Vitali Chomsky was raised by wolves in the stepped wasteland of his mother country. A brutal, desolate place where he was abandoned by the man who took him from his father at the age of four after winning him in a game of backgammon. When he sobered up the following day the man, a trader in furs, was quick to realise the uselessness of such a child to assist in his daily business of trading and his nightly business of drinking. By this time Vitali’s father was long gone, to drown his sorrows and tell anyone who’d listen the tragedy of his stolen son.
The she-wolf found him the same day, curled into a mound of snow that would have been his coffin had she waited much longer. She brought him meat and gained his trust and led him to the cave where she lived with her three cubs where he grew to manhood, warmed by their silent care. So his story goes. And when he came to the town on the edge of the steppe he could not eat from a plate or drink from a cup. He could not speak words.
At first he was a novelty. They showed him to the mayor and checked him at the hospital, they taught him to eat food for men. And then they signed him up for national service where he was posted out to the wild, where the wolves no longer counted him as theirs.
Martha looks for things to feed the fire. Blinking she tries to focus on the room but her eyes still sting from the fumes of the last items she burned, a bicycle tyre and an old cloth-bodied doll. It might have been hers once, or her older sister Emily’s. But Emily is long gone and there are many cold nights now when Martha envies her fate, longs to join her and all the other people she used to know, who’ve all left her one by one throughout the years. There are only the books left. She runs a hand along their spines, her fingers thick with the ache of arthritis and stiff with the years of unimaginable cold. She drops back to the chair, pulls the crocheted blanket up over her knees and watches as the doll’s wax face drips long melted strands across the hearth and disappears.
Jody Cooksley is a journalist and writer from Guildford in England. Her short novel Balaclava Marketing came out in late January, and she is finalising a longer literary novel. Her pieces here are based on newspaper articles.