"Wolves" by Kenneth Hinegardner


James woke from a fitful sleep ripe with childhood monsters lurking under his bed and stealing into his dreams. Monsters that had faded almost from memory—like photographs blurred through the gauze of time—creeping back now into sharper focus.

He showered and dressed in a purposeful manner, tugging at his white dress shirt until it fit just right and Windsor-knotting a paisley tie snugly around his neck. The dour gray suit was worn only on solemn occasions—funerals, mostly. Now, another chalk mark to add on his sleeve.

Winter sunlight streamed through the windows of his west side co-op and basked the apartment in a golden glow, belying the funereal purpose of the day. He made a double Nespresso—fortification for his journey—and readied his bags. Outside, icy wind blustered up West End Avenue, nipping at his face. It made him want to return to the warmth and safety of home. He remembered a PBS show about wolves and how they are not slowed by the cold. Some predators bulk up for winter and hunker down when the weather turns, but wolves continue their hunting unabated. Always on the prowl, always searching for their next meal.

He tossed his bags into the trunk of the waiting Lincoln Town Car and hurried into the back seat. The driver looked at James from his rearview mirror, not turning around or saying a word. “La Guardia, United terminal,” James said. “And take the tunnel, it’s quicker this time of the morning.”

St. Erasmus Catholic Church rose into view from the taxi window: a bulwark of stone and permanence in the South Boston neighborhood. James was baptized in this church, received his confirmation and first communion here; it was also where his parents were married (during the blizzard of ’69) and where his mother’s funeral was held (during the blizzard of ’03). Now he was back to bury his father. But instead of feeling consoled by the church and her comforts, he felt gutted—eviscerated—much like the saint for whom the church was named.

The key to the house was under the shoe-worn welcome mat where it had been kept since he was a boy. The location made it easier to find after a night of drinking. “In that state of mind,” James’s father used to say in his Boston-Irish lilt, “the simpler the hiding place, the better.” It was after those nights that James came to understand the fraught nature of family: those who gave birth to you and raised you wouldn’t always be there to protect you; sometimes they were the danger.

The house smelled soiled and stale, as if the sheer weight of family history trapped the air inside from escape. The drawn curtains were faded, the carpet threadbare and cigarette-ash spotted. It probably hasn’t been cleaned since Ma died, he thought. James burrowed his nose in his coat and trudged up the narrow staircase with suitcase and garment bag in tow.

His old bedroom hadn’t changed. The low bed was still covered in the Red Sox blanket he got for his fifth birthday: the same year Boston made it all the way to the World Series before losing to the Cincinnati Reds. The western-themed wallpaper—faceless Indians being chased on horses by stern-faced cowboys—was pocked and curling away at the corners. A Maplewood chest of drawers still held his little league trophies, tarnished now and covered in a film of dust. James threw his bags down on the bed and rushed to open a window, breathing in the wintry air.

He heard a noise downstairs. “Who’s there?”

“Who do you think?” a voice answered.

James inched his way down the stairs. “Bobby? You scared the shit out of me.”

“Who were you expecting, the Boston Strangler?”

“I wouldn’t rule it out in this neighborhood.”

Bobby laughed. “It’s just your big brother. Now come give us a hug.”