Heart Cries Wolf

“There’s a wolf!” shrieks Heart, skittering in through the front door and hiding behind my legs. “A big wolf!”

I look around. The front door has been left wide open and is flapping wildly in the wind. There’s an animal stalking up the garden path. Stalking? I squint at it.

“That’s not a wolf,” I say, reaching behind me and lifting Heart up. “See?”

“But I’m frightened,” squeals Heart. “It must be a wolf.”

“It’s not a wolf.”

I tuck Heart down behind the sofa and go to close the door. It’s not a wolf, or even a fox, but a very big rat. I don’t tell Heart. We stay up all night listening to it scratching at the door. “I survived a wolf!” Heart tells me proudly as the sun comes up.

“It was just a rat, Heart,” I say gently. “Just a big rat.”

Heart says nothing. I sigh. Heart sees wolves everywhere.


“Wolf!” yells Heart from the garden. I roll my eyes indulgently.

“It’s not a wolf!” I shout back. I’ve grown used to this.

“Wolf!!” shouts Heart insistently. I lift my head from the washing up and stare. There is a wolf on the lawn, mangy and old. Heart is up a tree pointing. I lean backwards and reach for my rifle. I know my duty. I must protect Heart. I level the barrel on the window sill.

“Don’t!” shouts Heart. “It’s old! Don’t kill it! I’m safe!” I lower the rifle and squint at the wolf. It has its nose on its paws and its eyes closed.

“Okay…” I say, slowly. I unlatch the kitchen door. Heart tears down from the tree and stands beside me shivering. We approach the wolf together. I don’t understand why it’s not moving. Heart is hopping up and down. The wolf doesn’t even look up as we draw close.

“There’s something funny about this wolf, Heart,” I say. Its fur is matted and its eyes are dead. I ease the safety catch off the rifle. Heart darts out from behind me for a closer look. There’s a flash of green from the wolf’s mouth and Heart screams. Then I scream. It’s just a wolf skin lying in the grass, flat and empty. The snake that was hiding inside is sliding off through the grass to its next victim. Instinctively I fire, missing my target by miles. The shot rings in my ears for weeks after. I kneel down next to Heart.

“Are you hurt?”

“I’m bitten. I don’t understand. It wasn’t a wolf, was it?”

Heart was poisoned. We stay indoors for a long time after that. I make up soups and stories over winter, a long winter, hard and cold. Heart dreams of wolves. I dream of snakes in the grass.


“Wolf?” asks Heart, half afraid.

“I don’t know. I found it in some bushes.” I stroke the ball of fur in my hand. “Shall we keep it and see?”

Heart nods, slowly. It’s not a wolf but that doesn’t matter. Heart is getting better. I watch them in the garden playing out Hearts favourite stories. The Wolf and The Nanny Goat. The Wolf and The Fox. The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids. Heart is happy. I am happy.

I am happy.

And then the wolf comes.

I see him slinking through the trees at the back of the garden, a streak of grey amongst the green. I put it down to tiredness; to failing eyes; to an overactive imagination. One night I wake up with a gasp. I can hear the wolf howling at the moon. I put my pillow over my head. I am too old for wolves. I pray that Heart is still sleeping.

Months pass. I’m in the middle of “The Wolf and The Man” when Heart says –

“I saw a wolf.”

I stop reading. What can I say?

“I know.”

“What are we going to do?”

I look up.

“What do you want to do?”

There’s a pause, and then Heart says very slowly and quietly –

“I would like to see a real wolf before I die.”

I close the book. Then I close my eyes.

“So would I, Heart,” I whisper, “so would I.”


The next day when I go for my rifle it isn’t there. The house is empty. I rush into the garden in a panic. From somewhere far off there is a shot, and then I see Heart walking back over the field to the gate. Alone. We don’t say anything to each other over breakfast. We are both too sad.

We spend the rest of the morning preparing.
“Now remember, Heart,” I say as I strap on my sturdiest boots. “Don’t be disappointed. We have been wrong about wolves before.”

“I know,” says Heart, checking over the rest of the kit. I shoulder the rifle. We head into the woods.

It’s dark and quiet. We don’t talk much. Twice we almost mistake mossy boulders for our quarry. The woods are deep and confusing. We stop for a rest. I prop the rifle against a tree and start unwrapping the cellophane on our sandwiches. Heart eats three. I eat one. I feel enormously tired. We don’t speak for a long time, but we make no move to leave either. Eventually Heart says: “Shall we go home?”

I get up, moving away from Heart. Moving away from the gun. I’m about to say we should go home, that we were wrong, that there is no wolf after all  when there’s a sudden confusion of fur and teeth and growling.

A wolf has Heart pinned to the ground and is biting and snarling between me and the gun.

“Shit,” says Heart, bleeding out on to the ground. “Shit. That’s a real wolf.”

“Shit,” I say.

Heart’s right.

It is a real wolf.

(c) Em Fleming


Constant Craving

Carbohydrates are made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
The main carbohydrates are sugar, starches, and cellulose.


Sugars are sweet carbohydrates: monosaccharides or disaccharides. In the same way that drug addicts experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit using, sugar addicts can also experience withdrawal from their drug.

My heart is skippy in my chest; my lungs are fluttering.  The rush of him pounds in my blood.  You wouldn’t think you could feel your own pupils dilate, but I am here to tell you – you can. My iris disappears in his presence and my brain empties of everything but one thought – how can I get some more?

Other women leave things behind. Knickers. Jewellery. Once, inexplicably, a shoe. It’s so they have a link back to him. So they can call up and say ‘oh, did I leave my bracelet there? How silly of me. Can we meet up so I can get it back?’

It is silly of them. They never get them back.

I have left things there of course, in my own fashion. Warmth in the bed; a smile; a sea salty smell in the air. Nothing tangible. Nothing you could keep. And food. I’ve left food. An Easter egg, a can of Lucozade. That cheap bottle of rosé we bought in the corner shop but were too distracted to drink. Votive offerings to a god of all that is sweet and easy. But never anything that might last. There’s never a reason to return.

That’s what I tell myself. There’s no reason to return.

I usually manage a week or so. I can handle the craving but only for so long. It’s getting worse. I need the hit of him on my tongue. The way he fizzes straight up to my brain and calms everything down. He is sweet, so sweet. So good. I get sick now if it’s more than a few days. My skin crawls. I can’t focus. Have to get back. Get more.

My only consolation – I know he needs the comfort too.
Carbohydrates are made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The main carbohydrates are sugar, starches, and cellulose.


Starchy carbohydrates are a mixture of two polysaccharides. They are the body’s main source of energy.

Pastry. Pasta. Pizza. Pies. When we eat together, that’s what we eat. Comfort food. The full range of burger patties from gourmet Mexican monsters stuffed with guacamole and jalepenos to those two slightly cool post-coital Macdonalds cheeseburgers. They were almost cold but we ate them anyway.

That’s us. Doing it anyway.

They were delicious.

I laughed when he said he knew how to treat a woman. We were in Pizza Express. Pizza Express is where you take people to break up with them, I told him. He looked at me and smiled his big bad wolf smile. We can’t break up, he said.  We’re not together.

That big bad wolf smile.

All the better to eat me with.

I need a quick hit often. He can last longer, because he takes more and he takes more deeply. Takes his time and eats his fill. It satisfies him. And I want him to be satisfied. How I want him to be happy. I want to be a comfort to him. A safe place.

Carbohydrates are made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The main carbohydrates are sugar, starches, and cellulose.


Cellulose is a linear polysaccharide polymer. Fruit and vegetables are vital for a healthy diet.

He‘s never given me anything, but I have taken something. I almost fainted one morning, getting up from the bed too quickly. I had to leave but I felt light-headed and dizzy. We hadn’t eaten anything but each other in twenty four hours. There was an apple on the table, small and green and perfect.

He was fast asleep.

I had to eat. I dropped the apple into my bag and waited until I was outside to sink my teeth into it.

I ate every piece of it. The skin. The core. The stalk. The pips.

You can’t grow an apple from pips. They’re sterile.

They’ll never become anything.

(c) Em Fleming

Suzy & The Devil

It was around this time last year, the dark time of the year when the hours had fallen from the clocks and the last leaves had fallen from the trees.

It was this time last year that my friend Suzy met the Devil.

A night like any other – a few too many drinks, too late for the last tube. She took the bus. She sat upstairs at the front, feeling reckless. Everyone knows the safest place on the night bus is downstairs, by the driver. But she sat upstairs. Upstairs at the front and then, he came and sat next to her. The Devil sat next to my friend Suzy one Thursday evening on the N3 to Crystal Palace.

She told me about it the next day, breathlessly, her eyes a little too shiny. She said she blamed herself, she said that at Hallowe’en she’d got pissed on cheap cider, alone in her flat and wished for a lover. She lay in the bath, eating an apple and wished for a lover. And now look. Now look what had happened. The Devil had heard her calling, and he had come to her.

Don’t be ridiculous Suzy, I told her. I’d never heard such a stupid thing. How can you say he’s the Devil? How would you know?

So she told me.

Firstly, when he sat beside her and looked at her she knew she would do anything he said. Power rolled off him in waves.

Secondly, he spoke Italian and Suzy believed that the Devil would probably speak Latin, but that Latin might look a bit odd in South London, in 2010, so he’d chosen the next best thing.

Thirdly, when she looked more closely she saw the twinkling in his eyes was actually twin pools of hellfire.

Fourthly, when he kissed her, his tongue was quick and darting like a snake’s and she was excited and afraid in similar measure. Deliciously afraid.

And if it had been summer, she said, she would have gotten off the bus and gone in to the park with him. And if it had been summer, she said, she wouldn’t have been wearing tights, and the ground wouldn’t have been cold and wet and if it had been summer, she said, she would have let him fuck her right there.

And if he were ugly, I said, he would have been a rapist. Suzy how could you, what a dangerous thing to do, getting off with a man you met on the bus, for God’s sake! Thank god it wasn’t summer.

And Suzy said no, no, if only it had been summer. If only it had been. I could have given him what he wanted and it would all be over now. She hadn’t given him what he wanted so badly. She had disobeyed him. All he got was her phone number, and he wanted so much more.

The next day he called her. And the next. And the next. And he sent her messages. Message after message. She showed me one. Amore, it read, bella, come and see me. I want to see you. It’ll be nice.

So see him, I said, he sounds keen. You wished for a lover didn’t you?

And she said that I didn’t understand. From the minute she’d seen his missed call she knew, she was quite sure, that he wanted to kill her. That he meant to call her to his house, soak her in alcohol and pretty words and then use those hands of his – for she was sure it would be his hands and not a weapon – use those strong hands of his to silence her. She also knew, with the same certainty, that now he had called her, she had to go. Suzy had crossed the Devil and Suzy would have to pay.

And when I said, when I suggested that all she had to do was leave it, ignore his calls, his texts, block his number, she laughed at me, a hollow laugh. As though I’d told a junkie to just lay off the H for the rest of their lives. He’s the Devil, she said, don’t you see? I’m his now. I have to do whatever he says. I’ll have to go, eventually, I can’t escape.

Suzy for heaven’s sake, I said, you met some sleazy Iti on the bus – do you have to be so frigging melodramatic? See him, don’t see him, I don’t care. Get over yourself.

Early December. The snow came.

She sent me a text. ‘Going to Gipsy Hill to get some Bolognese. Thought I should let someone know.’

And my friend Suzy was




Too Much Music

When we do this – which isn’t often – when we do this it never occurs to me that you’re married. That I’m married. That we are married. When we do this – which isn’t often – it’s not about us or them or rules or society. It’s a purely selfish act, when we do this. It’s not an affair. It’s not a relationship. It’s not anything. It’s just us and the night; and probably too much wine and certainly too much music. It’s a connection, but not to each other. It’s a connection to the past. It’s the fun we should have had when we were eighteen but we didn’t, because we were too busy playing at being grown-up; playing house and making commitments and not thinking about how the choices we made then would still be affecting us ten years later.

It’s a clear space, when we do this, a moment of clarity. To be the people we think we are in our heads and not the people our friends know or our children see. You tell me I’m funny and beautiful and a very clever girl and when you tell me those things, they become true. Just for a moment. Just for the time when we do this. It’s addictive. It’s selfish. I’m not sure how you feel about it. It’s never expected. It feels natural and it feels nice but it doesn’t feel right or wrong or good or bad. There’s no judgement when we do this, there’s no darkness to it or malice. There is recognition of a need, and that’s all. Maybe it’ll turn into something else, something more complicated but I don’t think it will. You don’t want it to.  I don’t want it to.

When we do this – which isn’t often – when we do this, it’s always the last time.

(c) Em Fleming

First Of The Angry Young Men

It wasn’t lost on me, the cosmic joke that your flat was on Gallows Hill and the house I shared with my man was behind the old prison. I’d run back there in the morning from the thousand tiny deaths I’d died in your arms the night before. Reprieved, resurrected and sent back to my cell to wait out another day. The legends said there were tunnels under the city. A tunnel from your home to mine for the prisoners to scurry along, safe from the lynch mob above.

I could have done with that tunnel.

Mostly it was just the milkman winking, but I lived in fear of seeing someone I knew or worse – seeing one of my tutors, or seeing your missus in tears. There was never any sneaking away. The dogs’ home at the bottom of your street would set up howling as I tiptoed past and the workmen in the caff would look up and nudge each other at the grinning girl stumbling down the pavement, carrying her shoes. It would have been easier to stay the night and say I’d been at a friends but that wasn’t how it worked. Staying the night would break the rules and stop it being a game. I’d always slipped out by five a.m.

You should have been a one night stand. Sharp cheekbones and sharper teeth. I should never have gone back. You weren’t like the others though. You had fought Death. I was impressed. I was the only person you didn’t lie to about your scar. You told people you’d been knifed in a mugging. You told people you’d had to climb out of a crashed car. You told people that you’d been savaged by a bear. Anything but the truth, which was they cut you open to make you better, but it might not last. Death could come sneaking back more stealthily than I ever snuck away.

When I first met you the line across your belly was so red and angry I was terrified. I stopped fiddling with your belt and looked at you. “Can you fuck?” I asked. “Can Ah fuck,” you replied, pleased with your joke. So we didn’t, not then. But you got better. Stronger. And then you could fuck and you did fuck and we did fuck all through autumn and spring too. You wouldn’t fuck your girlfriend but you’d fuck me. “Just like the Mafiosi,” I said to the raised eyebrows of my girlfriends. “She’s too special to him. Too pure. I’m the one he can’t resist.” They raised their eyebrows higher and eventually stopped talking to me altogether. You were an angry man, much given to cornering them on the dance floor and demanding to see me. They were terrified of you.

But I wasn’t scared. How could I be scared of a boy I’d seen sobbing and frightened and afraid he was about to die? How could I be scared when you called me around with a takeaway the first time you were well enough to eat proper food again? I could never be scared of you, no matter how much you raged and fought and kicked down fences. I was scared you’d make yourself ill, and scared you would stop wanting to see me but I was never scared of you. The only thing you bloodied your knuckles up on was brick walls.

All autumn and all spring. There is never a winter or a summer in a university town, and especially not in ours. The rain came down and blurred any line between the seasons. The rain came down. It was a strange time. Most of England lay underwater. It was difficult to get out of the city, trapped as we were right in the middle. The only time it didn’t rain was when I wanted it to the most, on those walks back home just before dawn. I’d lean my forehead against lampposts trying to get my breath. The sky should have been sobbing and so should I. How could I when I was grinning so hard I had to put my hands over my mouth to hide my smile? The wind would blow through my hair and ice up my skin. That’s how I’d slip back in the bed. Icy cold. Did he know where I’d been? I expect so.

You thought that’s how I was. Northern, like you. Tough, like you. I was once. I had been. Then I met the man I loved and his Southern heat melted all the ice off my heart and left it soft to the touch. When you squeezed it, it bruised. It hurt. I waited til your angry red line was just a silver mark. Your scar was fading away, as mine was just forming. I ran my fingers up and down it and looked at you, all healed up.

“Will it come back?”
“Let it. I’m ready for it.”

A pause.

“I’m leaving.”
“You’ll be alright?”

I never went back. I didn’t see you for a term or two. The last time I saw you you were in ruddy good health. You were fatter and pinker, like you’d been reborn, which I suppose you had. We sat outside in the beer garden, in the rain and talked and talked. It surprised me to realise I’d been in love with you, and it surprised me to realise I wasn’t any more. You had your hand up my skirt the whole time, with your thumb resting by the elastic of my knickers. One of my old friends caught sight of us from the doorway and sneered her disgust. You winked at her. She stalked back inside.

You were going to go back North. I had my sights firmly set on the South. There was nothing between us any more. It had all been washed away with the rain. When I heard you were back in hospital there a couple of years later I was surprised you’d stayed in town. I was relieved I’d escaped. I never found out if you got better, but I don’t believe for one second you would have let Death get one over on you. I can’t believe that. I think about you from time to time. Fondly, but without desire. I’m still a sucker for scars though. Mine are invisible, you see.

(c) Em Fleming

Same As It Ever Was

Up then spake the Queen o Fairies,
Out o a bush o broom:
‘She that has borrowd young Tamlane
Has gotten a stately groom’

–          The Ballad of Tam Lin

He had no childhood memories.

He could not recollect his family; his teenage years; the place he had grown up.

It didn’t matter. Tania told him that again and again. It doesn’t matter, she would say, you are here now. Where you are meant to be. With me.

She was his wife. He could not remember their wedding or their courtship. He could remember nothing of the time before she pulled him from the water, puking and sputtering. His very first memory now was of her, beautiful and brave; standing above him in the burning sun, laughing and laughing.

Although she had told him she was his wife he could remember nothing of their life together; of the man he’d been previously. He didn’t understand how he’d managed to marry such a beautiful woman but here he was, and here she was and he didn’t like to think too hard about it being any other way.

You wouldn’t like to remember before, she had told him, so he stopped trying. He let the days go by. He played and he sang, and lay in the sun; drunk on the joy of his own voice. Music, that was something. He’d never forgotten that. The first night of his new life Tania had brought a guitar to him, almost shyly, kneeling down to hand it over. It was the only time he ever saw her cowed. He played without thinking, his quick fingers moving over the strings. Then moving over her. Afterwards, she had cried. She brought the guitar to him nearly every night, and nearly every night he could make her cry. Then she would sleep and he would look at her, in the big bed with its silken sheets and think “Well. How did I get here?”

There had been something before all this, he knew. Somewhere was another world, with other people in it, but he didn’t know how to get back. It didn’t seem important somehow. There was the highway that ran outside the house, but Tania wouldn’t tell him where it went to and eventually he stopped asking. There was nothing else around. Just the big pool down the hill and a big big sky. No neighbours. “We don’t need neighbours,” Tania said, smiling her smile that looked like stars. “Stay away from the water and everything will be alright.”

But the water sang more sweetly than he ever sang to Tania.


One day, after she had fallen asleep in the garden, he could resist it no longer. He stood up and slipped from the house, heart beating hard in his chest. He walked quickly to the water, knowing she wouldn’t sleep for long. He would look and then he would come away. This is what he said to himself. He’d said it to himself before but not dared til now.

The water was glassy and flat. And inviting, as he knew it would be. It lurked at the edge of his brain, always, the deep still pool. He lay down and looked at his reflection. Then he looked harder.

There was a girl in the water.

There was a girl in the water looking up at him. Is that why Tania didn’t want him here? He hadn’t known there was a girl living in the pool. She was reaching her hands up to him. He glanced backwards. Tania would not want him speaking to strange women at the bottom of pools, he was quite sure of that. And yet, she wasn’t a strange woman. He looked down at her.

“I know you,” he mouthed. She nodded fervently. Yes. Yes. There was a name in his mouth. “Janet?” he said. The girl slid closer to the surface. He could touch her.

He slid his hand into the water and her fingers closed around his wrist. He pulled his arm back in surprise and she came with him, spluttering out of the water. “Tom!” she said “my god! Tom!” and then she was in his arms, wet through and laughing. He looked at her. “Is that my name?” he said.

“Don’t you remember?”

“I only remember the water,” he said. “Only that.”

She had a tight hold of him, and she was stepping backward into the pool again. He tried to take her hand from his arm but she gripped him tighter. Her foot connected with his ankle and he slipped. She was pulling him into the water and he couldn’t stop her.

“You have to leave now,” she said, “you don’t belong here.”

He was in up to his waist. How had it happened? The more he struggled the firmer her hold. A wind began to blow, whipping up into a twister. The water churned around them. Is that what had happened before? Was this what Tania had rescued him from?

He lost his footing, began treading water and still she kept hold, pulling him down down and down. He couldn’t break free. The water closed over his head and he saw Tania running down to the bank, her image shimmering and fracturing as he slipped into the blue. She was saying something, screaming, but he couldn’t make out the words.


Silence. Whiteness. A light so bright he closed his eyes against it. And now there were noises, electronic beeps and whistles and an alarm and someone shouting ‘help please, quickly come, come quickly!’ Janet shouting.

He tried opening his eyes again, slower this time. A woman in a blue dress burst into the room. He realized she was a nurse. She stared at the two of them, open mouthed.

Water was running from the bed and pooling on the floor. Tom still attached to his life support machine and Janet clinging onto him, tangled up in the wires. Both of them were soaking wet.

“He’s back,” said Janet again, quieter now.

Everything on his body began to hurt, all at the same time.

“My god,” he said. “What have I done?”

(c) Em Fleming


Same As It Ever Was was a Juke Box Story in September 2012.

Did you guess? It’s loosely based on the Talking Heads song Once In A Lifetime, and the old Scottish ballad Tam Lin.