Grey Wolf is my dad’s best friend. She’s the sister he never had. He met Grey Wolf through her ex-husband, Big Daddy. There’s a picture of Big Daddy holding me when I was a newborn. I’m almost invisible, wrapped in his meaty forearms. His legs are splayed to make room for his beer belly, and he has a double chin because he is smiling down at me. He is pretending to nurse me from a bottle of gin. Big Daddy is an engineer. Sometimes, we visit Big Daddy and Grey Wolf on our Dad-weekends. They have a flea market, and I always get a little toy when we visit. One time I get red, knee-high plastic boots for my Wonder Woman Barbie. Big Daddy and Grey Wolf have a dog named Mukluk. Mukluk is more wolf than dog. He is so big that when he stalks by me he accidentally knocks me over with his thick woolly tail. He doesn’t even know that I’m there. He is very big, but I am also very small. My favourite thing at Big Daddy’s house isn’t the flea market. It isn’t Grey Wolf’s ancient babushka dolls that she lets me play with as long as I’m very careful not to lose the baby one. It isn’t even the tractors that we get to ride, perched on Big Daddy’s lap. My favourite thing is the bubble baths. Grey Wolf always lets me have a bubble bath in her big pink tub. It’s Our Thing. And even though she always makes the water a bit too cool, and the water so shallow that it hardly reaches my belly button, bubble baths are my favourite thing because of the way she sells it. “Dahhling,” she asks in her husky, posh, cigarette-soaked British accent. “How would you like a bubble baaaath?” The way the words pour out of her mouth and her eyes twinkle into mine make a bubble bath sound like the most exotic adventure possible.
Grey Wolf had another name when she was married to Big Daddy, but then she left him and moved to a tiny island in Georgian Bay. She moved there with one of the labourers who worked at the flea market. They lived in a yellow school bus they had towed onto the island while they rebuilt an abandoned cabin. It was their island. No else could go on it without their permission, and in the winter, they had to cross country ski to the mainland for supplies. Once a bear tried to rip down their door to steal their food. Sometimes they would have to eat beaver to make it through the winter. My dad hated the new guy. Once when we visited them the grownups got very, very drunk and my dad threw a chair and chased him out into a blizzard. My brother and I were frightened that my dad would go to jail if he killed the new guy but Grey Wolf promised us it would all work out in the end. She was right. The new guy went away one summer and never came back. But we did. The yellow school bus slowly disappeared into the bush while the cabin came to life. It got electricity, and running water, and the walls became lined with books. Grey Wolf taught at the Indian school across the channel. She was so loved by the community that she was given her new name. She talked to God quite a lot, especially when she was drunk. As I got older, we would stay up late and she would smoke cigarettes and we would talk about my hopes and dreams for the future. Every once in a while she would stop me mid-sentence because God was interrupting and she needed to have a brief discussion with him on a particular point. Grey Wolf called me Black Wolf. It was Our Thing. In the summer, when school was out, she ran a marina from her island. She would stand on her jetty in a leopard-skin bikini, a gin and tonic in one hand and a smoke in the other, and wave prospective yachts down.
One summer the furniture salesman came with us to visit Grey Wolf on her island.
– Black Wolf.
– Yes, Grey Wolf?
– I think you should know.
– Know what?
– I had a chat with your fellow.
– You did?
– I did.
– I told him – I want you to know this darling – I told him that. If he ever hurts you. I will hunt him down. And I will kill him.
– Oh. Okay.
– I don’t need to leave the island to do it.
– I know you don’t.
– But I will do it.
– Okay. Thanks. I think.
I found one of my journals from that summer. There was an entry I had written about going to see his therapist with him. His dad was paying for the sessions. He was having difficulty dealing with his mother’s death. He told me that his therapist thought it would be a good idea for me to start attending the sessions too. I wrote that I was afraid to be alone with him afterwards. That I was frightened of him, of how much he was drinking, how big he was. The things he expected of me.
I don’t remember writing any of that.
It’s autumn now. Night-time in Toronto and I’m alone. The phone rings.
– Hey baby. How’s it going?
– Oh, fine. Still working on this costume history stuff. How’s the convention?
– Lots of orders. Dad’s really pleased with all the leads I’ve brought in.
– That’s great.
– I sure miss you.
– Mm hm.
– Ten days is a long time to be apart.
– Sure is.
– So, what did you do today?
– Well…I went for a drive in the country.
– Who with?
– That guy from school.
– Which one?
– You know, the one who gave me the tape.
-Because he wanted to show me the changing colours. The leaves, they’re are all changing colours. It’s beautiful up there. We should go when you get back.
– Are you attracted to him?
– I think so. Maybe. But nothing happened. Nothing’s going to happen. I’ve made a promise and I’m going to keep it.
The phone clicks off.
Three hours pass. It rings again.
– I’ve just talked to my therapist.
– It’s eleven o’clock at night. You called her at home?
– She says that we can stay together as long as you never see him again.
– But…he’s in my class. What are you saying?
– That’s the deal. You have to never see him again. That’s the only way we can move on.
– But nothing happened. I told you. We need to figure this out –
– THAT’S WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO! DO YOU HEAR ME? THAT’S WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO.
Eleven thirty. Another call.
– Hi Dad.
– What’s the matter peanut?
– I’m…I don’t know what to do. I’ve screwed everything up.
– What’s happened.
– He’s so angry and I don’t know how to fix it.
– Get in a cab.
Four words that change everything.
I’m sleeping in the spare room again, just like the old days when Canada was a break from real life, not life itself. Sleeping deeply for the first time in weeks. When I wake up, I wonder where I will sleep next. Dad and I take a load of empty boxes to the loft so I can get my stuff before he gets back. Fax paper pours from the machine into a puddle on the floor. He’s sorry. He wants to work it out. He wants me to call. I realise what I must have put my mother through when I faxed her my big news a few months earlier.
I leave the ring on the counter. Try to buff the scratch off its surface one more time. Slide the key under the front door.