portion of the artwork for Michael Cooper's fiction
Werewolves
Michael Cooper

Amelia’s mother brings home one of the runaways who hide out two miles north at the strip mall scheduled to be demolished in spring, a girl of sixteen, harelip and bushy eyebrows, a backpack filled with two stiff changes of clothes and an assortment of stolen rubbers, every color of the rainbow.

“What will you name her?” Amelia’s mother asks that night at the dinner table. They’re eating rabbit stew again. Amelia looks at the runaway and the runaway stares back, driblets of rabbit-flecked broth collected at the tip of both girls’ chins.

“I think that I’ll name her Werewolf,” Amelia says. Amelia’s mother wipes both girls’ chins. The three eat in silence for several minutes, the perfect O’s of their mouths sucking up the broth collected in their lifted spoons. Then Werewolf says, “Try catching a buffalo or a really big stag, that’s what you ladies need to do.”

On Sundays, Amelia and her mother take Werewolf out to a field a few miles east of their house, where they throw a plaid blanket over the gold grass and brush fire ants from their legs and backs. Out here, the breeze whispering, Werewolf tells stories about the strip mall, how she would stand in front of the empty Halloween store in November, and then how she would stand in front of the empty Christmas store in January, waiting for the right man to pull up so she could at least keep warm for the night. Amelia says, “If my headlights shined on you, I’d think you were a mannequin escaped from her display case.”

“Would you pick me up?” her sister asks—because that’s what Werewolf is becoming, not some fanged, howling creature that regarded everyone as food, but Amelia’s sister.

“No.”

“Amelia, please,” her mother says.

In the weeks that follow, they don’t go hunting buffalo or stags, but late one night Amelia does convince Werewolf to take her to the abandoned strip mall. They sneak out. Make the two-mile trip on Amelia’s dirt bike, Amelia on the handlebars, Werewolf on the pedals. The strip mall sits in the darkness like some ignored Stonehenge. Werewolf pulls her blue hoodie up so only her face shows, wears sweatpants, the cuffs rolled up high to show the loose fishnet stockings underneath.

They wait and they wait. Amelia finds a bench in the grass at the mall’s side, a few stores down from the empty Christmas Palace. Plenty of cars pull into the parking lot to approach them, and when they get close enough to spread their smells of gas and exhaust, Werewolf stands on the curb with her hands gripping her boyish hips. The headlights wash over her but the drivers don’t stop. The moon hangs full and orange above the line of pines west along the interstate, their jagged silhouettes extending all the way back to Amelia’s home, the taillights of cars rushing by these trees, some of the drivers accelerating, probably with thoughts of the two girls they’d just seen, not werewolves or vixens, but two certifiable bunny-stew mavens.

Ten years from now, Amelia will have her degree in civil engineering. The strip mall will finally be demolished and she’ll help design an underpass for that part of the highway, a concrete canvas for delinquents to graffiti their hot-pink, cryptic yearnings. Eat Me or I Want to Eat You. But tonight the empty mall still stands with Werewolf posing on the curb.

They ride back like they came, but this time Werewolf peddles a little slower. At home, Amelia can’t sleep, and soon dawn spreads her golden legs wide in either direction, the dazzling yellow rim of her sun rising, rising. They’d never go back to the strip mall, not together, though some nights Amelia would watch her sister trail across the yard, peddling fast like she might be trying to outrun a tornado. One morning, Werewolf won’t come back at all.

For years, Amelia will expect to spot Werewolf in the hallway, or Werewolf behind the blue shower curtain still wet on one side from the morning’s shower, or in the attic, Werewolf in the kitchen cupboard, Werewolf on the window’s other side, though it’ll always only be Amelia’s own reflection in the pane, half-visible against the yard’s silver maples. Her mother will buy her kittens that run away, dogs who seem to chase these cats’ ghostly trails. She’ll let her daughter put teacups in the yard and fill them with tadpoles. She’ll let her daughter do this until the entire property croaks, but then she’ll lock the teacups away, and even the toads will hop off to some other place. Standing at the window with her reflection, Amelia will realize what needs to be said, though she doesn’t know who should say it: Your werewolf has gone.

Later, and I mean later, when Amelia’s back goes stooped and her hair turns gray, a package will arrive one afternoon. By that point, she’ll have known two men intimately, both deceased, and both of whom, when stripped, seemed to possess the mustiness of that night she sat for hours on the strip mall bench, the mushrooms, and honeysuckle, and stink bugs that buzzed past her ear. The return address won’t show either of these men’s names. It’ll only say Your Werewolf. Amelia will cut through tape and bend back flaps, reveal a boxy cage and something inside panting and mewling, some baby dog just big enough to cradle.

The full moon will wane, and Amelia will find the smallest man she’s ever seen draped on the cage’s floor like a wet rag, a person who’s no bigger than her forearm. The gold bars will ensure he’ll never grow, she’ll think. She’ll keep him locked in. His tininess will remain. He’ll mewl. He’ll mewl a lot, no words, just a continuous sound, high and guttural, a pitch somewhere between a baby’s wail and the rattle deep within a Doberman’s chest when its teeth are bared. The tiny man will make his sounds even when Amelia’s in a different room. He’ll sit in the cage’s corner with his knees tucked against his chest, his skin pink and smooth like bubblegum that’s been chewed and spread under a table.

“I didn’t pick you up,” Amelia will say to him one day. “I didn’t ask for you.”

She’ll even open the cage’s door and tell him that he’s free to leave.

He will leave, but not far, and throughout the days, throughout the weeks, the months, the years, she’ll glimpse the tiny man in her yard, always pleased to note he hasn’t grown an inch outside of his cage. He’ll be climbing a trellis, or hanging from a palmetto’s spiky frond, or she’ll see his tiny pale ass disappear behind curtains of low-hanging wisteria. She’ll watch him while she’s sitting on the porch with a sweaty glass of pink lemonade.

On some nights the moon will fatten from a fingernail-sized sliver into something fuller, a pale heart, and she will find his tiny face on the pillow beside her, so that for a few seconds, as Amelia sloughs off her dreams, she will feel as though she’s grown to gigantic proportions while the man beside her is normal-sized. Then, realizing this isn’t true, she’ll sigh, and he’ll sigh. They’ll stare at one another, no mewls, no questions, no demands. She’ll fall asleep. Later, he’ll be gone. Once the moon recedes, she’ll wait to see her tiny man, her werewolf, her window always open, the wisteria sneaking in on a breeze, a smell that will always remind her that she’s no bigger than anyone else.


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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 36 | Spring 2012