Wonder Woman and The Wolf
A slow scraping sound filled my head. Then a landslide of rock and a muffled bark. The twins looked at me and I knew they’d heard it, too. We ran to the open window and flung our torsos out for a better view.
“Look down there!” I pointed, “There’s a brick on the ground!”
A dark red brick lay in a clump of grass next to their house. I searched for more clues: I saw an overturned wheelbarrow, and a dog tied up near a silver birch.
How could a brick fall off their house?
Because someone was climbing up the wall. And who wants to get inside a brick house? A wolf. My wolf. He was climbing up, knocked a brick loose, and fell. The dog saw him and tried to warn us.
I crouched down below the window so he wouldn’t see me.
The wolf who lived under my bed crawled on all fours and walked upright like a man. His black fur was slick, like the lines of an illustration. When he rose to full height, his tail switched from side to side and his jaw unzipped into a menacing smile. Each night, I would rehearse the same drama: I had to leap onto my bed so the wolf wouldn’t grab me and pull me under. I made sure a hand or foot didn’t accidentally hang over the edge, because he might cut it off with his butcher’s knife, catch it in his iron frying pan, and then cook it and eat it under my bed.
Tonight was supposed to be different. I would be far away from the wolf at my first sleepover, in the safety of the twins’ house.
When my mother opened the back door of our chocolate-brown station wagon and took my five-year-old hand in hers, I heard a dog’s high-pitched squeak desperately trying to express what it wanted: water, love. The twins’ family owned border collies whose voice boxes had been removed so their barks wouldn’t bother the neighbors. We walked together toward the brick house, shaded even on a bright afternoon by the listing trees in the yard. The twins greeted me with excitement and I gave my mother a hug and kiss goodbye.
Inside the house, curtains and shades were drawn to keep out the summer heat. Occasional shafts of sunlight crept through, illuminating the slow motion of the dust-filled air. The girls took me upstairs to play “house” with baby dolls and a makeshift kitchen.
They had an intimate language of play, and it was hard to find a way in. I felt more comfortable watching them feed the baby, burp the baby, put the baby to bed than I did playing myself.
“C’mon!” Kristy pleaded as she went back to her toys, “It’s just a brick. Let’s keep playing!”
I couldn’t tell the twins the truth: my wolf was outside trying to find another way into their house. Hiding underneath the playroom window, I went inside myself to escape. I might be okay if I didn’t move or speak. The baby woke up and ate invisible cereal out of a pink plastic bowl, but I didn’t respond. It wasn’t safe. I started crying and couldn’t stop.
The twins didn’t know what to do with me, so they took me downstairs to their mother. She was tall, broad, and older than my own mother.
“What happened?” she sighed with weary concern. We had interrupted her conversation with another one of her daughters whose large stomach was round and smooth like a beachball.
Everyone was staring at me, so I tried to explain.
“There’s a wolf outside who’s trying to get me.”
“A wolf? There aren’t any wolves around here, honey,” she said with a smile, as if this solved all my problems.
“But I heard him climbing up to the window. A brick fell off the house!”
Perhaps this is what she and I said in my head. A chasm opened up in the silence and I was utterly alone, trapped by a threat no one understood. My words couldn’t reach far enough, or explain well enough, for someone to believe me.
I started crying again and then swallowed my voice, stifling it like the dog’s warning. The twins left me in the kitchen with their mother while she made a phone call.
“Oh, hi there! Yes, well, the girls were playing and something got Sarah real upset,” she said to my mother.
“No, I don’t think so” she said after a beat. “I think you should come pick her up.”
I climbed into the car, ashamed that I had to go home early. As we backed down the driveway, the house got smaller and there was no sign of the wolf, not even a flash of fur dashing from tree to tree.
I sat in our living room, terrified. The wolf would be back any moment.
My mother walked over to the television set, turned the knob, and the Flintstones theme song distracted me for a few moments. Even though she knew there was a wolf under my bed, I had trouble explaining what happened at the twins’ house when we talked about it in the car. And besides, how could she possibly help? The wolf was my problem.
She handed me a glass of Hi-C orange drink and said, “Do you want to talk to Wonder Woman about this?”
I stopped watching Fred and Barney and looked at my mother, awestruck. She had conjured a door I didn’t know I could open.
It made sense that my mother knew Wonder Woman. As an actress, she knew all sorts of magical people and everyone seemed to know her. Whenever we were in the supermarket or department store, strangers would come up and talk to her about how much they loved her in a play. I felt immensely proud, and also slightly embarrassed by the attention they gave her. Wonder Woman was, of course, more famous than my mother. And Wonder Woman had an alter ego, which must have made grocery shopping easier.
My mother was a devoted gardener in the soil of my imagination, planting seeds of curiosity that sprouted into discovery. When I tentatively cracked open a door to another world, she would respond with wonder and questions. She played whatever part I wanted her to in my stories, no matter how many times we performed them. One night she called me and my brother up to her bedroom and we watched a cluster of silver sparks light up the front lawn. I wanted to go outside to get a closer look, but she said that faeries would disappear if humans approached. I don’t know whether she set up the sparklers herself, or whether my father lit them and then hid under the slope of our roof. The next morning when I went outside, I was thrilled to find a mushroom ring, slightly singed from their celebrations.
Wonder Woman was my favorite superhero and I loved watching her show on television. She was strong, smart, and helped anyone in trouble. There was something mesmerizing in the way Diana Prince would turn and turn, and the colors would blur, and she would become Wonder Woman. Unlike Superman, who needed a phone booth, Wonder Woman just needed a little space to turn around.
“Yes,” I said resolutely, “I want to talk to Wonder Woman.”
“Okay, give me a few minutes to find her phone number.”
While I tapped my toes impatiently and gripped the edge of the couch, my mother was in the kitchen secretly calling Wonder Woman and apprising her of the situation. They first met at a recording studio when my mother was doing a voiceover job. They knew within minutes that they would be best friends, the story goes. She became part of our chosen family: I called her Aunt Ellie and she called me Sarah Lee Chocolate Cake. But I didn’t know she was my Wonder Woman until years later.
After their whispered conversation ended, my mother hung up and shouted, “I found the number!”
I raced into the kitchen. She lifted the yellow receiver off our wall-mounted phone, handed it to me, and dialed. The phone rang once, twice, and then there she was, Wonder Woman, talking to me.
“Hello. How can I help you?”
I paused for a moment, just taking in the gentle sound of her voice. Then I took a deep breath.
“I have a problem with a wolf.”
I hurriedly told her everything. Suddenly, there was no distance between what I knew and what I could explain. Wonder Woman understood my fear and she was on my side as we faced it.
“Here’s what I want you to do,” she instructed. “Go up to your bedroom and put on your Wonder Woman Underoos. Then come back downstairs and go out to your porch.”
She knows we have a porch!
“You are five years old, so I want you to stand tall and say these words five times: ‘I am strong, I am invincible! Wolf, go away and never come back!’”
She knows how old I am!
I committed these words to memory, silently mouthing them to myself.
“Can I talk to Wonder Woman now?” my mother interrupted.
I handed her the phone and said, “Does Wonder Woman have kids? I heard some kids in the background.”
My mother put her hand over the receiver and said softly, “Oh no, she’s just helping someone in her neighborhood by looking after their children for a few hours. Isn’t that nice of her?”
My small bare feet stood firmly on our wrap-around porch. The grey planks of wood were warm from summer’s heat. I closed my hands into fists and purposefully placed them on my hips. I felt the slick fabric of my Underoos, and imagined gold bracelets curving around my wrists, a crown with a red star resting on my head, and a golden lasso hanging from my waist.
I repeated the words Wonder Woman told me to say, striking a different pose each time. When the incantation ended, I stepped down onto the front lawn. Freshly cut grass, stony concrete sidewalk, a yellow ribbon around our sycamore tree, and no sign of the wolf. For a moment, I thought I sensed him nearby, cowed and shrinking away. I turned to go back inside the house, satisfied that I had banished the wolf.
That night in bed, I rolled over and confidently dangled a foot over the edge.
Sarah Ahrens is a writer, teacher, and mother. She received her PhD in literature from Cornell University. She has taught literature, creative writing, and expository writing at Cornell University, Auburn Maximum Security Prison, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard University. Her work has been published in Romantic Circles, The Washington Post, and Avidly. Follow her on Twitter: @sfwahrens. Visit her website: www.sarahahrenswriter.com.