When to Feed the Animals

The day seemed not to notice her. The Sun made no slight dimming and brightening to announce her release into the world. The winds did not gather about and spin her in-stride as she ran through the bluegrass and rye of the great green field across the street from her home. The sky remained soaked in the same clear Azure she knew.

But someone was taking note as Emmie neared the little wood at the center of the park.

Emmie walked. Sometimes skipped a step or two. Sometimes bent to retrieve a likely stick along the woodchip path meandering to the foot bridge. She bounded up the bridge’s two rough-hewn, worn to gray, pine-board stairs.

Often it was little more than a gully, but today the stream ran strong, which was why Emmie was there. She toed the bottom crosspiece of the bridge’s picket fence and hooked her arms around the crowning crosspiece and pitched the stick up-river. Then she unhooked her arms, jumped down and darted to the downriver railing. She hung from her armpits, waiting.

The stick arrived – neither pausing to accept praise nor express its thanks – and continued navigating the fickle currents until Emmie could no longer track it.

This she did again.

And again until she was out of sticks, which arrived just as she wearied of playing. As if the sticks’ counsel had been sought in the devising of the game.

And her armpits hurt, too.

She leapt off the bridge and sometimes running sometimes skipping all times singing continued down the woodchip path. It traced a wobbly U through the little woods so that when she reemerged into the sunlight she would be facing home.

“Ohh!”

Emmie finally noticed who had been watching her. She had been standing near the bridge while Emmie played. She didn’t need to hide to be invisible; she could will it. She stepped from the shadows, muscles tracing sinuous grace, to stand in the woodchip path blocking Emmie’s way.

“Now what will you do,” asked the grey wolf.

She had been led to believe that she knew fear: spiders, thunderclaps, dark basements. But meeting a wolf in the middle of the woods was fear. What that other feeling was she could no longer say.

Nor could she say anything.

“Now that you’ve made enough noise and I will catch nothing to eat, what will you do?”

Emmie stared at her citrine yellow eyes. She was no larger than Snick, but Emmie had no interest in petting her.

The wolf looked off into the distance and yawned. She bent her head as if to snuff a scent and then stared in Emmie’s direction. She did not meet Emmie’s wide and unblinking eyes, but instead scanned the woods. Emmie wondered if the wolf had already tired of her; was planning to paint her future with what colors and canvas lay in reach. She expected the wolf to walk one paw over the next through the spindly dogwoods and maples, down the bushy slope of the bank, leap the stream with the sudden grace of a lightning bolt and continue stepping through the woods until invisible once again.

Instead she asked, “What do you have to eat?”

Emmie surprised herself by being calm enough to answer her.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? Nothing at all?”

Emmie shook her head. The wolf cocked her head at the motion and narrowed her gaze and Emmie saw that she was puzzled and not in the mood for puzzles.

“No, nothing.”

“What about your lair?”

“What?”

“Where do you live?”

Emmie lifted her eyes up the path beyond wolf’s rump.

“Over there? How far over there?”

Emmie shrugged. Again the wolf cocked her head and narrowed her gaze. She asked Emmie if she had ticks or lice.

“No.”

“White flies?”

“No.”

Emmie saw a sense of knowing in the wolf’s eyes, perhaps tolerance for a creature who could not match her own understanding of the world.

“How far,” she asked again.

“It’s on the other side of the great green field.”

“Do you have food there?”

Emmie nodded. The wolf sighed and asked again.

“Yes.”

“Fresh meat?”

“We have turkey sandwiches.”

“Turkey?” She considered this and said, “Okay, what else?”

“We have chicken and peanut butter and pasta. And cheese.”

“Do you have venison?”

“What?”

“Deer.”

“No.”

The wolf dragged a forepaw across her snout and yawned. She stretched her limbs, bowing her back until her nostrils almost touched the rich loam of the woodland floor. Emmie watched as she tensed and relaxed each muscle and the wide and mighty jaws finally clamped shut.

“Fine. Bring me there.”

“I can’t bring you home.”

“Yes you can.”

“But you’re a…”

“Bring the food outside. I’ll wait in the shadows.”

“How will I find you?”

“Walk toward the Moon; I’ll see you.”

“What if there is no Moon?”

The wolf shrugged her shoulders, her almond eyes brightening as if mocking her young friend.

“Okay, okay,” said Emmie.

“Bring turkey and chicken and ham…no peanut butter. Do you have coffee?”

“Yes, but I can’t reach the cabinet.”

“You can reach it.”

“And they’ll see me brewing it. They’ll smell it.”

“Just bring the beans.”

Emmie began to ask “what?” But she closed her mouth on the word. Instead, she asked if she wanted anything else.

“You have gravy?”

“No.”

“You have it. I know it. You have turkey and ham…you have gravy.”

“It’s not that kind of turkey. It’s in slices and it’s cold. We put it in…”

The wolf’s yellow eyes caught the sunlight flickering through the wind-tousled leaves of a dogwood tree, making Emmie pause.

“…in sandwiches. With cheese and tomatoes…and sometimes mustard. Me and my dad like yellow mustard. My mom doesn’t. Actually, she likes Grey Poupon mustard.” She giggled. “Isn’t that funny? Poop on mustard.”

“Bring everything. I’ll sort it out.”

She walked into the presence of the trees, the same wind jostling their same branches and leaves, deflecting the light here and there. And even though Emmie did not cease watching her, the wolf disappeared.

Emmie continued on the woodchip path exiting the woods into the full light of late afternoon. Not until she was away from the lengthening shadows of the tree line did she look back. She considered retracing her journey through the little woods and emerging at the entrance. As if that would change the past or what was to come.

She walked through the great green field arriving home as her father pulled into the garage. She raced to beat him into the kitchen.

At first she had intended to do as the wolf ordered, but as she settled into her routine – grabbing the remote and scanning for a good show; washing up for dinner when her mother told her – she decided no way was she going to meet the wolf along the silvered path of the Moon.

Dinner ended. She helped with the dishes. She passed a soccer ball with her father in their front yard. The Sun finally got to setting. She went inside and ate cut strawberries while her mother answered email, clacking at her laptop, standing at the kitchen counter. Emmie watched the Moon rise in the bay window.

“What would you do if someone asked you for food?”

“Hmmm?”

Emmie continued watching the Moon.

“If someone asked me for food?”

”Yes.”

“What someone?”

“Does it matter?”

”Does what matter?” Her mother finished typing an important sentence and looked up. “Does what matter?”

“Does it matter who asked you?”

“Tell me again what we’re talking about, Emmie?”

“Would you give someone food if they asked for it?”

“Who?”

Emmie exhaled. “Anyone.”

“I guess it depends. Is it someone I know? Is it you?”

“Not me. So, it does matter who.”

“I guess. Yes. Of course.”

“Not just anyone can ask you.”

“If they didn’t need food, yet they walked up and…”

“What if they absolutely didn’t need it? They were strong and got as much to eat as they wanted.”

“Why would someone like that ask me for food?”

Emmie shrugged and her mom returned to her email. Then she stopped.

“Did someone ask you for food, today?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“In the woods.”

“You’re not supposed to leave the great green field.”

Emmie watched the Moon rise.

“Was it a big person?”

“Not really.”

“What does that mean?”

“She was a little shorter than me.”

“Oh. I see. I hope you didn’t tell her, Yes.”

“I told her that I would get her a sandwich but she didn’t want that.”

“Oh, Esmeralda. You shouldn’t have said that. The girl’s mother will feed her. She was just asking for a handout. Kids do that sometimes. I bet her mother wasn’t in earshot, was she?”

Emmie shook her head.

“What…did she want candy or something?”

“She told me to bring everything we had and she’d pick out what she wanted.”

“Oh, jeez.”

“She especially wanted coffee.”

“Oh, jeez. Emmie, I really wish you hadn’t promised anything.”

“She wanted to come home with me. I told her she couldn’t and she went away.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“We were supposed to meet tonight. I was supposed to walk toward the Moon.”

“Don’t think you’re going outside now.”

“I know.”

“Alright. Well.”

Her mom typed for awhile. And Emmie was quiet for awhile.

“She’ll probably forget about it. I wouldn’t worry about it. Have you ever seen her before?”

Emmie shook her head.

“Well. I wouldn’t worry about it. You didn’t tell her where we lived?”

Emmie shook her head, again.

“Good.”

Later that night when her father put her to bed she asked him if it’s okay to feed the animals.

“Like squirrels?”

“Like any animal you see around.”

“That depends on the animal.”

“So which animals can we feed?”

“None of them. We already have enough squirrels and raccoons around here.”

“No to wolves, too?”

“Especially wolves. How do you think Snickers would like having a wolf in his backyard?”

“He wouldn’t.”

“That’s right. So there will be no feeding of wolves in this house.”

He smiled and wagged a finger as he said it and tucked the sheets tight around her body.

“Is that understood?”

Emmie grinned wide and nodded yes.

Later that night she stood at her window watching for the Moon, but it had already set.

She lay awake until morning.

The End

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