She was a youngish grandmother, having started young. She didn't think about how her life could have been different, if she'd made different decisions or had different luck. There had been no fairytales in her life and she'd never dreamt of any. She lived in the here and now. She went out to work. She liked to have a laugh. She knew how to let her hair down at the club on a saturday. When she looked in the mirror, she fluffed up her hair and didn't look down into the gaps, where her scalp showed a little too much, and the colour never quite reached. She didn't worry too much when she found her eyeshadow had bled into the creases. She just reapplied liberally, hoping the baby pink sheen would lift her eyes, so they didn't look so tired beneath their little reddened hoods of flesh.
It was only when she watched her granddaughter; a ten year old fizz pop of joy, who arrived wide-eyed with her childish bundles of news every other Friday, (while the child's mother worked a weekend shift) that she felt a sort of pang. A cartwheel in the front garden. The thoughtless ease of a ten year old body. A face aglow while watching the X Factor on saturday night. The pink plumpness of her skin. Then, the grandmother felt lonely in her body, aware suddenly of her own use by date.
So when the wolf showed up, sprightly on his long toes, muscular through his shoulders and with a bright gleam in his eyes, she had gladly taken him in. He'd come offering handyman jobs. The guttering she had no hope of reaching, the fencing she had neglected, the logs for the fire that needed a heavy axe. He could do it all for her and she had felt herself move a little more softly through the hip when he was around.
He'd looked a little taken aback when she's suggested a drink in the pub, but after the first pint his arm had crept round her shoulders. After the third, she'd felt his bristled mouth on her lips and she'd planned to take him home. Yes, his eyes had roved the room sometimes. She found herself talking quickly, all sorts of nonsense so he had less chance to look away. When he'd told her his sad stories, she'd felt her heart fizzing in the fervour of his attention, and she'd had to contain herself to make her eyes sad to match. All the while his rough thumb rubbed suggestively back and forth on the back of her hand. And he had made her laugh. They'd sniggered over how stupid Suze's bleating voice sounded, especially as she got drunker and angrier, shrieking at the wolf that he wasn't welcome round here. Suze had always been ridiculously over protective of their friendship.
Three weeks later their regular arrangement had moved into the grandmother's house and she took great pleasure in letting slip to the world she had a boyfriend. It was a joy to have something masculine in her house at last. She let him have access to all those places in her house that she barely thought about anymore. He moved his collections into the cellar; the various bits his ex wouldn't let him keep at her house. He put poison down in the crawl spaces in the eaves to sort out the rodents who skittered there. He carried down junk from the attic and she hadn't minded when he made a bit of cash selling it on without asking her. He would often come back to the house with something hot to eat and a bottle of something they could get sloshed with on the sofa. She would watch him lick the grease from his fingers, his rough red tongue flashing out of his mouth. She would wait for him to push the detritus of the feast aside and for him to put his heavy arm around her shoulder. Although he often fell asleep. Sometimes she did.
One Sunday a police car arrived outside the house. The grandmother had the door open before they'd even got out of the car, because she was the one who had called them. When she had woken that morning, a dark cavern had opened wide before her and sent her into a panic. She had been swallowed whole by fear. The policeman had had to remove her hands from his uniform. The wolf wasn't there. He had gone out to pace the streets and the parks. Her daughter arrived shaking from work. The police searched the house tersely. They told the women to stay where they were and to call if anything changed. Then the police went out to search too.
The daughter stood in the untidy kitchen and wondered how long it was since she had last been here. The grandmother stared at her daughter because the words had run out. The police had asked so many questions and then left with just a photograph. Shock stood between them like a shard of metal. The daughter wondered whose fault this was. When the wolf came back from his wanderings, he was full of suggestions.
The neighbours came out on the streets. The press gathered and penned in the house. The story grew. The neighbours talked. Anyone who could read a paper made a guess at the truth. The wolf's baleful eyes stared out of the front pages, along with the other characters in the story.
Time ticked on and the wolf and the grandmother stumbled over each other inside the house. The wolf gnawed at his knuckles. The grandmother went to and fro from the window, checking on the uniforms corralling the press outside. They crowded the street, their piteous noise becoming more and more insistent.
The daughter needed help to stay upright now. It seemed her insides had been scooped clean out. She was just an empty carcass. Everyone thought they knew what had eaten her. The story had dragged on too long.
After nearly two weeks, every friendship, every bus route, every cctv recording had been exhausted and the police returned to the house. There was something they had failed to see. They didn't need dogs to find the scent. The police officer who poked his head up into the attic, whose knees crunched on small rodent bones as he worked his way towards the shadows at the back, he knew what he would find in the rolled carpet long before he lifted the edge.
Of course the granddaughter had never left the house. She had never gone out somewhere, early, all on her own, slipping the lock in her apple print pyjamas on a Sunday morning. There was no doubt. The wolf had left his marks all over her. We wished she had run away. We wished that story was true. We knew she had stopped wanting to visit her grandmother so it would have made sense. It was only now, that the tale had come to an end, the way everyone had known it would end, that anyone had truly listened to the words.
And now the bundles of news lie scattered on the ground. The breeze on the street rifles the pages. The story has been forgotten again. The wolf slinks towards some kind of justice. He sees little wrong with what he has done. He is a wolf after all. The woman, who had once been a grandmother, feels how it feels to be spat out, still breathing. She gathers her belongings and she wonders at how she goes on.