Le Loup-Garou pt 2

A wolf with something in its mouth running through a dark forest

Doug didn’t remember going to bed, and he figured the entire event was just a frenzied dream when he awoke before dawn fully refreshed. There was no cigarette ash on the kitchen table when he went downstairs to make coffee. Perhaps he’d talk with Pastor Bob about dreaming of meetings with the devil, as well as the idea of renouncing one’s faith to save children. It was strange, to say the least. 

The only thing out of the ordinary was how energized he felt. Even before the coffee was finished brewing, he found himself doing squats, lunges, and pushups in the living room. He considered going for a run, which he hadn’t done all year. He was in a very, very good mood. Maybe the dream had reminded him of his purpose in life. 

When he opened the door to the medicine cabinet to start his daily shaving routine, though, he saw the vial from the devil’s pocket standing front and center. Its amber color seemed to glow in the low light of the bathroom cabinet. Doug didn’t touch it and quickly got out his shaving soap and razor and closed the cabinet door. He had a long day ahead of him at the VA, with a stacked schedule of clients in need of therapy for their PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

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Le Loup Garou pt 1

A wolf with something in its mouth running through a dark forest

Pastor Doug was laden with basketballs as he brought up the rear of the youth group on their way back to the church from the public court at the end of the street. He was yards behind the slowest kids, but could see all 17 of them as they sauntered back into the small church for Wednesday night devotional. The early autumn sun was setting and there was some time before youth devotional was set to start, so the kids who weren’t really interested in basketball weren’t quite showing up yet.

He put the net bag full of basketballs away in the youth group locker in the side room next to the main sanctuary. When he came out, he saw the group of 8th-grade-girls standing in the corner giggling over a cell phone. This was not an unusual occurrence, and Pastor Doug was sure he’d see something funny from Facebook or Instagram — a kitten riding a robotic vacuum or a pig rolling down a hill. These almost-14-year-olds were just old enough to have accounts on these social media per their terms and conditions, although many parents pushed to keep their young girls off the stuff until high school.

What was unusual was that as Pastor Doug approached, the girls hushed and the girl in the center, Stacie, hid the phone from his view.

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G.O.T.V.

A postcard reminding people in Iowa to vote in the 2020 election.

Josie felt sick to her stomach. It was only five minutes into the presidential debates and already the sitting president was acting like an uncontrollable toddler and the other nominee was faltering. They were both febrile white old men who seemed incapable of getting their facts straight or even completing a full sentence. The moderator seemed like an angry kindergarten teacher unable to assert control over the noise. How was she supposed to be excited to vote for either of these rich assholes?

“Just cut his mic,” Josie found herself muttering as the incumbent president once again interrupted the other nominee about some conspiracy theories around election fraud or the mainstream media being mean to him or something else incomprehensible to people who didn’t read the exact same blogs or websites he did. “Unbelievable,” Josie said. 

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Spirit That Form’d This Scene

A road in the desert of New Mexico showing brown and yellow sage and the Sandia Mountains in the far distance.
Photo by Andreas Dress on Unsplash

Ken escaped to rural New Mexico in the summer of 1969, running from both the Vietnam War Draft and some “bad people”, as his mother called them, in his hometown in upstate New York. He simply hopped on a Greyhound bus and went as far as his meager money would take him.

He found work on a construction site outside of a small city in the south. He would be laying pipe and other lines for the growing city, and it would take several months. Since he had nowhere to live, Ken volunteered to live onsite and watch over the equipment at night, and the supervisors set him up with a simple shack and some water to do so.

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I’M SO SORRY

Black spraypainted letters on a street that says "I'm so sorry"

It was the first day in a month that the temperature dipped below 80 degrees even after dark, and Nana was happy to be wearing her shawl as she watered her plants on the front porch in the predawn quiet. It was still pretty dark, and she still had her silk hair wrap on, which was not collecting sweat for the first time in a month as she went about her morning watering routine.

Nana was rounding 78 years old and starting to get tired of the increasing heat of the summers in her hometown. There was no relief from the heat, not even in the early morning, not even when it rained. This “cold snap” was a godsend.

She heard the neighbor lady before she saw her, arguing out loud with a big yellow dog on a lead.

“No,” the neighbor lady was saying, “no cats! Gemma! No!”

The dog was struggling against the leash, pulling backwards. The lead went over the dog’s nose and neck, but was just loose enough that the dog broke free.

“No!” the neighbor lady cried as the dog bolted for the SUV across the street from Nana’s house. 

The neighbor lady was tall and thin and white, with a perfectly messy blonde updo and long fake eyelashes, all tucked up into an expensive-looking athletic outfit. Her leggings had cutouts; her top was nothing more than a sports bra with mesh in strategic places. Nana assumed she was from California or New York, just like all the other rich white people who had taken over the neighborhood in the past few years. They were moving into the neighborhood for the ample space and comparatively cheap prices, driving up property values and therefore taxes on the families that had lived there for generations. Nana’s house was falling apart around her, but she’d lived there her whole life and would be damned before she sold it to some yuppie from Silicon Valley. 

The neighbor lady was exasperated at the dog, and was darting clumsily back and forth to try and catch it. She and the dog circled the SUV, and Nana saw the prey — a young black cat that had sprung up among the neighborhood strays lately — dart out from under the SUV and cross the street in Nana’s direction.

The dog circled the SUV once more, with the neighbor lady following in vain, calling “Gemma, Gemma, no, Gemma!” while she fruitlessly tried to put the leash back on. “The cat’s gone, Gemma, let’s go!” As if by the woman’s suggestion, the dog appeared to notice the cat’s absence and darted into the street, heading towards Nana, nose to the ground like it was a bloodhound tracking its prey.

“Now, you come here,” Nana said, trying to corral the yellow dog who was now sniffing on her property. She waved her arms at the dog.

The dog stood where it was, raised its hackles, and barked at her. Nana recoiled naturally in fear. Was this dog trained to attack, she felt herself wondering?

“Stop that, Gemma!” the neighbor lady called, following as quickly as she could in the dog’s footsteps. “I am so sorry!”

The dog stopped barking and took off in another direction, neighbor lady on its heels.

“Does it bite?” Nana asked the neighbor lady. Her adrenaline was racing. She wondered if she would have a heart attack. But she moved towards the dog, trying to help as best she could.

“No,” the neighbor lady said over her shoulder, still frantically trying to keep up with her pet. “She’s just trying to get the cat!”

Jeffrey, Nana’s grandson, stepped out the front door, having heard the commotion. “What’s going on?” he asked, as Nana watched the neighbor lady chase the dog down the street, finally catching the yellow beast when it stopped to sniff a bush and allowed the leash to be put back securely over its nose. 

“Some neighbor lady just lost her dog for a minute,” Nana said, turning back to her watering can and plants. 

“Are you okay?” Jeffrey asked, reaching out to his grandmother to examine her. “Did it bite you? I heard it barking.”

“I’m fine,” Nana said. She breathed deeply to calm herself, brushing the encounter off. “The dog was just excited.” She puttered back toward the porch.

“Just excited?” Jeffrey repeated. “She shouldn’t just be letting her dog off the leash like that! It could have attacked you!”

Nana shrugged. 

The neighbor lady was walking away, still talking to the dog, admonishing it like it was a child rather than an animal that had instincts that needed to be trained.

* * * *

The next morning when Nana went out to tend to her plants she found a small white envelope propped against the screen door. She paused, thinking about the package bombs that had gone off on unsuspecting neighbors’ porches just the summer previous. Could this be such a device? Or perhaps anthrax or something that destructive people sent through the mail? It wasn’t out of the question. There were crazies all over the city, sending bombs to perfectly nice people for no reason other than hatred and ignorance. 

She bent over, aching at the bend in her waist, and picked the card up. Nothing exploded. On the envelope, it said “for my neighbor” with a heart.

Nana shook her head and opened it up. It was a small white card with a cartoonish drawing of a dog on the front, under the words “DOGGONE IT — I’M SO SORRY” in thick black font. 

“Dear neighbor,” she read slowly in the dim light of the porch light. “I am so sorry for yesterday! My mommy says I can’t run off my leash and bark at people like that. I’m afraid of hats and I think yours scared me! But I promise not to do it again. Love, Gemma, 1201 B.” 

The neighbor lady’s handwriting was childish-looking and stunted. She had drawn a paw print after the signature. 

Nana rolled her eyes and shook her head and put the card in her pocket. After she’d watered her plants, she put the card on the kitchen table, trying to decide what to do with it. Jeffrey picked it up as he ate his breakfast.

“What is this?” he asked.

“It’s an apology note,” Nana explained, pouring herself a cup of tea.

“From whom?” Jeffrey asked, turning it over to inspect it.

“That neighbor lady,” Nana said. “Or her dog. I don’t know.”

“An apology note?” Jeffrey said to himself as he opened the card and looked at it. “Huh,” he huffed, shaking his head, turning it over to look for anything on the back of the card. “What kind of promise is this? She didn’t even introduce herself. She should just get rid of the dog if she can’t train it.”

Nana shrugged as she sat down in her armchair. “None of these white kids train their dogs,” she said. “They have them instead of children. I’ll bet that dog has its own bedroom.”

Jeffrey laughed. “Probably,” he agreed.

* * * *

When the neighbor lady went to take Gemma for a walk the next morning (at a later hour, hoping there would be fewer cats even if it was 10 degrees warmer out than before dawn), she noticed someone had spray painted something on the concrete in front of her house.

“I’M SO SORRY” it said in quick black letters.

She looked around but didn’t see anyone. Had someone painted that because of what had happened with the old lady? She felt embarrassed and paranoid. She wanted to yell, “I wrote her a card!”

But there wasn’t anyone around to hear it.

4. Lauren’s friends chime in.

A book open on its spine with pages fluttering

Lauren jolted awake and immediately picked up her phone. It was a little after 10:00 AM. She had a couple dozen notifications, which meant her editor had published her piece and it had automatically posted to her Twitter account. She remembered she had blocked Fred and went to unblock him. He probably wouldn’t be awake yet. He usually slept until noon if he didn’t go to bed until after 3:00 AM. 

She felt a little anxiety about how he would react to the piece, if he read it. Chase probably would if nothing else. Maybe Rain would see it. Thinking about Rain made Lauren angry all over again. She started going through her notifications.

“OMG I can’t believe he’s cheating on you!” was her first text from Jenna. “What an asshole!”

Veronica hadn’t said anything. She was probably trying to keep herself from saying, “I told you so.” Tricia, Marcella, and Rachael had all chimed in on the group chat with similar statements to Jenna’s. Her neighbors Ahmed and George had sent her their condolences, too. Lauren’s editor had sent her a thumbs up with a screenshot of some initial reactions to the story. It was a hit. 

Her Twitter responses were similar — women (and some men) saying these were great tips and sharing their stories of being cheated on and how they found out. There were plenty of “men are trash” GIFs and a few hot takes, although it was mostly solidarity and sympathy. 

“Brunch?” Jenna texted. “If you’re up? 

Lauren’s stomach was still full of the dead moths. She didn’t think she could eat. But she wanted to get out of the house. 

“Where?” she texted back.

Jenna’s choice in restaurants tend to skewed vegan and “health conscious”, which Lauren wasn’t really much interested in.

“Green Life,” Jenna texted back. “A new place!”

Lauren hesitated. “Green Life” definitely sounded like a place that she’d get shamed for wanting real milk instead of oat milk. She looked them up on Google Maps. They appeared to have a bar, with actual alcohol. She shrugged.

“See you there at 11,” she texted Jenna back. “As long as I can wear sweatpants.”

“Deal,” Jenna responded.

Lauren pulled herself off the bed to go take a shower.

*******

Green Life was a hip spot with gorgeous, young servers, the trendiest decor, and kitschy themed cocktails. The theme appeared to be “green spaces”, including prairies, jungles, forests, etc. Jenna quickly gathered that the “green” in their name was more about sustainability and saving the earth than it was veganism, although most of their food offerings did appear to be of the vegetable variety. 

Lauren got there before Jenna and was glad she’d chosen her cashmere “joggers” (a gift from Tom) rather than the ratty sweats she’d actually felt like wearing. She almost fit in with the clientele, although she felt conspicuously not wealthy. It had turned into a beautiful, sunny spring day — the rare one in New York — and she gladly accepted a table on the small sidewalk patio. She ordered a drink from the cocktail menu — something like a Cloudforest Cocktail — that had plenty of gin mixed with a liquor she’d never heard of and was topped with bubbly. 

Jenna breezed up to the table just as the server left with Lauren’s cocktail order. She was wearing yoga pant leggings — as always — and a geometrically interesting top. She looked athletic and sporty, her natural blonde waves tossed haphazardly into a perfectly messy bun. Lauren wished she’d taken some time to curl her hair instead of throwing it under a hat. But at least the hat was cute, she thought. And she’d put on some make up, so she didn’t look entirely dull next to her gleaming, glowing goddess of a friend.

“Hellooooo!!” Jenna sang as she reached down to hug her smaller, less blonde friend. Lauren half stood out of her chair and the hug was entirely awkward. “Are you okay?”

Jenna fell gracefully into the chair across the table from Lauren and ceremoniously took her phone out from her purse and placed it on the table face down, as she always did. Then she put both hands on top of the table and looked at Lauren pointedly, ready to give her all of her attention.

“I’m … okay,” Lauren answered. The anxiety was back. But so was the anger. “Just kind of reeling, you know.”

“Of course, of course,” Jenna said. She reached across the table and patted Lauren’s hand. “What a shock!”

“I mean, I guess I suspected it the whole time,” Lauren responded. “In hindsight, it was pretty obvious he wasn’t all that into me.”

“Hmm,” Lauren said, picking up her phone. “Hang on a sec, I need to post an Instagram story about this place.”

She held the phone in front of her face and took a few selfies, frowning several times until she got the exact right angle with the right light on her face. She typed in a few things and hit send. The server returned with Lauren’s drink in a giant martini glass. “Oh, starting early,” she said, and although she was smiling, Lauren could feel a bit of judgment. Of course Jenna didn’t drink alcohol. Her body was a temple. 

“Can I have some water?” Jenna asked the server, squinting up at him and shielding her eyes from the sunlight behind him. “No ice, please, it hurts my teeth.” 

“Of course,” the server said. “Do you need a few more minutes to look through the menu?”

“Oh, no,” Jenna said, waving her hand at the untouched menus on the table in front of them. “I have your menu memorized, literally. I will have the quinoa bowl — the vegan version, please.”

“Absolutely,” the server replied. “And for you?”

“Liquid lunch,” Lauren said, gesturing toward the martini glass in front of her.

“No judgment from me,” the server laughed. “I’ll be back with the water and the quinoa bowl.”

“He’s cute,” Jenna said after he’d left. And of course he was; everyone within a 20 foot radius of this restaurant was a model or an actor. Except Lauren.

“Anyway,” Jenna said, “so how did you find out?”

“The girl posted a picture of them on Instagram,” Lauren said, practically shouting. 

“Oh, that one in the article?” Jenna said. “Oh my god. That’s so brazen. And he let her post it!”

Lauren felt hot tears rising from her hot cheeks. She took a sip of her martini. 

Jenna squinted a little. “You know, though,” she said, “I mean, if I was cheating on someone, I wouldn’t let my mistress post about it on Instagram.”

Lauren shrugged a little and turned away to look at the street. “No,” she said, “but Fred doesn’t even have Instagram. He probably didn’t even know she posted it.”

Jenna shrugged back. “I guess.” The server dropped off her water and Jenna drank half the glass in one swig. She drank so much water throughout the day. This was probably why her skin was always glowing, Lauren thought. “Who’s the girl, anyway?”

“This nurse he works with,” Lauren said. “Ugh, she’s the worst. She’s so fit. No offense.”

Jenna laughed. “None taken.”

“And he has always talked about how great she is. I found her on Facebook and then got her Instagram from there.”

“Yeah, I read the story,” Jenna said. “You’re quite the little stalker.”

“When I need to be, sure,” Lauren said. “I was just so mad. He strolled in last night at 3am. His shift had ended at midnight. And I was at his place waiting for him.”

“Oooh,” Jenna said. “Had he forgotten you were going to be there?”

“No,” Lauren said. “I mean, he knows I know where his spare key is and I can show up whenever I want. I was going to surprise him. I even got this new lingerie and this new bath bomb and all these candles. I just felt so ridiculous.”

“Okay,” Jenna said, leaning over the table. She put both of her hands in front of Lauren. “So, I am just going to play devil’s advocate a little bit, but do you think it’s possible he’s not cheating? Maybe they were seriously just coworkers out for a drink after work?”

Lauren recoiled somewhat. She felt attacked. “Of course I think he’s cheating on me,” she said. “He sexts with his ex in Paris.”

“Really?” Jenna said, eyebrows raised.

“I mean, I caught him responding to a Snapchat of her in lingerie,” Lauren said. 

Jenna curled up her lips into a skeptical smile. “Is that technically cheating?”

“I think it is, yes,” Lauren said, straightening up in her chair. She took her martini in both hands and drank from it. “He’s been hiding things from me. That’s cheating.”

Jenna held her hands up as if to say she’d given up. “Fair, fine,” she said. “I mean, you have to trust your gut.” She drank some more of her water. “How do you think he’s going to feel about this hit piece you have out on him, complete with photos of him caught in the act?”

Lauren drank again. “I don’t care how he feels about it,” she lied.

“K,” Jenna said. 

They sat in silence for a moment. Jenna picked her phone back up. “Oh, you won’t believe this,” she said. She scrolled through something and then held the phone out for Lauren to see. “I got pinged by an agent!”

Lauren squinted at the phone. It was too bright outside to really see what Jenna was showing her, but she could make out an email. 

“An agent?” she asked. “Like, for your influencer stuff?”

“Yes, totally!” Jenna took the phone back and clicked it off excitedly. “That’s one of the reasons I’m here, actually, to show the kind of response I can get from my followers when I go to a restaurant. It’s, like, a portfolio piece.”

“Oh,” Lauren said. She felt dismayed and used. It wasn’t that her friend had wanted to do brunch; she just didn’t want to go to a work gig alone.

“And a great excuse to see you, too!” Jenna added quickly, although she could clearly see the damage had been done. 

“It’s okay,” Lauren said. “I needed to get out of the house. I’m glad you invited me.” She took another sip of the drink, which was sweet but not cloying. The bubbles felt luxurious. She wondered if they used real champagne or at least good sparkling wine instead of the cheap stuff with the fake cork; it was hard to tell in mixed drinks.

“I mean, I won’t lie, I was going to come anyway,” Jenna went on. “There is no way I could get in here on a weekend right now. But I’m glad you could come with me.”

“Me, too,” Lauren said, genuinely. She felt the alcohol now, going to her head a little bit. 

The server brought Jenna’s quinoa and Jenna clapped as he put it in front of her. She took a few photos of it and posted them to her story. 

“Oh, Lauren, please,” she said, offering Lauren her phone. “Can you take a boomerang of me taking the first bite?”

Lauren agreed. She wasn’t much of a photographer, and her posts never looked as good as Jenna’s (which was probably why she was a healthy lifestyle influencer and Lauren was a sometime writer), but she tried. They handed the phone back and forth a few times, Jenna giving tips on an angle and when to start the video, until Jenna was satisfied with the final product.

“Good enough!” she said, swiping through the filters. “This makes it look really delicious.”

“Is it really delicious?” Lauren asked.

Jenna chewed for a moment and thought about.

“I mean,” she said. “It’s ok. It’s kind of … bland.”

Lauren nodded and finished her drink. This was the sort of place you went to see and be seen, not the kind of place you really went for the food. It had filled up, too, and was bustling with beautiful people eating bland, beautiful food and posting it to Instagram.

Jenna posted a few more things to the story, and even got their cute server involved. Lauren hung in the background. She didn’t plan to feature in the stories at all, and was glad Jenna never invited her to. She ordered a glass of prosecco and Jenna raised an eyebrow into her second glass of water.

By 1pm, they were hugging each other goodbye and promising to catch up that evening. Lauren decided to walk home rather than taking the subway. She felt tipsy, but still anxious, and wanted to try and absorb some of the sunshine while she could. By the time she’d reached the East Village, Fred texted her. 

3. Lauren writes a piece.

A book open on its spine with pages fluttering

Laruen spent the Uber drive sullen in the backseat, getting herself angrier and angrier, ignoring the driver’s attempts at making conversation and looking up ideas on how to prove that Fred was cheating on her. When the driver left her in front of her apartment building in Manhattan, she took a screenshot of the payment amount (including a $3 tip) and texted it to Fred, with a short, “Help me with this, please.”

Continue reading “3. Lauren writes a piece.”

2. Lauren can’t sleep.

A book open on its spine with pages fluttering

Fred fell asleep and settled into a calm, soft snore in about three minutes. Lauren couldn’t sleep. Her anxiety was relentless, and she couldn’t stop thinking. She considered putting on a podcast but was afraid to wake Fred up. Even though he was a heavy sleeper, he was very firm about not being disturbed while he slept. His bedroom was a cave of complete darkness, with blackout curtains over the windows, a white noise machine, and a fan running to keep Fred asleep and disturbances from the rest of the world out. It was a perfect laboratory to encourage Lauren’s mind to wander in and out of doubt and overthinking.

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