His wife screams. The garage opened before, maybe? She is still screaming. It comes to him as though he were at the bottom of the ocean, in the belly of a whale. His head is pinned to the bulletin board, back stiff against the far wall. He is sitting on the dinette bench. His neck hurts. Down the hall, the door to the garage is open to the family room. He just sees this. The screams come from behind it. Probably have been. For how long?
His first conscious thought is of the boy. Has to be: a rabbit in his mouth, entering through the sliding door from the back porch, standing opposite his wife, blood dripping lightly onto the rug, a proud rounding of his eyebrows, his catch, throttled and limp. His wife stares and screams. The grocery bag dropped, ripped at her feet, apples settled in a semi-circle around her. Had she gone to the grocery?
The garage must have opened. His feet are curled under the bench, asleep. Or he’d get to them. The screaming amplifies. Must be the boy, not yet five, but gone feral not long after the baby was born, taken to chasing rabbits in the land behind their house, hiding in the Brandywine crabapple near the shed, looking to jump on the wild turkeys that come to eat the fallen fruit. He hasn’t caught anything, but his wife worries. She is still screaming. He tells her it is a phase. Far better than staring at a screen all day. Far better than couch life. She says he’s wild. So are all little boys, he tells her. They don’t chase rabbits. They don’t hide in trees to pounce on turkeys. He thinks he’s a hawk, he laughs to her. It is not funny. There are bears and coyotes back there, she says. The boy is smart, he tells her. He is not yet five, she says. The boy is smart.
He had been asleep in the recliner, the little one on his chest, when the boy woke him angry. Monstro is not a real whale. What? he said. Monstro is not a real whale. He looked up and Pinocchio was on. If he’s going to watch TV let him watch the classics, he had told his wife. Monstro is not a real sperm whale, the boy said too loudly. Shshsh. Sperm whales don’t sleep at the bottom of the ocean. Lower your voice, he whispered. Sperm whales don’t sleep at the bottom of the ocean, the boy repeated. The whale eye on the screen flashed open at a school of fish. If you wake your sister, he threatened. Sperm whales sleep floating still, like this, said the boy, standing upright and lifting his brown eyes and chin towards the textured ceiling. But the floor is not here—it is just water. They don’t sleep at the bottom. Quiet, he said, the baby stirring. They don’t sleep at the bottom, the boy yelled. Don’t wake your sister, he shouted back. Monstro’s mouth smoked from the wreck, on fire inside, set by the wooden-boy, shocking and frightening the old man. He’s a fake whale!
The boy is smart, he told his wife.
She is still screaming. His feet, uncurled, hurt. The dishes from lunch are piled around the sink. Her pump stuff hasn’t been cleaned. What has he done? Fallen asleep at the bench. The boy must have gotten out. The turkeys are grizzled, the rabbits dumb. His bet is a rabbit. But the boy comes into view from the wrong way, stepping past the door to the garage, staring across the room before his wife’s hand grabs the boy too hard by the scruff, pulling him back out of view.
Panic. The baby. He was supposed to be watching the baby. His feet are on fire as he scrambles to them. He was supposed to be watching the baby. The baby had… the baby had… the baby had fallen asleep. Was safely asleep in the family room, in the bassinette, in the old wooden bassinette that looked like something out of Mother Goose, that the boy had asked if they could hang in the bough of the crepe myrtle on a windy day, Rock-a-bye baby. That’s right. The boy had gone with his wife, had gone with Mommy to the store to give him a break, to let him clean up and rest. His wife was giving him a break, taking the feral boy out to the store, because since dawn the boy had been hiding behind doors and in dark corners of rooms and jumping out and tripping him and pouncing on his back, going for his neck. His wife was giving him a break from being hunted. But she is now screaming.
Down the short hallway, his mind going everywhere and nowhere, his head buzzing with his wife’s screams. Is she even breathing? It must be the baby. He approaches the room ready to vomit, pulling the door to the garage back—too hard, the hinges squealing. His wife is there in shock, white knuckled on the boy’s neck. A smell, sweet and rotten, hits him. He feels cold air. The boy, numb to the fingernails drawing his blood, smiles. Under his wife’s scream, he hears from across the room the recliner—rhythmic and discordant. He had been meaning to call about the chair. It was new—not more than four months old. A gift to themselves for the baby. A place to rock her to sleep. A huge expense. It broke almost immediately. Something popped and it now makes a terrible sound, too loud for her to sleep. It rocks hard across the room next to the open sliding door, the afternoon chill entering, the smell bringing tears to his eyes.
The baby girl—their girl, his girl—is asleep, peaceful and sound, her pink unicorn onesie rising and falling so softly, a trickle of saliva in the corner of her mouth, wetting the white undercoat of the outstretched wolf, cradling the girl gently to its breast—the slight, delicate foreleg bent unnaturally to support her head. The wolf is long, reclining on the chair, it’s snout cocked at an awkward angle, trying not to wake the baby with its hot, rank breath on her head. The wolf’s mud-capped hind paws, flexed, keeping the chair’s pace.
It rubbed itself in that smell, whispers the boy. His wife’s scream stops abruptly. To bring the scent back to the pack, the boy adds, letting them know what is around. Oh, she says. Blacks and browns mix, staining the stiff guard hairs of the wolf’s grey coat protecting its light belly—puffy and winter-thick, except the outline of his sleeping daughter, her depression exposing just how thin this wolf is. Burs and thorns, thistles and brambles line the pelage like epaulets. He is suddenly, uncontrollably on fire and sick—a wreck, fearing the scratches they will leave on her cheeks.