My Encounter with the Big Bad Wolf

As soon as I step into the bedroom, I can tell that it’s not my Grandmother in the bed—it’s a wolf. Maybe I can get it to tell me what he’s done with my Grandmother. “My what a big nose you have today, Grandma.”     

“Say it like you mean it,” said the wolf.     

“What?”     

“You heard me. Say it like you mean it. Your voice’s too timid. Project! Project!” The wolf is flinging his arms around. He reminds me of my grade ten English teacher who made us each teach a class on Catcher in the Rye. I had nightmares. “And for God’s sake, keep your basket still. It’s shaking so hard the muffins are going to fall out. I don’t want to eat something that’s fallen on the floor.”     

I want to say you’re a wolf for Pete’s sake, you’ve probably eaten worse things. I want to say you’ve insulted my Grandmother’s housekeeping, her floors are spotless. But I don’t.     

The wolf adjusts my Grandmother’s glasses on his big nose. “Try it again. With gusto.”     

“My what big eyes you have today, Grandma.”     

“No. No. You’re skipping ahead. Start again at the beginning. Your basket’s still shaking. Would it help if you imagined me naked? I’ve heard that helps with stage fright.”     

“Ewww, no. Gross.” I take a deep breath. “My what a big nose you have today, Grandma.”   

“That’s a bit better,” said the wolf. “Stand up straight. It helps with your breathing. Don’t forget to breathe or your audience won’t breathe, either.” The wolf adjusts my Grandmother’s frilly nightgown. “The better to smell you with, my dear.”     

“You sound just like my Grandmother.” I said before I could stop myself.   

 “Thank you. I’ve been told many times that I have a talent for mimicry. Many times. But please, stick to the script. And curl your toes. It helps to ground you and make you stand up straight.”

I curl my toes and project. “My what big eyes you have today, Grandma.”     

The wolf puts his paws over his ears. “No. No. That’s all wrong. Say it like you’re saying it for the first time ever. Say it like you’re surprised.”     

“But I’m not. I’ve known this story for years.” 

"You’re arguing with me now? I’m in charge here. What I say goes. Let’s continue then. And remember—surprised! Surprised!”     

I try to act surprised. “My what big ears you have today, Grandma.”     

The wolf lets out a big sigh. “I don’t want to see your surprise. You look like one of those big-eyed kids on black velvet. I want to hear your surprise.”     

I scream at the wolf, “Just tell me where my Grandmother is!”   

 It’s his turn to be surprised. “That was great. Didn’t know you had it in you. Okay kid, I’m going to give you a break.” The wolf takes off the glasses and rubs his eyes. “Hand over the basket. She’s in the attic.” He starts to unbutton my Grandmother’s nightgown and then stops and looks down. “What the hell. I’m keeping this.” He clamps onto the handle of the basket with his teeth and runs out the door on all fours.

Beth, in California

Beth was tired of living in California. They’d been here a year now and the relentless blue sky and sunshine were wearing her down. She wished just once she’d hear a different weather report, one that said we’re looking at a significant amount of rain overnight and into the morning commute. Leave yourself extra time in the morning. Just once wanted to see the weather guy miserable, pale and shivering but he was invariably unruffled, always perfectly coifed, dressed, tanned and toothed.

The move south and west had been good for Gary and his career. But most of the time Beth felt sorry for herself. She was home with their toddler, Percy, who seemed to have taken a dislike to the sun much like her own. He screamed if she took him outside. He was only quiet in air conditioning or in the pool. She spent her days feeling chilly, water-logged, or with a headache from listening to Percy scream and squinting her eyes in the sun. She didn’t like to wear sunglasses.

She missed their house back home in Toronto. But it wasn’t their house anymore. Even though Gary had promised this move was temporary, three years max, he’d said, they’d sold their house, their first house. Now somebody else was sitting inside cozy by the fire watching the snow pile up outside. Beth wanted to watch the snow pile up outside. She wanted to put on jeans and a sweater instead of another Goddamn sundress and sandals.

The lemon tree in the backyard was loaded with fruit. What were they supposed to do with all those lemons? The only thing she could think of was Caesar salad. Caesar salad and putting the juice in your hair to lighten it. She and her friend Susan had spent an entire summer with lemon juice in their hair. It was supposed to give lovely blonde streaks. She didn’t remember any blonde streaks but she remembered she hated the smell of lemon juice.

Percy had finally settled down for his afternoon nap, asleep on his side with his polar bear clutched under his left arm.

Beth made herself a cup of hot tea. She was sick of iced tea. She sat at the kitchen table with a pen and a stack of postcards showing a sunny beach scene. Hi all, she wrote, thinking about you in cold snowy Toronto as I sit under the lemon tree in our beautiful backyard. The garden smells heavenly! I’m not sure what we’ll do with all these lemons. Wish you were here to help us eat them.

Jessie's New Job

Jessie’s having more trouble adjusting to life on the submarine than she thought she would. She’d been on the intergalactic space station for eight years before this. She’d thought this job would be much the same, a rigid routine in a confined space, just a different view out the windows. Instead of stars and planets, she’d see fish and other sea creatures.

She’d been unprepared for the cloudy water. The mission wasn’t quite as it had been described. Instead of investigating interesting flora and fauna of the deepest ocean and the seabed of the Mariana Trench, they were looking for species that had somehow survived the war. The First Great Nuclear War had destroyed the surface of the planet. The only survivors were the people who’d taken to the air or gone underwater, the only livable places left as far as anyone knew. Perhaps the scientists were lying to them. Still they’d been warning for years that climate change would mean the end of humans on earth but instead it had come in a quicker form, from men with big egos pressing buttons on stockpiled nuclear warheads. Maybe the scientists were living the high life somewhere on earth, a post-war Garden of Eden. She wouldn’t put it past them.

Jessie felt worn out by the constant fruitless searching and the never-ending murky gloom seen through the windows. She wished she’d stayed on the space station. Up there there’d been constant danger of encountering space junk but everyone had taken their turns as gunners on the lasers to disintegrate the junk. It was exhilarating. She’d heard her grandfather talk about playing video games when he was a youngster. She imagined it was the same sort of feeling.

There seemed to be no danger on the sub. There was never a worry about running into anything because the wrecks – supertankers, container ships, cruise ships, oil platforms, huge aircraft – all littered the bottom like toys on a child’s bedroom floor.

The biggest worry down here was dying of boredom. And people did. They just snuck into the garbage hold through the airlock. Everybody knew the garbage hold was opened every Wednesday at noon. Apparently death was quick and painless. You didn’t drown. You were squished to death in milliseconds from the water pressure, down to the size of a basketball. Jessie asked how big a basketball was. “About half the size of your pillow,” the guy who answered her said. He clapped his hands together with a smack that made her jump.

Lois Introduces Herself

Hello, my name is Lois, and I am a person with anger issues. I’m really not here of my own accord, it was part of the deal my lawyer worked out with my local Tucker's Food Market – the one at Cobourg and Queen. The other part of the deal is that I can’t go in there anymore. I thought I was being reasonable, asking to speak with the manager about why the cashiers don’t pack the groceries as they ring them in, I mean that’s just the most efficient way, right? Instead of playing a waiting game at the end, customer on one side of the counter, cashier on the other, to see who was going to crack first and start packing.

Sometimes I pay by debit even if I have enough cash in my wallet, just to give them some extra time to think maybe they should trouble themselves to throw some of my groceries in the bags with their logo on them that I’ve carried to the store. If I wanted to pack my own groceries, I’d go to the stores where that’s expected of you. The Pay 'N' Go and such.

At least they haven’t banned me from the entire chain as they’d threatened. My lawyer got them to back down on that one.

The other Tucker's I can’t go to anymore is at Monaghan and Hopkins. That wasn’t so much a non-packing problem (although I’m sure that would have eventually become an issue because that store is notorious for not packing groceries) as a we’re out of butter first thing Saturday morning on the weekend that I was going to do my Christmas baking sort of problem.

The crux of the matter was that, technically, they weren’t out of butter. Apparently they had more but had deemed it too difficult to retrieve. It was apparently buried under cheese, sour cream and other dairy items, only to become retrievable when what was on top of it was taken off and shelved in the store. The guy who I asked about the lack of butter explained this to me as it if was entirely reasonable. I pointed out to him that a lot of people, not just me, would be trying to do their baking for the holidays this weekend, and that it was hard to do it without butter. I mean, even if you use margarine the rest of the year ‘round, you still want butter for the Christmas goodies, right? But he wasn’t swayed.

I guess he thought the exchange had become a little too heated for his liking, because I didn’t have to ask for the manager that time, the we have more butter but we just don’t want to go to the trouble to getting the butter for you guy went and got the manager on his own initiative. And that’s how it came about that I’m not able to go anywhere near that Tucker’s anymore, either.

William Tonight

William had gone to sleep in a patch of moonlight on his favourite windowsill. Now he’s in the back window of a taxi.

He’d lived in the apartment ever since he was carried home in Doreen’s coat pocket. He liked the apartment; there were lots of warm places to nap. It was up so high he could look into the trees and watch birds and squirrels.

Doreen and Harold called him Binky and he came when he was called by that ridiculous name, providing it was meal-time or he felt like moving anyway. But his true name was William.

Tonight there had been raised voices from Doreen and Harold but he’d let the noise swirl over him. If he’d let the loud sounds keep him awake, he’d never sleep; they were always arguing. It had started soon after Harold had brought home somebody different when Doreen was away. William had been frightened by the woman’s laugh and had hidden under the bed. That had turned out to be a big mistake. His next hiding spot had been under Harold’s green recliner. He'd had to coaxed out with tuna long after the woman left.

And now here he is out at night heading away from the cozy apartment, listening to Doreen cry. William hopes Doreen has put some of his canned food in the big bag she’s holding on her lap. It’s probably too much to ask that she’s remembered to grab his bowl, too.