Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, "Wolves"

An older woman befriends an imaginary wolf.

(from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2006)

But she could have said something. Once she would have. She would have said the word after him: wolf. Then they would have begun to play with the word, with the wolf. It would have run back and forth from his chair to her chair, changing the color of its fur as they changed their descriptions of the beast they had brought alive, a jagged scar suddenly appearing on one side of its nose as they invented its story, its near-disastrous encounter with an elk, its wheezing after it was caught in a rock slide and lay for two days in rain and snow, the time in the cave without food, the small animal that returned to its den only to find the hungry wolf there, the wolf sleeping with his head pillowed on the carcass of the dead animal, sleeping in the cave until his ribs healed.

By I Read A Short Story Today standards, this is a long story. But not so long that it should have taken me a week to finish, which it did. I would put it down when I was tired, pick it up when I was tired. This is a terrible way to read a heavy story like this, and so I found myself re-reading passages read in a previous session. And I’d invariably notice something new in those sentences I’d missed the first time around. The writing is so pretty, so contemplative. Idiosyncracies are tougher to convey through writing than outright strangeness, I’ve noticed, but this story treats them as equal mysteries. Very, very cool.

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