by Bruce J. Berger
Without a word, I get into Gerald’s boat on the edge of Lake Kabetogama in Voyageurs National Park. Gerald and Mark stare at my soiled clothes and exchange a glance. I don’t care what they think, but I want Mark to feel I’m coming back to him. I hold his arm lightly, staring at the shore as it slowly passes by, the tangled trees and branches impenetrable to a human being, but I am a grey wolf – or rather have one inside me – and can make my way through the deepest forest on my own. I smell the edge where water laps onto shore, it reminds me of my own smell when I’m in heat.
“Don’t you want to talk about it?” Mark cannot fathom why I ran away, leaving behind our apartment, leaving everything but my sleeping bag and toothbrush. He can’t conceive that any rational person would do such a thing, but he’s a pig, not a wolf. He doesn’t understand my rage, why I jumped into my car after telling him to fuck himself, how I drove from him like a maniac. When I refuse to respond, he barks an order. “You’re seeing a doctor when we get back to Minneapolis.”
Mark’s trying in his buffoon way to show he loves me, so worried he’ll force me to see a shrink. Mark thinks I’m insanely mad, but I’m angrily mad. Now that he’s caught me, I’m this close to killing him. He’d be dead instantly if I wanted, if I pushed him into the cold water and jumped in after him, where I could push him into the propellers. He doesn’t feel my lust to latch onto his throat with my teeth and twist my head, severing his carotid, he doesn’t know my joy in imagining his blood spraying over us in Gerald’s boat. But I indulge myself with these fevered thoughts. He’s not worth killing.
“We’ll see,” I say finally. I can’t tell Mark that he’s the one who needs his head examined, he won’t take kindly to that. Even if he’s sorry now that he screwed my friend Marianne, even if he admits that he tried to rape me after I threw that pitcher at him – I missed –he’ll always think that I’m the one at fault.
In Minneapolis, I wonder how I can move my things out without Mark knowing until I’m long gone. He’s not abusing me physically now, but I’m assaulted all the same when he says “I love you. Why can’t you say the same back to me?” He’s no idea that every time he mouths that cliché it’s like plunging a needle through my breast, forcing a steel file under my fingernails, kicking me in the kidneys. I put him off by a meager smile, which he knows is forced, or I talk about the weather. When he sees that I’m not playing his game, he snorts like a brontosaurus. Some primeval unhappiness erupts, the dank air in his lungs explodes in rage. Were I not carrying his baby, he’d have put me out by now and found another woman to love, chain, adore, drag to Hell. That word, love, just another form of violence.
Did I say it was Mark’s baby? It’s not, he just doesn’t know it yet. It’s mine. I won’t need his support. That I let him fuck me is irrelevant. I can give her all she needs. Yes, I know it’s a girl, it has to be. A boy would end up like Mark. A wolf cannot be mother to a pig.
Someday, when my daughter is ten or eleven, I’ll take her to the lake. We’ll paddle a canoe, skim the surface, and I’ll tell her I used to live here and she’ll laugh, not believing, and I won’t blame her. But I won’t tell her how my wolf cleanses me. I won’t tell her how my wolf is still inside me, ravenous when I’m in danger.
In the end, leaving Mark is easy. He decides to vacation in New Mexico with his friend, Austin, without women. I’ve plenty of time to find a studio apartment and move my stuff, I do not leave Mark my forwarding address. I’ll probably run into him on campus, though, and he’ll stare at my enlarged belly and want to talk, for him it will always be about his talking and needing me to agree. I’ll find great happiness in telling him that I do not love him, never did, never even came close to loving him, and never will. I’ll want to hurt him, it’s something I should’ve done long ago.
Mark might claim that he has a right as the father to have contact with his daughter and, if he presses the matter, the law might prove him correct, but he won’t press. Behind the macho mask lies a coward. When he sees I’ll never again be his victim, he’ll lose his love for me.
I meet a chemistry professor who has a strong interest in environmental issues. He’s one of the leading researchers in a new sub-specialty of the science, he tells me over coffee, nano-something. He studies the chemicals in what should be clean water but never is, because if you look hard enough, know how to look, you can find poison. He complains bitterly about the polluted Great Lakes and rattles off the names of the toxic waste dumps, the nasty dioxins that leak into our drinking water. He bemoans fracking. I question him on that, it sounds so much like fucking, and he laughs and assures me that the word was fracking and that its dangers have been proven. Beyond doubt. You can’t fight science, he says.
He pretends to know what he’s talking about, gets animated explaining how big oil data are all crap. It’s part of his man’s religion to say crap when he’s trying to impress. He bangs the table, citing chapter and verse about PCBs in the parts per million. I imagine him spending hours at his research bench, his Bunsen burner heating a flask of bubbling green liquid, like vomit, like bile. He explains how atheism was a religion, smiles as he says it, taking on the air of a wise old owl, and I want to plant the toe of my shoe hard into his shin. No, his balls would be a much better target. My wolf begins to stir, and I have to tell her to settle down. Not yet.
I’m having dinner with him tonight. He’ll invite me to his house, he’s divorced. He hasn’t noticed that I’m pregnant, I’m not showing much. It’s good that he doesn’t have children of his own, his loss won’t leave anyone an orphan.
Soon, I promise my wolf. Very soon.
Bruce J. Berger received his MFA from American University. His short fiction has been published in a variety of literary journals, including Wilderness House Literary Review, Prole, Jersey Devil Press, and others.