Once in the pasture, green and lush, walked a man and his children. In the shadows of the forest just beyond the grass, they spotted a gray wolf lurking in the brush. So they lured it out of the trees and into the open field where it slipped and fell into a low-lying pond. As it thrashed about it, growling, gurgling and burping, the man and his children laughed and jeered. What a scene it was, to see that old gray wolf splashing about. So much so, that they didn’t even notice the rustling in the forest as something small and delicate scurried away into the brush beyond.
“We got you,” belched the man. “That’ll teach ya for coveting our cattle, ya menace!” He scowled in disappointment that he didn’t think to bring his rifle.
When the wolf managed to reach the muddy shoreline he lost his footing again and tumbled into the mud. When the man and his children saw this, they roared with even more laughter. The kind of sidesplitting laughter that doesn’t stop; the kind that hurts. They dropped to the grass and rolled about on their backs, kicking and frolicking, pointing and jeering. So hysterical with satisfaction were they that they held their bellies and rubbed the tears from their eyes.
As the wolf regained his footing his tail dropped in disgrace. He was wet; he was muddy; he felt humiliated. He thought about attacking the man and his children. But as he did, he glanced into the brush for a brief moment. Something out there, just beyond the thick worried him. So with his tail between his legs, the gray wolf instead hurried away. It took him only eight steps to slink back to the tree line. In only two he slipped back into the forest, disappearing from view completely.
The man tossed his hand. Good riddance, he waved.
One day, many days later, the man took his children to town. He promised them an afternoon of toys, candy, and fun. He loved his children, and they loved their dad. On this day, the stamp of happiness marked them all, each and every one. The sun was out. The sky was blue. The townsfolk were friendly. And the smiles of joy on their faces floated up like balloons, lifting them higher and higher, until they reached the great blue. Nothing could dampen this day.
Before they could begin their shopping, the man and his children stopped in at the bank. As he stepped forward in the teller’s line an announcement was shouted from the entrance, four people behind. A masked man demanded everyone’s money.
With a cold look and a calculated approach, the thief closely stalked each person in line. Using the persuasion of a loaded gun, he pried his victims’ wallets from their pockets.
As the thief worked his slow approach, situational assessments frantically popped in and out of existence in the father’s mind. Do I cover the kids? Do I pull them behind? Do we drop to the ground? Is the thief going to shoot someone? Is the thief going to shoot me?
From a distance, the thief was just another guy. But when the thief forced himself into the narrow radius of the man’s space, the man could finally absorb the thief’s imposing physicality. Up close, everything became hyper real. It was like being caught in the shadow of nine-foot bear standing upright on his hind legs.
The thief bared down, straight into the man’s eyes. Black threads of wool concealed all but the callousness in his eyes and the dry cracks on his lips. His lungs heaved coarse tobacco stained breath. It was almost vulgar.
“Your turn,” said the thief. His voice sounded craggy and coarse, like tires inching across gravel.
The father froze.
His mind momentarily left the situation, detaching itself from his body. And when it did, it had no idea that a tidal wave of immobility had overcome the body. Every possible muscular response paralyzed. All it knew was the sound of a single, high-pitched frequency ringing somewhere in the stupor, somewhere in space. Like an unbroken chime, it ringed in the man’s ears on what seemed like full blast. Yes, this was very real, indeed.
“I said, ‘Give me your wallet’,” the thief rasped. “NOW! Or, your kid pays the price.” His words were spoken like a forceful, but rational, reminder. The thief pressed the barrel of his gun into the temple of the man’s youngest child, snapping the man’s attention back to reality. Several panicked bank goers gasped in horror at such a move. “Shall I count to three??”
Trembling with fear, the father reached for his back pocket.
As he did, three sets of little eyes silently watched their father. He knew that if he hands this man his wallet, not only would all the fun he had planned for this day be done before it even started, but with it the week’s breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, too. He couldn’t help the urge to resist, as much as he reasonably could. If only the thief would disappear into thin air. If only he’d spare him and his children this terror and certain hardship. He silently wished for that miraculous “poof!” But nothing happened. So the man coughed and snorted, deliberated and begrudged.
“Don’t take your time with me, man,” the thief warned, pressing his jaw even closer to the man’s face. “I’m a pretty serious guy.” He flashed his gaze down at the barrel of the gun still pressed firmly against the child’s head.
The thief tightened his hand around the grip. When he squared his gaze back with that of the man’s once more, they both knew the message was clear.
Finally, the man reluctantly dropped his wallet into the thief’s free hand. It was humiliating. He was humiliated. The man wished the thief would change his mind and give it back. But the thief did not care about the impact of a claimed wallet, or snatched money from this individual or that, or even a total emptying of the town’s only bank and its vault. He only knew that he wanted all of these things, these livelihoods, for himself. And take them he will, shedding little regret about it, whether thieved, stolen, or poached.
So it was that the thief chuckled his gritty, abrasive laugh. “Thanks,” he snorted. Then he leaned in closer to confide a repulsive secret. “Ain’t nothing better than the moment of the thrill, eh?”
After the ordeal, the man took his children home. The day was ruined. No park, no toys, no ice cream, no fun. Just cold, ear-ringing, humiliated silence.
Weeks later, the man was driving into the old countryside again. Through the tree-lined roadside, he spied that old familiar gray wolf. He was running circles around two smaller wolves, it appeared, who seemed to greatly enjoy the chase.
The man felt an inexplicable urge to watch them play so he pulled off the road. His tires locked and slid across the gravel several meters until his car came to an abrupt halt. He climbed out of his car and, with his arms crossed, leaned gently back against the glass to peer at the scene in the distance. It was a joyous one for sure, innocent and loving. Deep in thought, he watched and watched as the play continued out in that green and lush pasture. His deadpan stare followed the wolf as he crouched and pounced and scooted and sprinted around his pups, dizzying them up, and tickling their bellies with his cold, wet nose.
Minutes flew by. He seemed lost in a reflection.
Meanwhile, a strange swelling sensation formed deep in his chest. His heart, pumping blue with empathy, began to soak up regret. It soaked and soaked and soaked some more, sopping up the regret like a sponge. In fact, so much so, that, eventually, his heart began to feel weighted and heavy, like a water-logged sweater. An expiation of some kind? Whatever it was, it tugged at him like a penance. This is what he noticed, not the two cars that whizzed by, not the cool breeze that broke across his face. No, it was the contrition put upon him by the incomprehensible purpose behind creation. He frowned.
When he couldn’t ignore the weight of his heart and the regret that it held any longer, he sighed and scratched his scalp. What an awful thing I had done. So he reached for his new wallet—the one his wife bought him to replace the one stolen from him. It was right where he expected it to be, nestled against his heart inside the pocket of his jacket. He felt its fullness once again, thumping it a couple of times against his palm. This was proper, he sensed. With a conviction of purpose, he took out a pen from the glove compartment in his car and wrote a note on a bill.
My apologies, gray wolf. I did not know. I acted selfishly and perhaps I misunderstood you. I hope you and yours can forgive me. Won’t happen again.
The man rummaged about in the clutter of his car one more time until he found a rubber band that he was certain he had. With the bill now wrapped around his new wallet he stepped forward into the road and chucked it as far into the pasture as he could. Its arc climbed deep into the sky, cresting for just a moment above a patch of sunflowers. Then it descended, landing unnoticed in the grass not fifteen meters from the wolf and his pups. The man nodded. Such was necessary so that all could be right among them. Silent and softened, he climbed back into his car and drove home, hoping for the same.