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Friendship Sad Fiction

Mon petit loup. My little wolf. That is what I have always called you. I cannot remember when I last used your real name. Silly, a diminutive like that for a big fellow like you.


I gave you this nickname because you seemed so harmless, so gregarious. Sweet and playful on the outside, with all the loyalty and affection of a puppy. Wolf cubs look much like puppies, don’t they? Hard to distinguish these wild predators from well-trained little pets.


In time, I saw you for what you were, wolf, liked how easily you kept your inner predator under control, how well you had trained him. You could have done anything you wanted, taken anything you wanted. Yet you chose a much better path, a simple life, true only to yourself and those you loved. Chose not to be defined by what you did but by who you are. Felt no need to prove anything to anyone. How I admired you, this confident independence I longed for and enjoyed vicariously through you.


Do you remember the first time you baked for me?


Chocolate cake.


Your speciality, you said. You forced me to come, to try it.


I obliged at last, for I could invent no more excuses and, certainly, I had nothing better to do at the weekend. Besides, you were aggressively friendly. A fine quality, I know now, but at the time it aroused in me nothing more than sceptical desire to maintain safe distance.


That damned cake of yours was nothing short of inedible. You had used the wrong size of tin, breezed inattentively through the recipe with incorrigible disregard for detail, left it in the oven for too long while you finished telling me one of those interminable stories of yours, about one of those absurd people you attracted, like a magnet, while I laughed until my sides hurt.


When you finished talking, you tossed your ghastly, black-rimmed confection onto the table with a sportsmanlike flourish which seemed oddly fitting: the ruddy thing was as dense and dry and inedible as a discus.


The first slice you cut was for your dog, who turned from it wisely, preferring to take elevenses from her own bowl. I liked that about you, how you served her more attentively than us humans, whose coffee you dumped on the table like a bucket of pigswill.


You asked me what I thought of your cake, remember?


How polite I was, before we knew each other well!


I told you a careful fib as you hacked me another unsolicited slice of your round cocoa breezeblock, cigarette dangling from the corner of your mouth. 


“Wonderful,” I lied, swallowing laboriously, “Especially with coffee. Really, the only thing which could possibly improve a cake like this would be a pinch of salt.” 


You looked at me like I was mad. And scoffed. Actually scoffed.


Nobody, dear, could ever scoff quite like you. It is a dying art.


“Perhaps,” you mused slowly, with your sardonic half-smile, “This is an Anglo-Saxon custom. But in France, it simply is not done, gamine.” 


Gamine. Kiddo, little girl. That’s what you called me, how you saw me; you said it for the first time that day, never stopped.


Of course, you were wrong about the salt. You were wrong about so many things, mon petit loup. I did my best to set you straight.


It was a waste of time; you laughed me right out of my convictions. Indeed, rather than learning from me, you taught me that choking down godawful cake in fine company is better than fine dining with a bore. 


But how rude I thought you, mon petit loup, before we knew each other well! 


Dismissive, cavalier, utterly resistant to even the most common-sense argument, to any argument which contradicted your opinions, even those you held lightly, arbitrarily. 


These qualities of yours made me laugh, made my heart sing; they told me you were free, liberated from the judgement of others, from self-judgement, free to do exactly as you pleased. What pleased you was simple: joy, your own, and before all else the joy of those you loved. 


It took me time to realise that, for such an affable man, you loved so very few people. How could it be, then, that I was one of the elect? Why me? I was a shrinking violet, hiding behind oversized glasses and garish dresses and gargantuan books, an excuse ready for every party, fearing that whatever I did, I did inadequately. I was lacklustre. An unattractive, unremarkable bore, incapable even of doing that which I desired the most, having a baby of my own. My husband, in his brief returns home between affairs, reminded me of this continually. I bought a puppy to assuage my loneliness, not knowing then that what I needed was a wolf. He hated her. Took her away, dumped her, laughed in my face. 


“You’d be surprised how easy it is to get rid of a dumb, hairy bitch who does nothing but sit around eating and whining. Especially when she’s spayed.” 


He looked at me pointedly. I was his dog, until you came along, he got rid of one as an example to the other, mon petit loup.


Yet every dog has her day. 


My day began with your cake, lasted nearly half a century. I fell in love, that day, every day that followed, with how glibly you dismissed your mistakes, how you rejected all criticism unless it was spoken with love, by someone you loved.


When you were wrong, you were wrong with such splendid confidence that no-one, not even an expert, dared challenge you. You would raise a hand, your chin, perhaps an eyebrow; a smile would slowly stretch your full lips, you would nod sagely without speaking: a pantomime of languid and indulgent courtesy, enough to silence all but the most relentless opponents, whose gravitas you rendered foolish with humour or indifference, whose vehemence became ridiculous when you answered it in gratuitous, yielding insincerity.


I fell in love, that day and every day after it, with that beautiful arrogance of yours, that unshakeable self-assurance, with everything you were that I am not, with all of you, even that great hooked nose of yours, which you never liked, no matter how many times I told you it looked regal, like a reproduction of a conqueror’s profile found on some ancient coin. 


Ever since that day, you have been quite perfect in my eyes. Perfect, specifically because you could be so perfectly horrid: a horrid man with horrid manners who makes horrid cake and laughs too much at his own horrid jokes, every bit as horrid as a mouthful of salt.


Salt, mon petit loup.


I have long thought about that day, about how you brought salt into my life; how together, we were the salt and chocolate in the perfect cake. I was the soft, melting, submissive chocolate, loving you, pooling around you, absorbing you, longing to be perfected by you, by the tang of your sharp superiority, the sting of your mordant wit. Without you, I was sickly, insipid. I lacked character, felt indistinct, one like ten thousand forgettable others.


Yet it goes both ways. On your own, like that first cake you baked for me, you were intolerable. My gentle sweetness made you more palatable, mon petit loup. It does not surprise me, not at all, that you, being such a perceptive and social animal, realised this long before me. Strong as you were, you dissolved into me without the slightest resistance. We complemented one another, made one other whole; together we were a delight.


But do you remember the first time I baked for you, mon petit loup?


It was the following Saturday; you casually invited yourself to my house in return for your hospitality, oblivious to the fact I did not care for company, preferred spending my weekends marinating in lotion and sadness.


Salt. You disrupted me, transformed me into something new, brighter, more alive.


Before you were even awake, I suppose, I took my brownies from the oven, eyed them critically, wondered if I was quite strong enough to bear your opinions on my cooking. You, who made our idiot boss cry by simply raising your great black eyebrows in disbelief.


I thought there was time to dump the evidence, to grab something plain and bland from the pâtisserie; something for which I would not be held accountable, something nondescript, characterless, representative of myself.


I was wrong. When you came, my brownies were still on the table; I was still topless at the bathroom mirror, washing, touching up my makeup. I did these things constantly, fearing the offensive mediocrity of my own face, my perfume, my person.


You arrived hours early with neither explanation nor apology, chewing gum, wearing that leather jacket you always did, waltzed through the unlocked door and into my hallway unannounced. You proceeded to shout, by way of greeting, that probably you ought to have knocked.


I had to welcome you in my kimono, the closest thing to clothing I could reach without parading in front of you naked. I did not want to spoil your appetite.


You pretended to find it charming. I appreciated your kind lie and did not mention your overfamiliar entrance.


“It’s so strange to see you dressed like this, gamine. Without your terrifying heels and dresses, you look as sweet and delicate as you are on the inside.”


That’s what you said, if you remember, as you kissed me too hard on the cheeks, inhaled me too deeply, pulled me in too close, made me lose my breath. Your smell, your lips on my skin, your hands on my back, the way you saw me, the way you could find something sweet to say, even to me. You disarmed me, made me weak, briefly challenged my infallible morals.


I can tell you this, mon petit loup; any danger is now long past.


In any case, it is nothing you did not know, nothing my racing heart did not tell you in so many of the other embraces we shared through the decades. That first time, though, it caught me off guard entirely. Were it not for the ring on my finger, for my indomitable stiff upper lip, I might have considered kissing you back, on the mouth, unbuttoning your shirt slowly, running my red nails down your chest, untying my robe, pressing against you, pulling you up against the wall, into me. 


Salt. The new flavour in my life was overwhelming.


But wallflowers do not kiss strange men and, on this occasion, I am glad to have been a wallflower, too modest to unleash her animal desire, for had I done so, I would have destroyed a beautiful marriage. Not yours, nor the one with my husband, which had been dead in the water since the day I came home crying from the doctor’s office. No, that perfect, platonic marriage, the marriage of salt and chocolate, our friendship, you and me, which teetered so gracefully through the years, right on the edge of propriety.


Salt and chocolate. Almost sinful. Heavenly in just the right proportions.


You sniffed the air with suspicion, smiled with faint benevolence.


“You have prepared something. Good, I was waiting. A cake of salt, I hope, for it seems, gamine, that I have much to learn from you, the doyenne of the great Anglo-Saxon cuisine.”


“Idiot,” I said, giggling, surprised by the charm in your condescension.


You laughed, slung an arm affectionately around my shoulder, and walked me into my kitchen, guided only by the smell of fresh baked goods. You sat at my table, as though it were yours.


“Ah. You have made us a hash brown,” you said gravely.


“Yes, brownies,” I nodded, hoping to correct you gently.


You blushed as you smiled at me. It was the first time I saw you blush, felt you vulnerable, a moment which turned my budding platonic love for you into something more than friendship, into protective, familial affection, something I was careful not to hand out liberally, having lived long enough to know that this gentle, pure devotion explodes like a grenade of hurt when thrown back in your face.


“Brownies,” you repeated quietly, like a child admonished, quickly slapping that perfect self-possessed smile back on your face and cutting us two immense hunks, doorstops.


I was sorry, then, that I had said anything. I did not want to hurt you, mon petit loup. This was the first time I realised the ease with which your big heart bruised; I felt like an emotional pioneer, the first to discover it, as though nobody but me, not one of your admirers, could read those little gestures, those vulnerabilities you concealed with such aplomb.


Instead, I asked you what you thought, just as you had done the week before.


“It is as lovely as you, gamine. But I did not come here for cake.”


“Oh?”


You shook your head. 


“I came because you ate mine and pretended to like it.”


There was more, I knew, so I waited for you to finish chewing, on the brownie, on the idea forming in your mind. Your ideas were so beautiful.


“You know, after you left, I threw the whole thing away. And now, after eating this fabulous brownie, I have decided to retire from baking and focus on my eating career instead.”


You patted your stomach, drawing it in self-consciously as soon as I looked.


You were so silly sometimes, mon petit loup. I never fully understood how it was possible such good looks and confidence could hide such baseless insecurity. How I hated to see it! I told you so many times that you were perfect, meant it every time.


If we had not both resigned ourselves to a life of loveless fidelity at that stage, perhaps we could really have loved. Yet perhaps we did.


I laughed with you again, then paused, looked to your eyes for guidance. They did not match your smile, your light-hearted tone. They were tired and sad, like mine. I said nothing, for no words came, just held that gentle gaze until your response finally followed, a hand across the table, barely brushing mine. We remained a moment in easy silence before you finally spoke.


“I came because I knew I had found a real friend in you, gamine, and I know,” you added slowly, with conviction, “That I will be yours one day too. Friendship is nothing more, after all, than refusing to stop showing up. This is what I will do. I cannot lose you.”


How unfairly I dismissed those words, at the time, as accidental by-products of a glib tongue.


You proved me wrong. Time did. You never stopped showing up.


Never stopped calling me gamine, little girl, let me remain your little girl even though my dreams of having a child of my own were long dashed, even when my hair was white and my teeth spent their nights in a glass.


How wrong I was to underestimate you, to be reticent with you for so long.


I feared I had idealised you. It took me decades to fathom that you were truly ideal, that together, we formed an ideal partnership, salt and chocolate, neither one perfect alone, each perfected by the other.


For forty-seven years, you walked strongly and faithfully by my side. For the last one I sat by yours, held your hand as gently as you once held mine. You were sad then, I know. Yet in almost half a century, you never once disappointed me, especially not then. It was then that I knew you best, that you impressed me most. Your dignity, your laughter, your courage.


Knowing you was the greatest honour of my life. You made me whole, gave me purpose, let me soak in your strength and wisdom. You healed me, and I you.


You the little wolf, I the little girl; you protecting me as I tamed you, completing one another in friendship and bonding with the earnestness of children, over bad cake and failed marriages and the inconsequential horrors of daily life, the stupid ailments of old age, our flippant thoughts on which one of us would die first, who was worse at chess.


Where would I be without you? What would I do without you?


These were our platonic I love yous.


We spent almost half a century asking one another those rhetorical questions.


Now, I ask myself these same things in earnest, but without the reassurance of your big laugh, your smart mouth, your unique talent for banishing my fears with one little joke.


I never thought this moment would come, never thought I would find myself staring into the awful void of your absence, forced to carry on, little girl once more, lost, without my wolf to protect me. Would this have been any easier for you, tame wolf?


I did not want to come today, mon petit loup. I did not want today to come.


You know how little I care for handshakes and sympathy. It was you who liked going places. Without you, it seems pointless. If I am here, it is only because you taught me that day, long ago, that friendship is what happens when one person simply refuses to stop showing up for the other. I will maintain this tradition for you, just as I did at your bedside.


You are gone. Must our friendship go with you? In life we shared everything. When you died, a piece of me died with you; for as long as I still live, as a piece of you lives on in my heart.


Take this chocolate, this salt. Take them to heaven with you, let us be together in paradise now, just as you have been my paradise on earth.


Adieu, mon petit loup. Je t’aime.

July 27, 2021 09:53

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7 comments

Francis Daisy
21:30 Aug 25, 2021

Your writing is beautiful. How lucky am I to have been matched with you for the Critique's Circle? I am no match for you though...your stories...your writing...I can't even come up with the words to comment. I am in awe. 🌺Amy

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Renu Thakur
01:42 Aug 05, 2021

The extrovert and introvert are very well brought out ,almost like a tango they move to a special tune

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Sorcha Wilde
14:43 Aug 06, 2021

Hi Renu, Wow! What a really lovely and thoughtful comment! Thank you so much for your time and kind words. Happy writing (: Sorcha

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Crystal Lewis
02:30 Aug 02, 2021

Very deep but rather sad at the end 😞 good use of metaphors and description

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Sorcha Wilde
06:41 Aug 02, 2021

Hi Jay Thank you so much for the nice words. I really appreciate the feedback Happy writing (: Sorcha

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Jon Casper
20:53 Jul 27, 2021

I long for the day that I am able to write something so moving. Such beautiful heartache here. I regret I have only one "like" to offer. Unbelievably good.

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Sorcha Wilde
22:05 Jul 27, 2021

Hi John, Wow! Thank you so very much for your lovely and encouraging comment. You are too kind! Happy writing (: Sorcha

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