The Wolf Tetralogy, #2: How to Catch the Wolf
“It is true that, when the wolf first proves he is actually there, you feel a definite sense of panic.” — M.F.K. Fisher

Bouncing slightly on her toes, barefoot in the bathroom late at night, my eight-year-old daughter brushed her teeth. I caught glimpses of her from my seat at the kitchen table, where I paged through Waverly Root’s The Food of Italy. A normal school night; the two of us at home alone together; I was already in my pajamas, listening to the hum of the dishwasher.

My phone lit up with a text message.
“Headed to the 24 Hour Hotcake House. Interested?”
The Baker. Industry people and their odd hours. The Baker and his wife owned a famous shop on the other side of the river, which they’d run together for nearly twenty years. I’d introduced myself to the Baker only two weeks prior, having coincidentally discovered we had survived the same devastating earthquake thirty-two years before, in the coastal town where I’d grown up, several hundred miles south. After the initial phone call, we met for coffee and talked, mostly about the history of local restaurants. At that meeting, I gave him a copy of the vignette I had written about the shared history, printed on very good paper. He cried. He and his wife were long-time friends of my boyfriend.

“I’m getting the babe ready for bed, otherwise I’d be down,” I texted back. I had left behind late-night breakfasts in my twenties; it still felt nice to be asked.
“Heard. Leaving here in 10 minutes if you change your mind. Give him a smooch for me.”
The babe. He thought I was with my boyfriend. The two of them had known each other for decades, since the business had been a stall at the Farmers’ Market.
“Not that babe,” I wrote, “I’m getting my daughter ready for bed.”
“Ha,” he wrote. “Leaving now. See you soon.”
I bristled. I would not be leaving my child alone. Hadn’t I told him how old she was, and that I was a single-parent? Yes, I was positive he knew; we had both talked about our kids at coffee.
“Not tonight. In for the night.”
“What’s stopping you? Half an hour. Hot cakes and sausage patties.”
I did not like this.
“Mama duties,” I wrote, and then put down my phone.
My daughter skipped to her bedroom to put on her pajamas, which she refused to do before brushing her teeth, lest she get toothpaste on her clean top.
“Understandable,” he wrote back, and then, “Half an hour.”

I brushed off the feeling of disrespect; it raised a flag against friendship, but acquaintances we could remain. He called occasionally after that, always eager to tell stories about the city’s culinary history or to recount memories of famous chefs; and this, I liked. He once explained, at a dizzying pace studded with percentages, volumes, and the terminology of chemical reactions, how better to feed my sourdough starter to develop a smoother, more yogurt-y tang from lactic instead of acetic acid. I took notes; I could barely keep up: it was spectacular.

The morning of my daughter’s birthday party, I called the Baker to place an order. He didn’t answer; I left a message. Five minutes later he called back.
“Porkchop,” he said. My nickname since college: ham-fisted, pig-headed; anything from the grab-bag of other porcine adjectives.
“You ready for Chicago?” I asked. He was leaving the next day for a week-long gig, teaching classes and cooking.
“Pretty much. Packing up the last few things. What’s up? The last part of your message was garbled. My phone is doing weird things.”
“Birthday party day,” I said, “I’m going to have five little girls all afternoon.” I read him the order.
“What time you want to come get it?”
“Well, I kind of screwed up scheduling this. The party starts before you open.”
Tit for tat. I would not normally have ever asked for a favor, or made a last-minute request, but remembering the coercive tone of the texts about the Hotcake House; that still-fresh and unpleasant emotion, absolved me of concern.
“I asked you what time you want to come get it.”
“Oh. Wow. Nine? I mean, please tell me ‘no‘ if this is a bother and…”
He cut me off, “We can make some magic happen. I’m turning up the oven right now,” he yelled to someone else in the shop; it was clear he was in the kitchen, “is that going to be ready by eight-thirty? Yeah, okay…”
I couldn’t hear the other end of the conversation.
He came back on the line, “What time again?”
“I’d need to pick it up around nine.”
“You got it. I’ll get it going. Nine AM pick-up.”
“Oh my god, thank you.”
“Of course, Babe. You’re family.” He had said this, the part about being family, to me before; it was on account of my boyfriend. The Baker revered him. He almost always ended our calls by telling me, “send our love” to my boyfriend: his and his wife’s.
I drove over with my daughter, and the Baker let us in through the kitchen. His wife poked her head in and scowled. I said hello, and introduced my daughter. She mumbled a greeting, glared at the Baker, and then returned to whatever she was doing, elsewhere in the building.
“I love that woman more than anything,” mused the Baker, “I don’t know what I fucked up this time.”
The Baker sang “Happy Birthday” to my daughter, standing in the kitchen, and then would not let me pay.

At the birthday party, the father of one my daughter’s friends stepped up to the table, looking at what we had acquired, and then, face aglow, turned to me and said, “How did you get this? We wait in line forever for this stuff.

A week later, at six in the morning, my phone began to vibrate on the nightstand next to me. I had slept over at my boyfriend’s house, and he, far more sensitive to small noises than I, stirred beside me in bed, which in turn woke me. I reached for the phone to see who was calling. The Baker. Too early for relative strangers; I muted the call. I knew my boyfriend would complain later: why did I keep my phone by the bed? It was indeed a bad habit, a holdout from a half-dozen years earlier, when I had a friend in an abusive relationship; I had been her emergency contact. That was long past; his point was valid.

My thoughts woke me fully; I had might as well just get up and go home. I leaned over and kissed my boyfriend’s head; he had fallen back to sleep. The Baker called again as I was driving. I did not answer; the rain pelted the roof of the car. As soon as the first call disconnected, he redialed. The phone lit up again. I did not answer. We did not know each other well enough for such early calls, or so many. My boyfriend had told me the Baker and his wife were notorious drunks; maybe this was that.

I made soft-scrambled eggs, toast, coffee. After a reasonable interval; around eight in the morning, I returned his phone call.
“She says she’s taking half,” he said.
“Wait, what?”
“My wife. She’s leaving me. She says she’s taking half.”
“Wait, why? Did something happen?”
“She was watching the video feed. I didn’t do anything. There were two girls making out outside. Getting drenched. And I asked them if they wanted to come in. It was pouring. They could get dry, have somewhere nice to sit. It’s not like I was watching them. But then my wife calls and starts screaming at me and calling me a pervert.”
What on god’s green earth had possessed him to call me.
“When was this?” I asked. I wasn’t busy, I could listen.
“This morning. I was supposed to get in last night but every flight had some delay and we sat on the runway for six hours and so I didn’t get in until, I don’t know, whenever I called you.”
“What would be wrong with watching them!” He sounded exasperated, “It’s like, it feels good to be near people who are in love. I don’t know, I was just basking in it. I miss that. It wasn’t perverted. I’m just, lonely, and now my fucking wife is leaving me. And I’m just,” he paused for a long time, or trailed off, I wasn’t sure which.
I took a sip of my coffee, watching the rain come down in sheets outside.
He took a breath and said, very quietly, “…lonely.
Did he feel he had no one else he could talk to? This struck me as particularly sad, but I also knew that in long marriages friends sometimes became so interwoven there could be no neutrality.
“Yeah,” I said. “Are you okay?”
He let out a long exhalation. “Yes,” he said.

A couple hours later, my contractor, who had built my beautiful new bookcases, came over to paint my kitchen a deep teal blue; a color I had picked based on the walls of a favorite restaurant. He moved the refrigerator and began work. I swept up the dust and lost cat toys and missing puzzle pieces and then leaned against the counter to chat with him. He was a poet and an eager and curious cook; we always had something to talk about. The phone rang: the Baker.
“Hang on,” I said to the contractor, “I have to take this.”
“Not a problem,” he said.
I answered the phone.
“I can’t go home,” the Baker said.
“Where are you?”
“The store.”
“You should go home. You should talk to her.”
“She has me blocked, Porkchop.”
“I’m going to the beach house.”
“Right now?”
“Yeah. Jesus. Taking half. That’s what she said, when she called, not even hello, just ‘I’m taking half.’”
“Are you safe to drive?” I asked, “have you slept at all?”
“I’m fine, Babe,” he said.
“Come with me. It’s a big house. You can pick your own bedroom. You could write. I’ll cook for you. Make steaks.”
“No,” I said, “I’m not going to do that.”
“Why not. Just come out for the weekend.”
“No. I’m not coming to the beach,” I said.
“I’m texting you the address.”
“I have to go,” I said.
The contractor was on the ladder, painting above the refrigerator. His yellow suspenders were printed with lines and numbers, like measuring tape.
“Your boyfriend is super-emotional,” he observed.
“That’s not my boyfriend. That’s the Baker.” I had told him the story of the earthquake, and also read him what I had written about it.
“Because that was all the red flags.”
“Yeah,” I said, “Yeah, I know.”

The Baker called back later that afternoon while I was driving to my boyfriend’s house before dinner. The Baker, too, was driving; I heard rain drumming against his windshield, and the squeak and thud of the wiper blades. I listened to him ramble about his wife. Details of their marriage, her health, his unmet needs. I said almost nothing. I just listened while he drove; compelled by some mixture of obligation and concern.
“Do I sound unreasonable?” He asked.
He sounded angry, and I was only half-paying attention to his venting.
“You sound heartbroken,” I offered, and this was also true.
“Come to the beach house,” he said.
“No,” I said, making it two syllables.
“Why,” he said, “tell me why.”
I sighed, pulling into my boyfriend’s driveway to park, fumbling for diplomacy in the face of the fact that I just didn’t want to go. I barely even knew this person.
“Well, even though we’re just friends, you have to realize the optics are pretty bad. Your wife leaves you and you take off for the coast with some girl? Yeah, no. I have a boyfriend; you have a wife. It’s not appropriate.”
“Come to the beach. There’s a hot tub. I’ll make steaks and rub your feet.”
Ugh. Speaking of not appropriate.
“No thank you. Go put your feet in the ocean for me. I miss the water. I just got to my boyfriend’s house,” I said, “I’ll call you later.”
“Don’t tell him about this. Or is it too late for that,” he said.
I’d already tapped the red circle on the screen to end the call.

I went inside. My phone, which I’d tossed on the counter, lit up with more calls from the Baker. My boyfriend raised his eyebrows in question.
I said, “It’s the Baker. He’s having some marriage trouble. I think he’s drunk. He keeps calling. I’m not answering it.”
“They’re bad alcoholics,” said my boyfriend.
We went to dinner. I picked at the crisp edges of the squid pajeon, the scallion and egg pancake. My boyfriend looked at sports scores on his phone. I looked at the families at other tables, mostly Korean, drinking tea and taking small bites of the banchan: the half-dozen dishes of kimchee, pickled radish, cold wok-fried broccoli, and lotus root. There were glossy photos of the menu items covering the walls. I began to feel claustrophobic in the tiny space. My boyfriend remained immersed in his phone. I could feel the vibration of my own phone in my pocket. Calls, texts. I did not look.
My boyfriend drove me back to his house.
“I need to go home,” I said, once we were back in the kitchen, “I have anxiety. It’s ramping toward panic.” This was not unusual for me, but I needed to leave; it was bad.
“Here, I just want you to try this,” said my boyfriend. He held up a pomegranate. He was going to squeeze it to make juice.
“I don’t want any. I really need to go,” I said. I felt sick. I needed medication.
“This won’t take long,” he said.
I thought I might cry.
I stood and waited, gasping slightly. I took a sip of the pomegranate juice. It was astringent, almost bitter; unpleasant. I left.

I parked my car across the street from my building and killed the engine. I pressed my forehead against the steering wheel, taking small, quiet breaths. I went inside; I took my medication.
The Baker called. I did not answer; he called again.
I forgot I’d said I’d call him back. I answered this time, eroded.
“I’m at the beach,” he said.
“That’s good. How’s the house?”
“I have to tell you something,” he said, “I have a crush on you.” He did not slur. He spoke with the long drawl of a practiced alcoholic.
“That’s okay,” I said, “there’s nothing wrong with having crushes. That’s a normal thing. Thanks for telling me.” I opened the kitchen cabinet and got a glass and filled it with ice and sparkling water; the medication had kicked in, the anxiety began to abate.
“I fantasize about kissing you. About holding your hand.”
This was not okay. This bothered me. I said nothing.
He started crying.
“Would you date me?” He said.
“No?” I said, the answer coming out as a question, as the thought ‘no and why would you ask me that‘ came out as a single word. “I’m in a relationship,” I said carefully to him, “and so are you. I’m not looking to change this.”
“But are you attracted to me?”
I stared at the ceiling of the kitchen. I wanted badly to lie. I found him attractive; an irrelevant and inconvenient fact. It did not even matter.
I could not believe how long the day had been.
“Yeah,” I said, “but that’s really neither here nor there.”
“So would you date me?”
“No,” I said.
“Why not,” he said, “tell me why not. Give me a reason.”
I already had given him a reason. I thought of the small hot fury I had felt when he ignored that I had declined his invitation to the Hotcake House; how he had been pushy. I wouldn’t have dated him even if I had been single: the alcohol, the ranting, the disrespect. Also, anyone who behaves this way while married? No thanks. And of course, I am an elitist; the main thing was that he just wasn’t smart enough for me.
I had to get off the phone.
“I’m not comfortable having this conversation,” I said. “We’re friends. That’s it.”
We were not friends.
“Oh fuck,” he said, and I could tell it was about something else; he was distracted, “What’s this? What the fuck. She had me fucking blocked earlier, my own fucking wife, refusing to speak to me, and she texts me this? ‘I’m telling her boyfriend everything.’ Great.

Her boyfriend. Me?  My boyfriend?
I hung up the phone.

Author: `aqaq`

Tasia Bernie is an essayist, and editor of  She enjoys used bookstores, offal, and hard laughter.  She is a very good eater.  She lives with her daughter and two orange cats in Portland, Oregon.


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