By Rozanne Charbonneau
You remove your sports bra and lower your eyes to the floor. At forty-five, you hope that your breasts do not follow. The huntsman peers at the scar that travels out of the fold.
Will he touch it? It is still sore.
He turns to your husband, Elias, who sits on the other side of the room. “The surgeon made a beautiful cut,” he says in Swiss German.
Elias remains poker-faced. This huntsman, Dr S, wants to kill the wolf that still lurks inside you. He wants to stalk the beast, but only if you submit to the poison.
“Your mouth will erupt in sores, your stomach will hurl, and your body will return to the hairless state of a newborn,” he warns, clicking open his pen.
He is a legend. The newspapers declare that thirty out of one hundred women would die without his thirst to murder the wild and the untamed.
“You seem like a very strong woman, Frau Bertelsmann. I think you can handle it.”
The Zurich dialect is far too difficult right now, but answering him in French could appear arrogant.
“Yes, please help me,” you whisper in English.
The huntsman takes out a notepad and looks at you both. “Good. Then let’s get to know one another.”
He asks the standard questions. Profession? You design textiles and have lived in Switzerland for over twenty years. Yes, this country is now your own. Elias is more secretive about his work. “I sell my time,” is all he will say. Dr S studies his face for a moment, as if trying to place him. He turns and asks about children. You shake your head. “Why not?” he queries. Because you were too lazy. The quip always makes people laugh, but it is the truth.
His complexion is ruddy, and he sports oversized black glasses and a crew cut. How old is he? Maybe fifty at the most. His pen lopes across the page in broad strokes, dogged yet passionate. Is this what it takes to kill the wolf?
He warns you that the hunt will be long and arduous. After the many months of venom, he will send you to a dungeon on the outskirts of town. His shooters will fire rays of war at the wounded beast, over and over again.
He leans across his desk. “Your breast will weep from the blisters and burns. As the skin heals, it will turn a grayish brown. This color will fade, but the tinge of boiled liver may remain forever.”
The torture will not end. You will return to him. He will then drop pills on your tongue to exterminate all womanly butterflies in your body.
“Wolves love female company. If we kill the nymphalidae, no future predators will have reason to come back.”
You squeeze an old Kleenex in your pocket. “So, you want to knock me into menopause before my time? For how long, a year?”
“Ten years,” he says with compassion.
You were nine years old. You pulled Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch from the bookshelf and stared at the cover. A woman’s naked torso hung on a clothesline in the darkness. The nipples were pretty and pink, just like the buttons on your nightgown. The sex had no hair, no slit. It was a mouth that could not scream.
“You will experience all the regular symptoms. Hot flashes, night sweats, thinning of the bones.”
“Please. Don’t hold back,” you say, rapping your fingers on the desk.
The huntsman turns to Elias. “She will experience extreme dryness. Instead of sex once a week, you need to cut down to once a fortnight.”
The face of your devoted spouse reveals no emotion whatsoever. You are tempted to laugh at them both. Elias has coached you to pretend you are the perfect couple, joined at the hip.
Ever so meek, you nod in his direction. “Well, it’s after six p.m. I am sure we all need to get home.”
An Evening Stroll
You walk with Elias to the lake of Zurich. It is the best place to collect your thoughts. The September sun still casts its rays over the Promenade, illuminating the leaves of the poplar trees. You let go of Elias’s hand and walk to the edge of the water. A cool wind skates over the surface. Waves appear out of nowhere. They slap against a family of swans and toss them about, helter-skelter. The parents cry oh-OH oh-OH, and the ducklings swim towards the shore. The father hoists himself out of the water and hisses at you to step back. It is best to comply. The mother guides their young onto the rocks. Their bellies sway as they waddle onto the grass and sit down together under a tree, ready for the rain. You envy them. They mate for life.
You were only twenty-three when you arrived here from Québec with your duffel bag, your muskrat hat, so full of joy. This man wanted you to be his wife. He didn’t dare offer a dramatic proposal during your previous visit, as you were the one who would leave country, family and friends. His career was already taking off, and yours had not begun. Instead, he showed you the city and its people, hoping you would return. After two weeks back home, you made the call across the ocean, promising to jump. And today? Would you leap blind into the void for any man again? You don’t know.
Elias joins you at the shore, ready to rein you in. His face has more lines than a linen shirt at the end of the day, but the skin does not sag. His left eye is slightly higher than the right. Women interpret the raised brow as a sign of attraction, and whether eight or eighty-eight, they respond in kind.
“That papa swan is rather fierce …”
“Being five years younger, I always dreaded becoming a widow. But now the tables have turned.”
“Don’t say things like that, Eva. It’s dangerous to think so black.”
“You can smoke, drink, and fuck whom you please. I never thought I would be the first to die.”
He steps close and cradles your shoulders. “Don’t …”
It is Monday morning. Flühstrasse is packed with people rushing to the station. How many times have you gazed in the window of Osswald, the shoe shop specializing in ballerina flats? For two hundred and fifty Swiss francs a pop, the salesman has adorned your feet in green suede, panther print and mother of pearl. You have never noticed the souls entering the Bauhaus style building on the corner. They all hope to buy a little more time from Dr S, and now you’re one of them.
The doorbell trills like a bugle. Six doorways line the walls of the corridor, and a cacophony of voices bounce out of the rooms, all cheerful, all reassuring. Maybe it won’t be so bad.
The huntsman reads the counts of your blood. “How did you sleep last night?”
He nods in sympathy. “It will get better.”
He accompanies you to the door, turns around.
“I’ve been wanting to ask … are you of Swedish descent?”
“No. French Canadian.”
“But your hair is so fair …”
You burst out laughing. “That’s thanks to the salon. My ancestors left France in a boat because they didn’t want to fight for Napoleon. They had no intention of freezing to death in the Russian snow.”
He touches your arm, lets his fingers linger. “Ahh, a Québécoise. That explains your strength.”
You look down, self-conscious. The tips of his snakeskin boots are as sharp as spears.
The chair is made of leather and quite comfortable. It could pass as a Barcalounger in any magazine. The nurse, Frau Gutermann, has black eyes and rosy cheeks. She is well over sixty-five. Taking care of the women here must be her calling. Retired husband at home be damned. She places a rubber helmet on your lap.
“The DigniCap is not for everyone, Frau Bertelsmann. This will only save your hair for the next twelve weeks.”
“I still think it’s worth a try …”
This first cycle of poison will be sweeter than the second. The huntsman has warned that there is nothing he can do to save your locks from the final mixture of toxins. You open your blouse, and Frau Gutermann pierces a needle into the port in your chest. The balloon above gleams like a chandelier. Drops of crystal seep down the tube. No pain, no convulsions. She tightens the strap of the DigniCap under your chin and turns on the machine. Fifty pounds of vibrating ice begin to shake your skull. Chattering teeth. Do women bite off their tongues in the name of beauty? After fifteen minutes you ring the bell. Frau Gutermann hurries to your side and flicks off the switch.
“You lasted longer than many women,” she says.
The drip is finally empty. She pulls the tube out of the port. The moment you stand, a young boy jumps into the chair. Oh God help him. He’s wearing a Flintstone beanie.
Elias jumps up from the sofa in the waiting room. In the hallway, he makes a point of wishing all the nurses a good day and grabs your coat. The women titter and twirl for the master of charm.
“No doctor or nurse should know we are separated,” he said as he tore through the filing cabinet in the apartment where you had shared your life with him. “They must think that your husband is watching their every move.”
“Aren’t you being a bit paranoid?”
He pulled out your health records and stuck them in his briefcase. “If you want the best treatment, you need to let me handle them.”
“But the wolf is mine, not yours. I should learn how to deal with these things by myself.”
Elias’s lips turned down. “Why?”
“Because I’m not a child. We may get along, but you don’t own me.”
“Forget feminism. Right now, you need a man.”
You burst out laughing.
“What is so funny?”
“You were the one who left …”
He throws on his jacket and looks you in the eye. “I was a middle-aged cliché, chasing after my youth. But how can I make things right if you won’t take me back?”
And why is that? Because you might leave again. You are a good man, Elias, but the wolf can’t rewrite the past.
He hugged you at the door. “At least let me help. The Swiss patriarchy still reigns supreme.”
Elias turns down the covers of the bed and you collapse on the sheets. Shadows linger in the corners of the room when you wake in the gloaming. As if in a trance, you rummage through the drawers that hold your scarves, creating a rainbow of silk in the air.
“I can’t take the DigniCap. I will be bald in three weeks …”
Elias picks up the scarf he bought in Como and stares at the pattern of lilies.
“Never mind. That’s the least of our concerns right now.”
You twist the Kleenex in your pocket.
Ahh. Divine Acceptance. Now how would Elias feel if Gerta Klein, his darling cellist, were to lose her hair? Yes, he’s told you it has been over for months, but the betrayal still cuts like a knife. And then Dr Schmid, that bloody Jungian analyst, was secretly on his side. “We cannot make progress without Eva’s forgiveness. I suggest that the two of you separate,” he advised last January. What a macho. This “professional” got such a vicarious thrill out of Elias’s bachelor pad and nights of passion. You didn’t stand a chance against this younger woman, who could open her legs and squeeze an instrument in a vice.
He motions you to sit down next to him and wraps the scarf around your neck. “How about an omelette? Could you manage that?”
“Yes, please. I’m starving.”
He still has the keys to the apartment but always calls first. You’ve never erased his name from the answering machine. You now eat together twice a week and take walks in the countryside on the weekends. Why try to “move on” when the two of you enjoy each other’s company so much? “Living apart together,” is how Dr Schmid defines the new arrangement. But the contradictions are no longer relevant. Only the hunt fills your minds.
The huntsman studies your blood counts at his desk.
“Is everything okay?” you ask.
He raises his eyes and smiles. “Everything is in order. You’ve pushed off the mountain with well-waxed skis.”
“So far I feel alright.”
He cuts a few grapes from a bunch in a bowl and dangles them over the desk.
“You’re the picture of health.”
Flattered, you pop one in your mouth.
He accompanies you to the chair. Is the room too hot or too cold? You fumble with your cardigan and backpack full of books. The side table is too small for everything, but the huntsman’s grapes must come first. Fortunately, the handkerchief in your pocket is clean and can stand in as a plate for the fruit. Oh dear, how rude! Dr S is waiting to say goodbye. You turn around and catch his stare.
“Please excuse me,” you say. “I didn’t mean to waste your time …”
He takes your hand and holds on. The boundaries of his lab coat begin to blur with the white of the walls. Voices from the nurses’ station go mute. The old woman in the chair across the room disappears. Only the face of your huntsman remains.
Frau Gutermann enters the room with the drip. Dr S pretends to help you into the chair. You play along.
What just happened?
He turns on his heel to escape the dowager. Everything has changed. You unbutton your shirt and expose the port in your chest. “Frau Gutermann, I would like to try the DigniCap again.”
The old woman across the room winks her eye.
The nameplate over the buzzer is barely visible. Discretion is de rigueur. You need to prepare for the future. The DigniCap almost froze off your ears and can buy only so much time. In ten weeks, Red Lucifer will shimmy down the tube and set your scalp aflame.
The assistant answers the door and ushers you down a hall lined with private booths. At the very end, she opens a curtain and motions you to step inside.
“Herr Merz will arrive shortly. Please do not leave this cubicle under any circumstances. Our clients’ privacy is our utmost priority.”
She closes the curtain behind her. The lamp on the ceiling casts a peachy haze over your face in the mirror, like Vaseline smeared on a lens.
What does he want from you? What do you want from him?
Herr Merz, a man with hips no wider than a python, opens the curtain and sits down at your side.
“We need to go for a shorter style,” he says. “A long-haired wig will make you look like a Jewish Orthodox bride.”
You ignore his comment. The subtle undercurrent of anti-Semitism running through Zurich will never disappear. He pulls a board out of the drawer and points at the selection of tones available. Once he finds the perfect match, he hurries out and closes the curtain behind him.
The buzz of a razor starts in the booth next door and a woman sobs. You cover your ears to block out the pain.
He must think I’m going to live. He wouldn’t look at me like that if I were going to die.
The huntsman smiles across his desk.
“The short style is flattering. Not everyone can pull it off.”
You touch the side of your wig, ever so coquette. “Frau Gutermann said I should practice wearing it before the time comes.”
His hands reach over and trap your fingers beneath his own. “Let me just …”
Your skin remembers lying in the wheat with your first love, so long ago. He moves the wig upwards and slightly to the right. His pupils have dilated into black orbs. He finally leans back and admires his work from afar.
“You’re perfect. Herr Merz is the best in town.”
The clock is ticking. Your time is almost up.
“I wanted to ask, is it okay for me to attend an event in Lausanne, or do I need to avoid crowds?”
“Of course, you can be among people. The first rule is to never let the wolf think he is the boss.”
“My husband manages the music group Jetzt und Alles. They’re receiving the Swiss Music Prize this Saturday.”
His eyes light up in surprise, then travel towards the window. They darken and linger on the panes, as if they were bars of a cell. “I thought I recognized Herr Bertelsmann, but I wasn’t sure. Our paths crossed back in the nineties at Sunset Studio.” His tone has a slight edge.
Now the snakeskin boots make sense.
“Oh! So, you were a musician?”
He sighs and turns back to you. “Yes. In another life, before my days as a huntsman consumed me.”
“What did you play?”
“I sang lead vocals for the hardest post-punk band in Switzerland.”
Zurich is truly small.
“What was it called?”
His expression is deadpan. “The Sick.”
You sit in your studio, dipping a paintbrush into the cerulean blue. Ammann und Partner has asked you to develop seven wallpaper designs with the shade. It is intense, and doesn’t suit the understated Swiss aesthetic at all, but who knows? If used as an accent, say over a fireplace, it could be refreshing. Dream on. Herr Ammann will make twenty test rolls for the shop, and they will never sell. Both the Zurich elite and the working class find serenity within the white walls of their abodes.
Working is futile.
You take out a piece of paper and begin to sketch the huntsman’s form from memory. The killer boots, the hands as long as tree branches sticking out of his lab coat … but how to capture his face? Several photos appear on your phone. He could be anyone. And what does his first name—Basil—really mean? For the Greeks, he is the King, Emperor or Tzar, says Wikipedia. Yes, that makes sense. He is a dominant male. He has given you his number on the official phone line for emergency calls, and so far, you haven’t used it. His name automatically pops up on WhatsApp. You put down the phone as if it were a bomb. The face of his profile picture is painted white and a strip of black cloaks his eyes like a mask. Wow. Who is he channelling? Annie Lennox? You laugh and sketch in his head.
The audience claps and cheers when the musicians from Jetzt und Alles walk onto the stage. True to form, Elias sits tight in his seat as they beckon him to join them.
You nudge his elbow. “Go on, Elias, they want you up there.”
“This is their night, not mine.”
“You’ve got two seconds. It won’t kill you.”
He stands up, his face reddening, cameras clicking. He is a paradox in the music business, where insiders refer to him as His Gray Eminence. His lack of ego has helped him flourish in the trade for over twenty-five years. Everyone trusts him with their careers, their secrets, their cash.
The people of Lausanne know how to throw a party.
“Désirez-vous une coupe de champagne, Madame Bertelsmann?” asks the waiter at the buffet.
It feels so good to hear your mother tongue. “Non merci, pas ce soir.”
The wolf loves alcohol and will grow more ferocious under the influence. You order a Perrier.
Thank God you still have your hair. Elias’s colleagues comment on how well you look, and at least they don’t have to lie. You couldn’t stand the pity. None of them was too keen on the cellist, and they hope to see you reconciled with the cardinal once and for all. They are a cautious tribe—better the devil you know.
You are getting weaker. Hiking on the steep hills above the town is now out of the question.
“Let’s jump on the boat and switch off our phones,” Elias suggests.
Anything to escape the press.
Today the Lake of Geneva is the color of cornflowers in the sun. Elias sips his coffee and studies the seagulls circling the boat. Before he opens his newspaper and is lost to the world, you pop the question.
“In the nineties … did you ever come across a band called The Sick?”
Elias’s eyes flicker in recognition. “Sure. They were talented, but I didn’t take them on.”
The plot thickens. You lean in and wait for him to continue. He strokes his chin and journeys back to his days as a young man in Artists and Repertoire.
“The lead vocalist had charisma to spare, but I knew the post-punk movement wouldn’t last.”
“So, I guess Jetzt und Alles was a safer bet.”
Elias smiles like the cat that got the cream. “They were a smarter bet.” He picks up his newspaper and scans the front page. “What’s brought on all this interest in The Sick? As I predicted, they were a flash in the pan.”
You offer him your packet of sugar. “Here, I don’t need this.”
Distracted, he pours the crystals into his coffee. He lifts the cup, gulps it down. “Fuel in the tank,” he says, then strolls up to the deck for a smoke.
The water is calm. Beads of silver scatter over the blue. You want to shout at the beauty but remain silent. No one must know you’re in love.
As usual, the huntsman pores over the blood counts.
“You are unstoppable.”
You run your fingers through your hair. No strands come loose.
He leans over his desk. “Do you promise to come here while I am away for two weeks? We cannot allow the wolf to gain strength.”
Is he spending it alone? His desk is clean of pictures or any other clues about his life. He reveals nothing to the females in his care.
You pick up the copy of your blood counts and pretend to study the results. Do you dare pry?
“Absolutely. A vacation? Anywhere nice?”
He ignores the question and looks you in the eye. “I had a dream about you last night.”
You return his gaze. And I think about you all the time.
“It was night. You were in a boat, rowing across the ocean towards a new country.”
“Do I make it to the other side?”
He remains silent, knowing better than to offer false promises.
Christ, can’t he humor me just this once?
You jump up and he follows you to the door.
His fingers graze your arm when you reach for the handle. “And I was Canada.”
Today, the walls in the empty infusion room are drab from a lack of sun. No one has bothered to turn on the light. A single leaf clings to a branch outside the window, swaying back and forth in the breeze, like a dying bat. But who cares about atmosphere when a man has revealed his soul? You climb into the chair and open your shirt. Frau Gutermann enters the room and glides the needle into your port. She is as gentle as a mother with child. You reach for the DigniCap and fasten the strap under your chin.
She shakes her head in disapproval. “Is it worth it, Frau Bertelsmann?” She points to the crystal balloon above. “In four weeks, there is nothing we can do to save your hair.”
You stick out your chin. “Bring it on.”
Her lips turn down. She does not like being crossed. “Red Lucifer spares no woman alive,” she says, flicking on the switch. Her lips curve upwards, almost sadistic.
And I am going to screw your boss before I go bald, you old hag.
The chamber of ice begins to shake your skull. The cold is now a comfort as you row across the Atlantic towards your beloved, towards home.
You walk through the marketplace in bliss. A cold wind rips through the square, threatening to tear the roofs off the stalls. Fruits and flowers gleam in the fog. Rich women bark at the vendors, but they no longer irk. Today they sound like mermaids singing on the rocks. Wallburger, the most popular stall for meat, has attracted a crowd. You buy wild boar sausages to cook for Elias, who will devour them when he visits this evening. Didn’t the huntsman slay this beast and feed its heart and liver to the wicked queen? Will he eat your food one day? He is skin and bone, a sure sign that no woman has chained him to her bed.
The Final Hours
The world of wallpaper is absurd.
You sit at your desk, studying the sketch of your beloved. Oh, how you’ve missed him, but the days of famine end tomorrow. Do you dare immortalize him in a painting? What would Elias do if he saw the huntsman on the canvas, waiting to take his place? Would he laugh at your fantasy, or would he report his rival to the powers that be in a jealous rage? The middle finger on the hand of your muse has grown longer. It is gratifying to see him come to life as the shades of cerulean blue bore you to tears. The doorbell rings and you hide the sketch in the drawer.
The nails on your hands and feet have gone black overnight from the poison. No problem. Two coats of Chanel’s Le Vernis Rouge Noir will cover the carnage. However, the stench of a fox’s cadaver wafts out of your thumb. You soak the little vermin in rubbing alcohol and hope for the best. The underwire of your green lace bra cuts into the scar but who cares? This is the season of love.
The huntsman smiles from across his desk.
“So, Frau Bertelsmann, it is December 1.”
There’s so little time left.
He folds his hands. “I opened the first day of my Advent calendar and what did I find?”
“I have no idea.”
“Frau Bertelsmann was there, just for me.”
He’s so charming. So inventive.
“That is nice.” You raise your arm in the air. “I seem to have a swollen ligament.”
He looks concerned. “Then I’d best take a look.”
You remove your shirt. He takes hold of your arm and traces his finger along the protruding chord.
“It feels like a guitar string,” you say.
He strokes it again, searching for the music. You look into his eyes and find a young man onstage, skinny as a blade of grass, singing to the back row.
“Don’t worry, dear. With a few exercises, it will go away.”
You lower your arm to trap his hand close to your heart. Your sex stirs. The poison cannot kill the hunger. His lips come closer and take command of yours.
Can the wolf feel his breath? Can he feel the life?
He pulls away. “I need to see you on the outside. Could you meet me on Friday after work at 6 p.m.?”
You fumble with the buttons of your shirt and nod, nervous. He wears no ring but is wed to the hunt. Your own band looks a little tarnished. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is one of the murky rules of your arrangement with Elias. But with carte blanche to “explore the unknown with discretion,” why has your foot slipped off a cliff?
It is Wednesday morning. Electricity shoots through your ligament as you reach into the cupboard. Porcelain crashes to the floor. Why didn’t the huntsman prescribe the exercises? Because he was distracted. The scar rages from the trappings of metal and green lace. You have both lost sight of the wolf.
Today the tints, tones, and shades of cerulean blue all look the same. Has the poison erased your gift or are you merely afraid? Once it starts it won’t stop. The moment you lay down in the forest he will own you, body and soul. And why does he want someone so dependent, so weak? You pull his sketch out of the drawer. His eyes are inscrutable behind the black mask. He still dreams of rock and roll. A wave of dread hits your chest. I thought I recognized your husband. Our paths crossed at Sunset Studio in the nineties. His tone was resentful. What if his seduction is just revenge for the doors that Elias closed?
A cascade of water falls onto your head and shoulders. Soap slicks over your nipples and they harden. You still want him. Circling away from the center, your finger stumbles. The claw of a she wolf pushes out the skin.
The Woman Whisperer
The examining table is cold.
“I can’t feel him,” says the Woman Whisperer, palpitating your breast.
“Lupa is a female. She must have burrowed herself between my ribs.”
“Please be rational, Frau Bertelsmann. New beasts never appear during the hunt. I only did this examination to put your mind at ease.”
“She wants to feast on my heart and lungs.”
She helps you into a sitting position. “Listen to me. It is dangerous to give any wolf a name. They become too powerful if you get attached.”
A tear rolls down your cheek. “We’ve been torturing Wolfgang for months. His sister Lupa has the right to avenge him.”
Alarmed, she eases you off the table. “I cannot order further tests without the huntsman’s consent.”
“No! Don’t contact him.”
She observes the angry scar. Her eyes narrow. “Are you comfortable with Dr. S, your huntsman?”
You hook your bra, unsteady. “Of course. He is the best huntsman in Zurich.”
She remains silent as you shake her hand.
“I will tell him that I was here. It’s best if it comes from me.”
Friday, 5 p.m.
Why does meeting the huntsman fill you with dread? It’s what you’ve been hoping for all along. But you haven’t thought past the big bang. What happens afterwards, when all hell breaks loose? Boy, will he be sorry he ever mentioned his Advent calendar. By December twenty-fifth, you’ll look like The Ghost of Christmas Past, and his eyes will wander elsewhere. If you were a Continental, you could knock down a mocktail while negotiating the rules of the game.
“We pretend that we are two strangers who have met in a foreign city,” you would tell him. “We make love once, twice at the max and then we walk away.”
A tidy exit strategy. If you both have a foot out the door, no one gets left. But you’re not so sophisticated…
The huntsman stands outside his office. His face breaks into a smile as you walk closer.
“I can’t go through with this,” you say, raising your hands in the air.
His houndstooth jacket and scarf are far too thin. He shivers, then opens the front door and beckons you into the entranceway. How to explain?
“I’m sorry. I like you, but …”
He sits on the stairs and coaxes you to join him. “You’re married. I understand.”
“Were you ever married? I don’t know anything about you.”
“Look, there are laws against what we’ve been doing. You could get into a lot of trouble.”
He leans a little closer. “Not if I find you another huntsman. I even know an excellent woman in the field.”
Your chest tightens. “No! You can’t leave me now!”
He sighs and takes hold of your hand. “Alright then. I won’t.”
It is time to pull away, before confusion sets in. “So, we’ll see each other Monday?”
You scratch an itch near your ear. His eyes widen as blood flows down your cheek.
Up in the lab, the huntsman wraps your thumb in gauze. The offending nail lies on a bed of cotton and pus.
“In a way, Eva, we’re also married,” he says, placing antibiotics and painkillers next to a plastic cup. “You’ll be visiting me for many years to come.”
“I know. And I’m grateful for that.”
He laughs to himself. “That’s my fate. Right now, I have twenty-seven princess brides—and no one to love.”
Frau Gutermann tiptoes into the room with a beautiful woman in her early thirties. Auburn curls tumble down her back. A newborn sleeps in her arms.
“Will you be using the DigniCap during your treatment, Frau Leitner?” Frau Gutermann whispers, helping the creature into the chair.
“No. I need to be present for Joshua.” She opens her shirt for the first hit.
You sigh in awe of this young woman. Who raised her to be so wise? Women with such beauty wield real power over men, and she is willing to relinquish it all for the sake of her child. Your vanity over the past weeks now feels ridiculous.
Frau Gutermann approaches and places the helmet of hailstones on your lap. You shake your head.
“Thanks, but it’s time to let go.”
Red Lucifer lives up to his name. Waves of nausea hit your stomach and even water tastes like metal. Elias holds your head over the toilet as you wretch. At night he jabs a shot into your thigh to stop the demon from feasting on your bones.
He opens the curtain on the fourth day. Tufts of hair cover the pillow. You do not care.
“Let’s take a walk. It is time to move,” he says.
The poplar trees along the lake are now bare, but the sun is bright. Elias stops in front of the Badi Utoquai, the old wooden bathhouse that was built in 1890. Its waters are too cold for mortals to swim in, but the restaurant is still open for the worshippers of Wim Hof.
The two of you sit down at a metal table close to the water. The cappuccino slides down your throat and the butter in the brioche sings on your tongue. A chickadee lands on the table and cocks her head. She is ever so bold. You tear off pieces of bread and lay them at her feet, but she wants more, so much more. In one fell swoop, she hauls your breakfast to the deck. You burst out laughing. Elias lights a cigarette and inhales. His fingers creep towards your sugar and he coughs, coughs, coughs. Your heart skips a beat.
How much longer will you keep this man you love at arm’s length? How many days do you have left with him? So, he fell under another woman’s spell. And your huntsman? Just two weeks ago, you would have painted his face with the stars. There will always be risks. Desire can strike anyone at any time, just like the wolf.
“Come home, Elias. Please come home.”
He smiles, then takes another puff. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Smoke rises in the air. He flicks his ash into the water and a wave carries it away.
Rozanne Charbonneau was born in Texas but has lived most of her life in Switzerland and Italy. She has an MFA in Screenwriting from the National Film and Television School in the UK. During covid, she began a blog called privateknife.com to write about food and memories. She now writes short stories. Fiction on the Web has nominated her story “The Train to Modena” for the 2023 Pushcart Prize.