Clipped Whiskers


At first, Lawrence paid little attention to the wolf that moved into his closet.  Later, of course, he realized that wolves are social animals and the first was a scout who eventually sent for the rest of the pack.  But by then all the wolves had already moved in, and Lawrence had grown used to them.
      There's plenty of room in my house, he thought after the surprise of spotting the first wolf in his closet had passed, once he'd given the matter some thought.  And it was true, he had plenty of space for a housemate:  there weren't any strange toiletries crowding his spartan disposable razor and deodorant stick on the counter, and he slept undisturbed by tossing and turning aside from his own, or strange noises he did not make himself, or any of that sort of thing.
      That's a big closet, he thought, and I've got others, and a wolf will be good at driving off burglars, too.  No one will come uninvited to a house where a wolf lives inside!
      Neither he nor his house had been bothered by burglars before, but he'd never had a wolf move into his closet, either, which just went to show there's a first for everything and that burglars could be the next one.  So he let the wolf stay, though he didn't feed it or pay it much attention—it wasn't his pet, after all, just a wild wolf that happened to live in his closet—and aside from the inconvenience some mornings of having to brush tufts of fur from the hems of his trousers while dressing for work (soon solved by moving all of his clothes to the closet in the guest room—almost as big, and he didn't have so many clothes, anyway), they got along fine.
      That was when there was only one wolf, a smallish one, gray with longer black hairs rising out of the gray every few inches, like whiskers all over the wolf's slender body.  Lawrence remembered watching once as a neighborhood bully cut whiskers from the face of a cat.  Without whiskers to measure the edges of holes, the cat thought it could fit into spaces much smaller than the size of its body, and smashed its face bloody trying to escape into a drainpipe.  Lawrence wondered if the wolf's long black hairs worked like that, too, measuring the extra, empty space around itself, and if by removing his clothes from the closet he had convinced the first wolf there was plenty of room, room for the whole pack to move in.  But he didn't think about that until later, long after the morning he woke to a tumbling tangle of sleeping gray wolves piled in his closet like sandbags along the banks of a river, like the wolves were keeping a flood from coming into the closet or something else from going out.
      The wolves weren't bad housemates, as housemates go.  They stayed clean by grooming each other, and aside from the growls of tussling cubs they were quiet and kept more or less to themselves.  They left Lawrence more or less to himself, too—the wolves were practically human that way.  They never sat at the table with him while he ate dinner, and they never crowded onto the couch or into his lap while he watched the gentler kinds of pornography he enjoyed on cable TV.  When he came home from work the wolves never asked him how his day had gone or what he had done or what he might want for dinner.  Sometimes one or two wolves might look up when he walked through the door, but mostly the pack went on sleeping or tussling or licking themselves with their hindlegs spread apart and sticking straight up in the air.
      Lawrence usually ate dinner while watching the news, and he mostly ate frozen all-in-one meals—not TV dinners, he thought those were sad, but meals with chicken and vegetables and pasta or rice all mixed together in one frozen bag so he just had to warm it in a microwave bowl.  "Meals for One" the bags read, but sometimes he ate one and a half or even two at a time; he knew these meals were more expensive than buying the ingredients in them and making dinner himself, but he didn't like the time it took to stand over the stove or cutting up onions or washing more than one dish.
      He wasn't sure what the wolves ate; they sure didn't get it from him.  Maybe they crept out and hunted while he wasn't home or when he was asleep, or maybe—who knows?—there were rats in the basement and the wolves lived off those.  Lawrence hadn't gone into the basement in a long time, because he didn't need to use all that extra storage.  Maybe the wolfpack was eating its way through the neighborhood's dogs, cats, and ferrets or something like that.  They all looked well-fed to Lawrence.
      Once in a while, if he was eating a pint of ice cream or an apple pie, he thought he should get some treats for the wolves so they could enjoy dessert together, maybe watch a movie, something with wolves in it or at least huskies—there were lots of movies about huskies racing and saving the day.  But he never did offer them treats, because first, what kind of treats did wolves like?  Dog biscuits?  Babies?  There were those ice cream cups for dogs he'd seen at the store, but he wasn't sure if they were also for wolves.  And second, the wolves were his housemates, they shared his space but it wasn't like they had a relationship or anything—they just lived together.  He was wary of crossing some line, of getting too comfortable or familiar with the wolfpack because then they might expect treats all the time, or take his house for granted so much that they stopped guarding it against burglars, or something worse.  They already seemed to be taking advantage a little:  one afternoon he came home before his usual time after leaving work early for a doctor's appointment, and found one wolf humping another wolf right on his bed.  That was too much, and he yelled and the wolves ran away into his closet that was also their den.
      But mostly they all got along because they all understood that they just lived together and it didn't mean anything other than that.  The wolves and Lawrence respected each other's space.  Sometimes, when Lawrence crept downstairs to his kitchen to scavenge a late night snack from the fridge, the wolves forgot who he was for a second and snarled as he passed in the hallway, but even though his heart skipped a beat at those moments he never really felt threatened.  The wolves seemed to know they'd found a good thing, and that their good thing depended on Lawrence not being eaten and not deciding that wolfpacks don't make good housemates for a single man living alone.
      And Lawrence, for his part, let the wolves be themselves pretty much, so long as they didn't lick anything gross or mount each other on surfaces where he slept or ate, or spray their marking scents onto his clothes or his pillows or couch.  
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