Little Red Riding Hood’s Reply to the Wolf
by Victoria Zak
for my friend — in enchantment — Shahid
Only you and I know what really happened that day,
my wolf. I wasn’t a child. I wasn’t wearing red. Red
was the color of the bloody deed they did to protect
my family name and preserve the myth of my innocence
in a fairy tale. Of course, it was too late by then.
I was sixteen; he was 23, a stranger in our village.
I saw him in the woods one day, peeling bark from a tree
and I stopped to watch. He said: “The bark of the birch tree
simmered in water, yields a tea that can cure great griefs.”
“Can it cure the grief of living a false life?” I inquired.
His skin was sweet caramel and his eyes were deep brown
with moody depths. His hair was black as a raven’s wings.
“You’re the girl from the mansion on the hill,” he said.
“You ride your horse from dawn to dusk, never looking up.
The villagers say you’re wearing a hood of heavy sadness.”
“I have no voice in my own fate,” I said. “My parents
have pledged me into marriage, when I turn 17, to a
wealthy, older man they chose for his bloodline and
breeding, like I’m a mare, not a daughter. I’d rather die
alone in the woods, than be wedded to a loveless life.”
“Odd that we should meet,” he said. “In my country,
I too, faced an arranged marriage. My future was a veil
on a young girl’s face. I left that life to travel and learn
what the natural world could teach me. Love is the soul’s
truth. Desire is the road to it. It’s expansive, not limited.”
He knew the birds by their calls, the words of the poet Rumi
and I loved to watch the way his fingers stroked the air when
he talked. One day, we met in the woods before sunrise. A chill
was in the air, and we huddled together for warmth. “We’re
waiting for the sound of dawn that precedes the sun,” he said.
It began as a hum from the ground, and then I heard a second
sound, higher pitched — another and another — sounds layered
on sounds until they reached such a high frequency, they all
became one sound and the floor of forest was vibrating with
the power of it. Our bodies too, were vibrating and he said:
“For me, this sound of oneness is the voice of creation.”
I’m sure, my wolf, you know what love is. Animal and divine
in a glance, love is surrender. I kissed his lips, he slid his hands
to my hips, we breathlessly removed each other’s clothes, and
we came together in the vibrations, adding our mating cries
to the oneness of the forest sounds.
In autumn, when leaves were red, a hunter chanced upon our bed.
He aimed his rifle at my lover and said: “Leave and never return.
Go alone, and you will live. If she goes with you, her family will
track you and kill you, wherever you go, however long it takes.
Is that the life you want for her?”
My lover picked two leaves from a tree, gave one to me,
and kept the other. He whispered: “This is not an end for us.”
Then the fairy tale began. The hunter told me to rub soil on
my clothes, and cut my leg with a stick to look as if I had been
in a mishap. He took me home and returned to the woods.
When you were carried into town on poles, tied by your feet,
with your head hanging down, a beautiful black wolf in his
prime — dying, but not yet dead — I cried out and ran to you.
I was pulled back, taken to my bed and given bitter medicine
to sleep on the lie that you had attacked me.
I woke in darkness, came to you fevered, and covered you
with the green coat I wore that day. I laid my head on your
shoulder, and told you of a world where you would run free
again. When your last breath escaped like a sigh of the wind,
I sobbed until your fur was wet with tears, and must have slept.
A woman woke me, and said: “If you’re found lying with the
wolf, you’ll be shamed.” I cried: “The wolf is innocent! Killed
instead of my lover! I can’t leave him to be burned like rubbish.”
“My husband is the hunter,” she said. “We’ll give the wolf a
bed in the forest, and the location will remain our secret.”
I haven’t seen my lover, but I saw you, my wolf, on a path
in a dream in a radiant forest, alive! I hold you in my heart
when I walk through the woods to visit the hunter’s wife
for tea. She said an animal who visits you in dreams
is a spirit guide, and will walk with you through life.
On the morning after we parted, when I went to the place
where we had been, you were gone, but my coat was there
and others had left gifts of grace — shiny coins, crosses
woven from reeds, and cut stems of vibrant fall flowers
strewn like poems to you in the grass.