The Wolf

by Richard

I shouldn't have stopped to watch him. I let him see me, but I couldn't look away. He glided soundlessly out of the cover of the trees. Huge, the grey and white coat forming a thick mane behind his massive head. Steam burst in a cloud around his face as he breathed out, then thrust his canine snout deep into one of my snowy footprints. Smelling me, tracking me.

That's when he sees me. Those steel grey eyes lock on me. He's measuring his strengths, calculating the odds, debating his options. Statue still. Nothing alive should be able to stand that still. I wonder if he's alone? Will he suddenly begin to howl for his pack, or is he an old Alpha, his strength tested to it's breaking point, usurped by one younger and stronger. Driven finally from his clan to make his way, alone and hungry in the pale cold winter.

I could turn and try to run. plod in knee deep snow as he glides across the distance between us until I feel his breath on my neck. Or I can stand and wait. I can wait and find out who we both are today. Is he a guest in my wood, or I a guest at his table?

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by Celia

How to realize you still are not perfect:
Step 1. Wake up completely, head-to-toe numb in a hospital. Be in pain and depressed.
I have always hated hospitals. There is too much of a mix- laughter or smiles from those whose injured have or will heal, and potent sobs or frowns, sorrow and pain of those whose won't. But worst of them all is silence. (Except for the heart and breathing rate machines). Silence is my room, one of far too many, and the smell and dark white and brilliance is alien. Many find the whiteness and brightness to be comforting, clean, or at least natural for this environment. I think it is sinister and false, because when you think about it, hospitals are where people bleed, throw up, are sick, and die. Although I see how painting everything red, green, and black would not appear comforting.
I don't want to breathe right now, because that entails letting the hospital into my body, letting the stale excuse for air into me and making the false stay with me longer than necessary. And I cannot stand the smell. Again, the sterile smell can be interpreted as good, but on me it has the effect of painting the air black, green, and red.

Step 2. Be unable to get out of the bed.
So of course, this being said, I feel confined. I want out. Immediately. I try to literally roll myself out of this stiff, reclined, steel contraption, but my body is still numb. I scream in my head as my frustration builds, joints creaking while moving only centimeters from their sprawled (and uncomfortable) position. The dark red line on the white machine moves up and down, up and down, faster. And the waiting begins.

Step 3. Have your aunt walk in and give you The Speech.
I am not totally sure how long it is before I fall into a dreamless sleep again, jumping when I feel like I'm suddenly tumbling through air, clouds rushing past, and how long after this I awaken. But when I do, one person is waiting.
God damn it! As a familiar tired woman leans against the door and sighes deeply, I can't help but think that it would be so much easier to deal with all the failed attempts, this one my best, if I never had the same doctor twice.
There are many kinds of doctors, but I only ever get two of them- ones who are condescending, arrogant, misinformed, and not understanding. I would not mind too much if all these up and died one day. The other kind are the few who can't be condescending, are informed, kind, and completely understand everything by the dullness of a patients' eyes. Dr. Anna Train is one of the latter.

I was hoping that this time I was far enough away that I wouldn't see her again, but here is Anna, the one person who I feel really knows me. Which, of course, bothers me immensely. That and she is the only success story of my shattered family- graduating the top high school in the state with all A's and a full ride to a top medical school. What no one could understand is why she chose this hospital. It had nothing special to offer someone with her expertise, just one of those little ones you drive by, one that wasn't even on the map.
Yet here she was, having healed me against my will, cleaned the pills out of my body, skinny from hunger that I couldn't let myself give in to. Not if I wanted to be perfect.

I have heard her speech ten times before, exactly. I have heard speeches like it, but not hers another ten times. So I know to start ignoring her after the formalities, but not so much that she can tell. Here's how it goes:
*Long sigh, building drama* "Hello again."
"Hey Dr. Train."
"Will you ever call me your aunt?" *Checking the machines by my bed, not said harshly but not enthusiastically either.*
"I prefer to distance myself from the family and hospitals. You understand." *Watching her tap the IV bag, record my health levels. They are probably very low.*
"...I do understand your parents and brother, but I'm not a part if that." *Breathing, looks down with a concerned, loving expression in her pale blue eyes.* "Bea, it's too early for you to leave the world. There is so much life left in you and you have potential past the moon. You're so beautiful, and any boy would be blessed to even get a smile from you..."
This is not normal. At this I flinch, this time I forgot not to listen. His name runs across my mind, with flitting images of green eyes, chestnut hair, pale skin. Summer days in pools and winter days cuddling away from the snow. I know that she does not know about him, does not sense the sharp pain that twists all over from his last note.
"Just stop. Please stop. I made it through that God-awful school and I have had a love. You are the good one, I am the one no one will remember. I can't take it anymore! I am just tired and done and feel old, there's no happy ending when someone feels like that at twenty years old!"
She looks surprised at my outburst. So she knew, then, that I ignored her. And tries to continue the thought
"You know love?"
"Was it the good kind of love?"
I am stumped by this question. What does she mean "good kind"? Does she mean the kind that lasts forever, with no jealousy or pain, no cheating, no drama, no bullshit? Just two people building a life together, happy and caring for each other, valuing the others life above their own? That could have been us, would have been us, but I wasn't good enough to stop him.
Then does she mean the opposite of that, the kind that ends in sorrow for some, with an escape from unhappiness? That sounds more like us.
"No" *Whispered with wet brown eyes.*
"I'm sorry honey." *Clipboard is set on the table and a hand is placed over mine with a gentle squeeze.*
I do not want to cry. I am supposed to be happy. Perfect is happy.
I guess it's better to cry about things you've lost with someone you know truly cares.
"It's terrible... I'm sorry it happened, but that goes to show, Bea, there is more to appearances. God didn't think it would work, and there was a better future in the world waiting for you to stumble across it."
I just slowly nod. Mean. Traitor. Why?
"I stumbled on your uncle that way. I honestly tripped and fell over him one day on campus. I looked up to give him quite the speech, but his hand was waiting to help lift me up. I just knew, I took it, and we ditched class. Almost dropped a whole grade that day." *Chuckling a little, remembering that oh-so-happy meeting.*
"I know, I've heard the story before... but you met him early Anna. What if I meet him when I'm old and shriveled? What if it takes a long time? What if I met him already and now he's gone?" *Fast breaths, panic rising.*
"You'll just know Bea. You will know."
*Get up, take clipboard and move to the doorway.*
"I have another emergency patient. You can leave when I say so. I love you." *Calming words, have the desired effect.*
"I love you too." Under my breath, because that is admitting weakness. Perfect has no weakness.
In other words, I'll be here for a week if not more. Stuck in a white room with a white tray, white machines, white ceiling tile. Green specked curtains and sheets. Green. How appropriate.

Step 4. Be unable to recognize your own reflection for a minute.
I sit and I sigh, waiting for it all to go away, ears perking up when footsteps sound close to my door. No one comes in. Not that I'd want them to. Perfect doesn't want for anything, it has everything. Time goes on, clocks tick all around, occasional human sounds; breathing, running, speaking quietly.
I can start to feel myself again, from my shoulders flowing down to my fingertips. The same happens to my legs, and I'm free. A sigh of relief from deep in my chest and I begin to walk towards the bathrooms. Anna put new clothes on the chair that I hadn't noticed before.
Changing in stalls is very awkward. There's little space to move and the hooks tend not to hold your stuff off the ground very well. These are exceptionally weak- everything falls to the floor. Sarcastically, great, now I can't wear it. I stand looking at the clothes that may be dirty, even though this is a hospital bathroom. I decide I am probably also dirty and therefore I don't care. I slip into clingy jeans and a soft cotton T-shirt while questioning the size of the clothes. Anna must think I'm much larger than I am. An imperfect size is unacceptable. I step out and gasp, jump back, startled by the person who seemed to appear out of nowhere in front of me.
"I'm sorry, I didn't see you there..."
The other girl says it too, but I only hear my voice. Then I glance at the silver lining around the green tile next to her. It is my own reflection.
I look horrible. Svelte with large bust is perfect, but I am anorexic skinny and droopy up top. Her hair is so light blonde it is almost white. That is perfect. But hair should be shiny, straight and bouncy, well-kept and trimmed into a specific hairstyle. Mine is the opposite and sticks out in all crazy ways from the static-y pillows. Full lips are perfect, mine are dry, cracked, and lacking in the smooth category. Eyes like milk chocolate are very desirable, mine have become dull and lifeless. Tan or olive skin are the equivalent of perfection, and I work to maintain that. I can see I have failed. I look back to her expression and see that she looks lost, hopeless, tired, depressed, discouraged. All opposites of perfect. Her face, my face, twists into pain and defeat as sobs escape our throats simulataneously. I do not look at her as she moves to bolt out of the bathroom at the same time as me. I never want to see her again.
The only place I can run is a place I can succumb to grief in privacy.
Unfortunately, that place is my temporary bedroom at a hospital. I hate hospitals.
I throw a few tear-streaked looks down the hall, just to make sure no one saw. No one can ever see what I saw.

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Billy Cooper

by John Falato
(Tucson, AZ)

“There’s a shindig in town this Friday night and that namby-pamby son of the banker’s taken a shine to Ellie, but I know she’d prefer your asking her.”

“But I ain’t one to go courting; I still got to make my mark.”

“Hell Billy, you have made your mark on this town, everyone knows you, everyone likes you, and everyone would do whatever they could if’n you need help. Your parents and you have added a lot to this town. I recall when it wasn’t safe in this territory, what with Indians and outlaws, to say nothing of the droughts? It was people like you and your family that stuck it out, that survived through it all that made this country livable. I’d say you made quite a mark on this town.”

“Thanks for saying that Ed.”

“By the way, I noticed you’re wearin’ that sidearm of yours a little too low. These high strung cowboys around here might think you’re some kind of gunslinger and try you out.”

“Nah, I just thought I’d have some fun today. I’m hanging it up as soon as I get home.”

Ed’s waitress, Ellie, approached Billy’s table, “Your lucky day today, Billy, Ed says he’s picking up the check. And he says you’ve got something to tell me.”

'Why that son-of-a-gun, Ed,' Billy thought, but managed to squeak out, “I hear there’s a good-time Friday night at the town hall, would you like to go?”

“I’d love to go.”

“With me?”

“Of course with you.”

“Pick you up at sundown then?”


Billy was never happier as he left Ed’s place, damned near singing out loud. When he got to the street he heard a loud voice behind him, “Hey, gunslinger…”

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