My Four Wolves


My grandmother was quiet for many hours, then turned to me and said in the gentlest of tones:

‘There are four wolves in these woods with me. The first is easy—although dangerous, it has loud sharp teeth and I can see them glistening from a mile off. I still have to run when I hear or see it nearby, but I know how it moves and I know which direction to run to get away from it. I know this wolf’s shape well and have been taught to avoid it from a young age. I am not frightened of this wolf although it can kill me it is only a matter of bad luck and time.

‘The second too is relatively safe. It is faster than the first wolf, and can kill me more quickly, and it is not my instinct to avoid it. But with the help of my elders I have learnt to smell its presence and I can usually tell when it is near. It moves in a slightly unpredictable way and at times it confuses me because of its shadow against the sun. My first encounter with it was very dangerous—they say if you survive your first then you will survive the others. In moments of weakness I notice it has crept nearer. But as I grow older it becomes easier to avoid, easier to recognise and with practice easier to escape.

‘The third wolf is trickier. It grows and changes as I grow. Where I become weak it is strong, and where I am strong it is stronger still. But it is so exciting to run alongside it. I know how dangerous it is, but the closer it gets, the more alive I feel. When I am far away from it, I remind myself to keep away, but its smell is intoxicating. I need my friends to keep me away from it. But my friends love this wolf as well. Some of us will fall to it. Some of us have already fallen.

‘The fourth wolf is my real curse. It comes in the form of a bearskin, warm and gently tailored to my frame. It gives me strength and solitude, comfort in the knowledge I am alone and need no one. This is the most dangerous wolf, for it separates me from the others. I stand, metres from the crowd, staring at the movement and thinking, ‘I am not like them.’ When they approach me and ask how I am, I have nothing to say, nothing. The wolf turns my head to the horizon, telling me, ‘One day. One day there will be a place where all is understood. And for now, you have yourself. And that is how it should be.’ And then I look and notice the wolf’s teeth sinking into my neck. And it feels good. And I want to be with this wolf forever. This is my fourth wolf, and I adore it, and I know it will kill me. And I want it to kill me.’

Now my grandmother is gone, and I wonder: did the fourth wolf get her? Did she let it get her? Or was there a fifth that she didn’t know about?



Jo Randerson is the author of The Knot and The Spit Children. She attended Bill Manhire’s Writing for the Page course at Victoria University in 1996. Jo writes and performs her own theatre and has another collection of fiction coming out early next year entitled The Keys To Hell.