’s still there, she’ll get angry. How could I’ve lost the little wolf? Why do I let everything go? And I’ll shout that it’s her fault for stealing him in the first place, and for leaving me to her family to feed on, and for those months, and for coming back in bits and patches, and for not being alive. But she’s not here now, so I howl in the dark.
Roppotucha Greenberg writes micro-fiction on Twitter (@Roppotucha)
Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Ad Hoc Fiction (winners' section). The Evening Theatre, Elephants Never, 101 Fiction, Former Cactus, TSS Publishing (The BIFFY50 competition runner up), Ellipsis Zine, Twist in Time, The Mojave Heart Review, Enchanted Zine, The Forge Literary Magazine, and The Cabinet of the Heed . She lives in Ireland and doodles creatures.