The Taming of Wolf: A Fable

by Elise Teitelbaum

1. The Damsel

Naturally, since the disastrous incident, Abba wouldn’t let her out of his sight. But Ita had changed.  All week during Hanukkah she did not once doze off as in previous years; this time she stared long and hard into the flames until they flickered out. She felt the light healing her soul and her fears. She was not afraid of Wolf any more at all, despite what happened to Grandma.  On the contrary, she was starting to realize that she had all the power and Wolf had nothing but impulses.  Moreover, he was afraid of her.

Early next morning, while Abba snored, Ita dashed out of bed and stumbled to the basement.  She unlatched the cage and coaxed Wolf, weak from hunger, to tramp after her, muzzled of course, into the forest.

Ita understood things; she knew that the wolf was salivating, for example.  He was looking at her fingers. Her left hand gripped the rope attached to Wolf’s neck and her right clutched the axe. Wolf watched her drag it bump, bump over the dandelions and wild mustard that grew at the edge of the forest; he watched her collect the roots and leaves in a bundle.  Ita knew that Wolf was starving for meat and had rampaged all over that forest, even entering houses to get it; of course he longed to do it again…  HEY!  There you go; the wolf was about to lunge at her.

“ANIMAL!” she screamed.

To her surprise, Wolf’s ears dropped; his forehead furrowed, his eyes cast down and his tail hung limp.

Abba scrambled after them, dragging his wagon.  “Get away from that wolf!  Are you crazy?” he hollered.

“Sorry,” she said.  Ita decided to go ahead with her plans when her father wasn’t around.

Abba yanked the rope out of her hand and tied the wolf to a tree. “Set out breakfast a good three meters away,” he ordered. While Abba drew water from the stream, Ita gathered her thoughts. She fed the wolf a breakfast of dandelion roots and wild mustard, intending to teach his canine teeth not to wound, grab and kill; to teach the back teeth not to crush bones and chew big chunks of meat, and the front teeth not to pull people’s skin.  Rather, Wolf’s teeth should behave like the teeth of a sheep: incisors to pick grass and molars to mildly chew.

When the wolf had eaten his fodder, Ita picked up a stick, scrooched down and engraved on a damp patch of dirt the letter alef. She glanced up and saw that she had Wolf’s attention; he was watching intently as anyone would expect. Naturally, she was a glob of meat to him; he wasn’t used to unfleshly nourishment.

“A Hebrew letter,” she said to the wolf, “can eventually transform an ignoble animal into a magnificent man.  Look here!” She turned her head; Wolf was straining at the rope.

Ita snatched the axe from Abba’s wagon, clicked her tongue and gently removed the muzzle with her right hand.  With her left hand she bobbed the axe a whisker away from Wolf’s nose.

Abba returned with the water and frowned. “Leave that wolf alone!”

Ita backed off three meters away. “Alef, alef, alef, Wolf.  Say it!” Ita urged.

Abba grabbed back the axe.  Ita yanked Wolf by the rope; Abba’s axe missed and chunked heavily into an oak stump.

“Aaooo!” howled Wolf, eyes clenched shut.

“Yes!” Ita cheered.  “Say it again!”

Ch-thunk! This was the axe.

“Aaooo!” howled Wolf again.

All morning until lunchtime, Ita taught Wolf to articulate and modulate his consonants.  She coaxed out vowels; diphthongs and gutturals, intending all the while to grind the animal part into pieces and create him anew.

Next day the letters Ita had drawn in the dirt were gone, washed away in the evening rain.  Wolf was sniffing at the place.

His wolf-like recitation of the bet, gimel, daled and hay, continued as the sun dragged westward.

Abba loaded the newly-cut logs into the wagon, tied the wagon to a rope and the rope to Wolf’s neck. This way he would subdue and make use of him one more time. “Stop that howling or I’ll whack you,” he grumbled.

The wolf howled and howled.  Ita fumbled for the muzzle and rope. Abba frowned and reached for the axe; it was somewhere in the wagon. When he looked up, though, Wolf and the wagon were gone.

“See what your lessons came to!” Abba roared. “A man-eating wolf is on the loose, and a whole day’s work is lost!”

Ita resisted the urge to talk back.  She knew the wolf had aced the letters and didn’t need a muzzle, rope or axe.

Wolf’s forty-two teeth were slowly but surely amalgamating into a human-like speech mechanism.

2. The Wolf

Wolf was free at last, except for the log-laden wagon that dragged him down.  The lobes of his lungs, part human, part animal, aired his heart like wings. Wolf’s heart palpitated.  His palate salivated because he could smell the damsel, no matter how far he fled. Would he eat her too?  No, no. He wanted to nibble the earlobe, that’s all.  He bumbled ahead, his nerves on edge that he might not find her and more on edge if he did.

Before dawn Wolf heard the damsel calling, “Wolf!  Wolf!”  He raised his eyes, the better to see her ahead of him, stumbling in the forest. Wolf lunged, dragging the wagon with super-animal force, opening his jaws wide to capture a chunk of her. “Aaooo!  Alf!

And then, something strange happened: By articulating the alef his forty-two teeth conflated into a humanized speech organ, more thrilling to his tongue than blood, flesh and fat.

He was already in mid-dive when an outlandish tenderheartedness took hold of Wolf.  He suddenly knew that a speck of humanity existed inside him. In the split moment between heaven and earth the wolf knew that, even if he would eat only earthworms and garbage, he would forever guard this spark in his mangy self—it was in there! With a yap bold and reckless and believing he steered himself clear of the damsel, though the only alternate place to crash was a solid old oak tree.

And so Wolf crashed and fell the kind of fall that clears the way for a magnificent ascent of the spirit.

3. The Prosecutor

Zindel the Prosecutor suffered constant squabbles in his marriage: his young wife Ita saw only good and he of course saw only bad.

To make matters worse, Zindel was growing old and still had no children. People said it was Wolf’s fault. Ita said it was Zindel. Since everything that came to him was bad in his eyes, it was obvious that only bad could come to him.

Zindel’s finest quality was to keep silent under his many intolerable circumstances, like living with no respect, no money, no work, no friends, no place to go shopping, no schools, no community; The Prosecutor was shunned by everyone.

The secret he avoided was that he was going to die; it was unimaginable and yet it petrified him.  He felt emptiness in his stomach, and he knew this was loneliness, and the reason could be that he had never looked kindly on anyone.

The Prosecutor, feeling despondent, closed his eyes to see into the past, a knack he’d picked up long ago from his father.  Why didn’t Ita give birth?  What was the cause? Again he closed his eyes.  Ah.  It had slept in her grandmother’s bed; that wolf was a devil, and it was still on the loose.

When Zindel’s hard-nosed father had left this world, he gave Zindel the text of an invocation, a last resort against relentless and interminable criminals.  Zindel had viewed that ancient bit of mumbo-jumbo as stupid, worn out and a bit risky.  He had never even thought of exploiting it, but it seemed inevitable now.

Zindel’s feet carried all the refined, intellectual parts of his body into the forest.  He arrived at Wolf’s door minutes before the holy Shabbat, leaving no option but to stay even if he’d suddenly lose his nerve.

Zindel waited there on Wolf’s doorstep, steeling himself for the wolf to open the door, and then Zindel would deliver the biting prayer that the wolf in turn would swallow; it would stick in the animal’s throat and then the grandmother, with all the other souls and sparks of humanity the wolf had swallowed, would be vomited out.  It would be unpleasant, but if he wanted a baby it had to be done.

Zindel pulled a hood over his ears to protect them from any bad words that might fall from the wolf in the process.  He knocked repeatedly on the wooden door.

A shadow appeared in the window and then the shutters slammed with a bang.

Zindel stood in the snow and waited.  His heart filled with rage.  That wolf was an animal…cruel…how could he leave a human being in the cold on the holy Shabbat?  This wolf had the heart of a beast…  Zindel opened his mouth to intone the prayer, and to his dismay the words got stuck in his throat, and he felt that years and years of  prosecuted souls began to erupt from his throat…  STOP!

Zindel woke up in a sweat, in a strange bed.

“I am Wolf,” said the gray-bearded man standing over him.  “I know why you’re here.”

For the first time in Zindel’s life, he felt, strangely, no need to accuse.  Why should he, when the face in front of him shone like the face of an angel?

Zindel remained in Wolf’s house until nightfall, when he heard and saw a crowd of villagers gather in the forest with torches, peering at the hut to uncover whatever bad would be there.  Zindel, wanting no part of it, slipped out the back door and walked the two kilometers home to his wife.

Late that summer a baby boy sprang out of the womb, exactly in Zindel’s image.  When people saw this, they walked to the forest in threes, tens, multitudes, suddenly sure that Wolf was a master of purity and holiness, a miracle worker, a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

Later that day, Wolf passed away as hidden men tend to do when someone uncovers their greatness.

And Ita, the Prosecutor’s wife, heard Grandmother’s voice peep from the baby’s throat, a great mystery.  Understand well.  She named the baby “Wolf”.

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