Grama peered out between the closet doors, slightly ajar. She did her best to keep her breathing quiet and even despite the giggles that bubbled up in her every time she glimpsed the Wolf through the narrow opening. He'd pulled the flowered quilt up over his snout and was still wearing her lacy bonnet. He kept his head low, only peering out the tiniest bit.
He looked ridiculous and sounded silly too, as he tried to keep Grama's youngest grandchild from coming any closer to him.
"Not today, sweet girl," the Wolf imitated. "I've been feeling under the weather and I certainly don't want to get you sick." He attempted a small cough, which came out sounding deeper than any noise that had ever escaped Grama. The young girl raised an eyebrow.
"Are you sure, Grama? I can make you some tea?"
Such a thoughtful child, this one. Grama hated to deceive her like this. But then she looked back at the Wolf in her bed and had to stifle her laughter once more. The child would forgive her, she decided. Once she was old enough to understand.
It was a bit of unfortunate luck that she had stumbled on them this way. When the Wolf had returned after a morning of hunting, Grama had made them both tea, as was their habit before having an early afternoon lay down. The Wolf, who often teased Grama about her need to wear clothes (sometimes while doing his best to take them off of her), had put the bonnet on for a laugh. Grama was hanging her cardigan up in the closet, and when she turned back to him, already in bed waiting for her, he was attempting to tie the bow beneath his chin and batting his eyelashes furiously at her. Neither of them had expected Red to burst in the door. Just as surely as Red hadn't expected to find a Wolf in her Grama's bedroom.
The day that Grama had first stumbled upon the Wolf, she was fearful, understandably so. He was much bigger than her, and scowling. She’d frozen in place when she’d stumbled upon him, laying near the blackberry bushes a bit beyond her back fence. He was licking a wounded front paw. His head had snapped in her direction and they both stared at one another, each ready to flee. After a moment more, the stress of the situation subsided as each realized that neither was much of a threat to the other. The Wolf was clearly injured, and Grama, while not exactly frail, wasn't as spry as she once had been either. So she ventured the question, "Are you okay?" He revealed his mangled foot, and she went to the house for some ointment. It took some coaxing, but eventually he permitted her to apply it to the spots where several of his claws had once been. He clenched his jaw the first time she touched him and again she tensed, not believing how close she had allowed herself to become to his very pointy teeth.
He stayed near the blackberry bush for a couple more days despite her offer for him to sleep under her covered porch. And then one morning, when she opened the door to head out and check on him, there he was, curled up near her outdoor rocking chair, breathing gently. In this space, she got a better sense of his size. His back legs twisted out to the side, his head upright and resting on his front paws. The L-shape of his body took up the entire side of the porch. She cleared her throat lightly, and he jolted awake. She jumped and again there was a tense moment between them. Her weight shifted back toward the door of her house, his back legs pulled in and ready to leap in the opposite direction. But this moment passed too, and several more after it, the fearful tension draining from their interactions as they became increasingly comfortable around one another and eventually at total ease. After a few weeks, a new kind of tension arrived in their relationship, and Grama and the Wolf found themselves in bed together. Neither of them tried to justify or explain this turn of events. They just enjoyed it for what it was, with no thought about what the future might bring, or worry for anyone else's opinion on the matter.
Grama had enjoyed the solitude of her small cabin in the woods for decades. Not long after her last child had left the nest, she moved up the river and started living full time in what had once been the family's weekend getaway home. She chopped wood, tended a small garden, kept a few chickens, and ventured into town less and less.
The Wolf, on the other hand, was unaccustomed to being on his own. He grew up in a fair sized pack, and when he broke away to start his own family, found several females wanting to join him. Over the years, the Wolf had many children and grandchildren. But when he lost his Alpha, his own status among the pack began to wane and, in his grief at her passing, he did not notice the threat to his leadership until it was too late. The fight was swift, the Wolf on the defensive the entire time. He hadn't clashed with anyone in years, and his abilities had weakened with age and disuse. In the end, he limped away from his family, his front paws torn, his heart nearly shredded. The Wolf had never felt, and truly never been, so alone in his life. As he ventured further away from the territory of the pack, weakening with hunger and despair, he came upon Grama's house like an oasis in the desert. The berries. The chickens. All easy pickings for a wounded wolf. He'd intended to lie down and rest for only a moment.
Red wanted her surprise visit to her grandmother to be exactly that. On a morning visit just last week (the first time her parents had permitted her to make the journey alone) her grandmother was elated when she met her at the front door. She had hummed and bustled around the cabin with a definite spring in her step, clearly overjoyed at the presence of her grandchild. Not that Grama wasn't always happy to see her family, but there was truly a new twinkle in her eye during Red's last visit. Red hoped to bring her that joy again and so when her plans to go to the movies with some friends that afternoon had fallen through, Red hopped on her bike and headed up the wooded path toward her grandmother's house.
And now her grandmother was turning her away.
"No, no tea for me, dear!" said the muffled voice coming from Grama's bed. "Please, just let me rest and come to visit another day. That's a good girl. Be sure to close the door on your way out. You know how that latch can be a bit tricky."
Red furrowed her brow and backed out of the bedroom door, not wanting to look away from the bonneted head resting awkwardly on the pillow.
"Okay, Grama. I guess I'll see you later." Her uncertainty was evident, but Red was not one to question her elders. She dashed across the living room and slammed the door behind her. Poor Grama. Red couldn't recall her ever being sick.She flung her leg over the seat of her bike and raced off to inform her parents of this concerning news.
Red peddled fast and watched intently for rocks in the path. She was so focused on getting home and telling her parents of Grama's ill health that she didn't see the round of firewood come rolling down the hill up ahead and it nearly toppled her. She braked hard, her back wheel lifting slightly as she tried to prevent her momentum from throwing her over the handlebars.
"Oh dear!" Came a voice from atop the hill. "I am so sorry, you came around that corner so fast! Don't expect many speed racers coming down this path!" The woman put her chainsaw down and picked a path through the brush towards Red. "You practicing for the Tour de France or something?"
Red did not respond immediately, needing to catch her breath. The woman stood tall in her work boots and plaid shirt in front of her before she could get out the words to explain.
"My grandmother," she said. "I went to visit her, but she's sick. She has a terrible cough, and she was all bundled up in bed. I'm really worried about her."
"You mean Grama?" said the woodcutter. "The sweet lady who lives up river all by herself?"
"Yes," Red replied. "I need to get home and tell my parents. They always worry because she's up there all alone and has no one to look after her."
"Aw, poor Grama," said the woodcutter. "I've been meaning to head up to her place for the past couple of days. I wanted to warn her about the wolf that's been in the area. A lone wolf. They can be unpredictable and wily. Real tricksters, they are."
"Oh no," said Red, "I hope she locked up her chickens. She's so sick, I don't know if she would remember."
"I'll detour over to her place and check on things. You get yourself home and let your parents know that they might wanna be checking in on your grandmother a bit more often. And don't be coming out here on your own until that wolf has moved on, eh?"
"I will. Thank you." Red placed her feet on the pedals of the bike and was once again on her way.
Grama and the Wolf had enjoyed a raucous laugh after Red's departure. "Poor girl," Grama chuckled. "I'll be sure to phone up her parents this evening and set their minds at ease." Perhaps, she thought, it was time to let her family know about her relationship with the Wolf.
After a short nap, they had woken up hungry enough to start on an early dinner. The Wolf was tending to the casserole in the kitchen while Grama headed out back to pick a bowl of blackberries for their dessert. It was then that the woodcutter made her way up the path to Grama's front door. The door was slightly ajar, as if the latch hadn't closed properly, and she could hear the noise of pots and pans being jostled about. How odd, she thought. Surely Grama didn't recover this quickly? And then she saw, through the kitchen window, the grey, furry, pointed ears of the Wolf. She gently put down her chainsaw so she could grasp her axe with both hands.
Grama looked down into her bowl and decided that she had enough berries for their dessert. The rest of the picking could wait until morning, when the Wolf was off on his daily excursion. She wanted to get back to the house and enjoy their evening together.
As she was opening the back gate, she looked up to see someone hurrying away from the front of the house. Judging from their height and plaid patterned shirt, Grama could tell it was the woodcutter. Grama had been hiring her for the past couple of years to stock up the woodshed before winter, a task that Grama no longer felt the need to undertake on her own. Perhaps she had stopped in to let Grama know she had some firewood for her already? It seemed a bit early in the season. As Grama rounded the side of the house, she saw the woodcutter bend down and pick something up from the path along the front the of house. When she stood, grasping her chain saw in one hand, she held the axe upright in the other, the wooden handle resting against her shoulder, the blade edge pointing behind her, dripping with blood.