If she had found a job she wouldn’t have shown up at the front door of his house. Perhaps the old woman she had been cooking for had met her maker: Marko didn’t know a thing, but was not interested in her news. Tiny details told him the truth; they were letters of an alphabet he could read and women were transparent to him. No one could double-cross him, least of all Sima. He watched her, her eyes heavy, full of stones.
“Can I come in?” she asked.
He ignored her. She was an empty can a stranger had chucked in the street.
The hunting season would start soon, and he concentrated on cleaning his shotgun. It was a good piece, perfectly new. He kept silent.
Sima crossed the threshold, and dragging her suitcase like a hill in her wake, made for his room.
“I haven’t told you that you can stay,” Marko snapped.
She turned: an ordinary face, eyes the color of a cheap telephone, thin hair.
“You haven’t said ‘Go away,’” the ordinary face said.
“Go away,” he said.
“I’ll cook a soup for you.”
“I don’t want your soup.”
“I’ll cook a delicious meal.”
He glanced at her neck bent over the fire. She was good with the firewood. It became warm so rapidly that he took off his sweater.
She was good at cooking: the house smelled of her spices and baked cheese. He knew, this woman would walk for hours in the forest, digging under dry bark and rose hips, collecting musty roots, herbs and weeds.
She put a plate under his nose. The meal glowed, the potatoes arranged neatly like tools in a toolbox. She gave him bread, delicious, slightly burned, and he ate it.
“Some more?” she asked.
Her eyes, brown lizards, ran away.
The food tasted magnificent. Then Sima washed the dishes, swept the floor and took to doing the laundry. Marko had stuffed his dirty underwear into two baskets – one for the white shirts and pants, the other for his colored clothes. Daylight was streaming in through the window as Sima asked, “Eh?”
Love happened next to the baked cheese cut into tiny, tasty pieces. One had to eat a ton before he was full. Love ended like the newscast on the TV. He didn’t wait for her to yawn or stretch; he kicked her out of bed. She had changed the sheets and the pillowcases. She had washed his dirty bed linens and had hung them on the clothesline in the backyard.
Sima hit the floor with a thud, a dull one, although she was a scrawny thing. As if you’d dropped a rotten pear on the floor, a thought crossed his mind.
“Go away,” Marko said.
She dressed, taking her time, then folded his clothes – all of them expensive and elegant – and arranged his socks in a neat pile.
Marko lifted her in the air – she weighed less than a bag of stale bread and that reminded him of his dogs. He hadn’t soaked chunks in greasy water for them. He dumped her outside the front door, a heap of bones, and threw the suitcase with her things at her.
She scrambled to her feet, as thin as the barrel of a shot-gun, the suitcase a hill at her feet. She didn’t move, just stood on the cobblestones. He levelled the gun at her dark forehead. Her eyes, a deserted street, fastened on his face. He fired and her neck twitched.
Sima grabbed her suitcase – something had gone wrong with one of its wheels – and she couldn’t trundle it towards the bus stop.
“I have nowhere to go,” she said.
Marko fired again. At long last she was gone, a barrel of a gun that had learned to walk. Marko returned to the room still warm with the dying fire and ate the rest of the baked cheese. He’d go hunting in the afternoon.
In the early evening, he noticed two shadows, sneaking out of the pine trees. One was huge, the other – tiny, a puff of smoke. A bitch with her pup, he thought as he walked to the yard. His house was on the outskirts of the village of Staro, the forest towered above him, below him stretched the gray decaying patch of sunflower field, so bad its owner had given up on it.
Marko’s father died at ninety-five, and since his death Marko had been thinking of selling the place, house, barn, land, and beat it for Madrid, Spain. His friends had told him one could find a good job there, a fat bundle for little work. The forest held him. In the daytime, hares, foxes and jackals stole into his backyard. Marko was a good shot. He was sure he wouldn’t find wild game like this in Madrid.
Marko noticed details that remained hidden to other men. Tricks that disguised slothfulness challenged his imagination. This time, he could not believe his eyes: the two shadows were not a bitch and her pup. He saw a she-wolf and her wolf-cub, huge, brawny, brisk and strong, but she was not running, she was taking her time, turning back to the little one, slowly advancing to his house. Why?
Marko found out the answer too late. Dried venison sausages had hung under the eaves of his house before Sima dropped by. Now they were not there. He had made the sausages from the meat of a deer he shot a couple of months ago. The frump has lifted everything but one single piece that hung like a criminal sentenced to death on the gallows. She had stolen nothing, though. Marko saw a mound of sausages, the huge she-wolf and her cub half-buried in the meat.
He grabbed his shotgun and stopped breathing as he took aim at the beast.
A wail, thick as blood, seeped into the abandoned sunflower field. Then the she-wolf was a running black flame, eating through the forest, the cub following her.
The beast wailed, sharply, deeply. Bang. The cub yelped. Marko looked around. Thin trail of blood outlined the she-wolf’s flight. Not far from the sausage heap, the cub was sprawled in a little pool of blood. The beast was small. Marko lifted it. The heart of the hairy ball pounded under Marko’s fingers – thump-thump-thump.
Marko didn’t know why he didn’t kill it. To be honest, he knew. He had made quail fat ointment, and was curious to see if it worked. In the evening, the cub dragged himself under Marko’s bed and stayed there. It yapped and yelped all through the night. He could strangle the yelper, but was too lazy to get out of bed. On the following morning, the gray rag shuffled along at his heels. His wound was oozing blood, so Marko kept on putting more quail ointment on it for a couple of days.
One afternoon, the cub crawled to the threshold and let out a yowl. It was not a proper howl yet, just short piercing whine. At noon on the following day, a powerful high-pitched wail shook the forest. It sounded rough and dark. The cub tried to jump in the air, and the wound, which had already started to close, dripped blood again.
Marko had just come back home empty-handed after a bad hunting day when she tottered across the yard. A thin barrel of a gun and a suitcase: that was what she was. The luggage wheel was totally busted.
“Don’t shoot,” Sima said.
The wolf cub scuttled to the suitcase and sniffed her shoes.
Marko said nothing.
Love happened on the spot, on the kitchen floor by the sack of beans. Then she cooked macaroni and cheese. They ate in silence, the woman tearing off bits of bread and tossing them at the cub that sat at her feet.
She washed the dishes, dried the bowls, plates, forks, and arranged them in the cupboard.
“Wash my clothes,” he said.
She hung the linen on the clothesline. It was still warm.
A wail, dark and sharp like a bull’s horn, swooped down from the forest and crashed into the stone path. The wolf cub bristled.
Sima threw the wet clothes in the pail and hid inside the house. Marko grabbed her hand and squeezed it hard. This time, love was a cold stone, a she-wolf’s wail. He did not let Sima yawn or roll over. He lifted her like a bag of torn venison sausages and dragged her off – not towards the gate – he dumped her at the very end of the abandoned sunflower field. The cub-wolf sneaked behind him like a shadow of a hawk.
“You stole my venison,” Marko said as he flung her suitcase at her feet.
After a couple of minutes, he returned to the kitchen, finished his macaroni and cheese, relaxed on the clean sheets she had spread on the bed and fell asleep.
In the morning, the cub-wolf was nowhere in sight. Marko’s shotgun was not at its usual place on the chest of drawers. The forest seemed to let out a wail as dark as mud.
“Get up,” a tight voice ordered.
Marko raised his head.
Sima stood by the bed, the shot-gun levelled at his chest.
He didn’t budge. The shot made him jump as the bullet flew with a whoosh by his temple.
He turned and saw her. Sima was thrusting his clothes into a garbage bag, his expensive blue jeans, his shirts, his briefs, his trunks, his shoes, vests.
He didn’t budge.
The shot grazed his left upper arm.
Marko plodded to the gate. He’d squeeze her neck until it snapped, he’d strangle her… Yes, he would! The bullet scorched hot air an inch above his head.
They reached the place where he’d dumped her the night before. She dropped the garbage bag on the ground.
“You’ll watch these clothes burn. I am not a good shot, Marko. I’ll aim for your head.” She raised the shotgun at towards his chin. “If you budge an inch…” she said as she produced a lighter.
Flames bit into the bag from four sides. A fire blazed among of his new T-shirts, jeans, linen, and blazers. His shoes burned like a bundle of straw. She’d fall into his hands. He’d crash her like a nut. He’d….
“I am pregnant,” she said. “He’s your child. It’s good the kid won’t know that his dad is a rat.”
She took the road that had bitten off a patch of the forest. A gray mass of shining hairs appeared among the trees and rushed to the woman. A ball, gray and small, yapped, shambling behind the huge gray pelt. Then the two beasts stopped in the middle of the road, watching Marko.
The she-wolf and her cub.
They carved thin, scarlet tracks, like a tangle of red threads, toward him.