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What the Wolf Wants

824 words 3 page(s)

Guilt is an integral part of mourning; when we lose someone close to us, there are always things that we regret about our past relationship. In the short story “What the Wolf Wants” by David James Poissant, the narrator describes a surrealistic encounter with a wolf that represents his guilt, grief, and fear over the death of his brother. When the narrator first sees the wolf, it is standing upright on its hind legs outside the window of his suburban home. At first he thinks that the wolf is a hallucination, but then realizes that it’s not a product of his imagination. He notes that “…the longer I stare at the wolf, the more I realize he’s no delusion-this one’s real” (Poissant). The narrator comments on the lighting and how the wolf’s silver coat looks blue under the artificial lights of the suburbs that blot out the moonlight under which a wolf should naturally appear. Although the wolf stands on his hind legs, he has no human features. His upright position make his testicles appear more prominent than they would on a naturally positioned wolf. “His balls hang immodestly between his knees. They swing in the breeze like something, like balls” (Poissant).

He invites the wolf into the house through a window and into his kitchen where he offers him coffee. He is fixated on the wolf’s testicles, and how he’d like to keep them from coming into contact with the mass-produced dining room chair that the wolf sits on. He is too intimidated by the wolf to place a towel on the chair, as “…the look on the wolf’s face tells me I’d best keep my hands away from his testicles” (Poissant). After pouring coffee into a bowl for the wolf and watching it blow on it to cool it, the narrator reminisces about how he and his deceased brother, Michael, were taught to blow on hot soup by their mother for the same reason. He notes that like other lessons imparted by their mother, blowing on hot liquids doesn’t really cool them and he, his brother, and mother would burn their mouths drinking hot soup while pretending that it did not hurt. The harsh realities of life cannot be pushed away so easily, though people like to pretend that they can. The wolf burns his tongue on the coffee and howls and growls. It embodies the reality of pain and death that are beyond our control.

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The wolf’s growling frightens the narrator and highlight the proximity to pain and death that the wolf’s presence in his home signifies. He decides to offer part of himself to the wolf, a sacrifice to satisfy the savage beast. “A toe’s not the end of the world, I think. I could lose a toe. I bend to unslipper one foot” (Poissant). It is not the toe, nor any other part of the narrator that the wolf wants, however. It is the slippers, fur lined moccasins that were the last gift that he received from his dead brother, Michael. The moccasins are both a reminder of his brother’s love and the source of a painful and guilty memory for the narrator. “I shouldn’t have said what I said to my brother that Christmas: ‘Slippers? What the hell am I supposed to do with slippers?’” (Poissant). Their mother, who had also received slippers from Michael, praised them while the narrator complained that he had bought Michael an expensive espresso maker and felt that the moccasins were not a comparable gift. Now, when the wolf demands that the narrator give him the moccasins, he tries to substitute one of his expensive appliances as a substitute. The wolf only wants the moccasins. As the wolf ties them to his paws they bunch up and remind the narrator of the tennis balls on the feet of his brother’s walker; the image of balls is reminiscent of the wolf’s testicles described at the beginning of the story.

While the narrator never explicitly states the cause of Michael’s death, it seems apparent that he died slowly of cancer. He describes Michael losing his hair multiple times and having had both of his legs amputated. The narrator notes that it has only been a year since his brother’s death and he is still grieving and still feeling guilty over disparaging his brother’s gift. “I was a bad person then. Maybe I still am. It’s been a year, but it takes longer than that. I think maybe it takes a while to redeem yourself in the eyes of the dead” (Poissant). When the wolf takes the moccasins, it is both a lifting of some of the guilt that the narrator feels and a reinforcement that he no longer has the love of his brother to comfort him.

    References
  • Poissant, D.J. What the Wolf Wants.