Dad got anxious. Mama didn’t: she just swished around beautifully like colour in a paintbrush jar, singing Moon Shadow and tying scarves around her forehead so I never really knew how big it was. But Dad was anxious. His thin body shook inside his dressing gown, taking the tea Mama would bring him in his match-stick rouge hands, thanking her with his quiet voice, his normal voice; the voice I never heard raised.
Dad was so thin because he barely ate, and anything he did eat he told me he tapped away. He did tap it away—I watched him each night after school as he sat as close to the fire as he could in winter, and as close as he could to the fan in summer, his foot tapping at the floor and his hands tapping at his crooked, dancing leg.
Dad wouldn’t eat pigs—he said he was too fond of their pink hairy backs and the way they really had those curled tails you saw in picture books. He wouldn’t eat apples for obvious reasons; ‘they’re so happy up there on the tree and then we cruelly pick them down.’
When Mama would make me eat my carrots and corn, Dad would sit there smiling faintly, his plate free of anything but bread and thick shiny butter. He didn’t have to eat carrots and corn. I didn’t shake like him.
One morning I got up early to see whether Mama had left the butter on the kitchen table. I liked to spoon curves of it into my mouth before we had breakfast, so the grease would sit warm and safe in my mouth. I remember it was winter-time because I dragged my mittens onto my feet after searching to no avail for my slippers and they made it hard to get down the stairs without slipping. As I passed their room I heard Mama’s voice low and hurried and edged my head around the door. Dad was lying on the bed, flat and old, and Mama was standing above him. She was crying—I could see the tears dropping onto the doona and the air felt thick with worry and damp. She looked over at me.
‘Daddy’s sick darling. He’s very sick,’ she said, gulping, clutching at the doona’s soggy edge.
I asked her what was wrong with him, standing as tall as I was just there in my mittens.
‘His wolf has come again darling,’ she said. ‘His wolf has come to scare him.’
I ran to my bedroom, tripping on stairs in knotted wool mittens, grasping at the wooden edges to pull myself up and up.
I sat tight on my bed, wondering when my wolf would come.