FICTION – The Burgeoning by Bonnie Chau

This happened once, and then it happened many more times; it is probably happening still. Probably it has happened, in a way, to someone you know. It happens to pretty girls, one of those pretty city girls. She was pretty, and young, nearly ripe, still whole, getting more whole, getting fuller. She was a sweet and lovely thing—that was the side of her we wanted to see, so that was the side of her we did see. Her mother loved her—and her Grandma loved her even more. It was amazing how lovable she was, but only to the women in her immediate family, who were her only apparent family. Men and beasts would love her also, but in different ways, in ways that made you re­evaluate the ways in which we love. But her mother’s love for her, and her Grandma’s love for her, these were simple and straightforward loves, pure. Her Grandma even made the pretty girl a very eye­catching red woven hooded capelet, which so suited the girl in all her burgeoning girlishness, that she wore it all the time, and became known as The Pretty Girl Who is Always Wearing That Red Hooded Capelet, though unsurprisingly, this moniker was soon distilled to just its most important elements.

One day, when she walked into the kitchen, her mother said, “Oh, there you are, my Pretty Girl. Please bring these to Grandma—there’s a rumor that she’s not feeling very well. Here, take her this freshly­baked soft, soft bread, and a bit of this sweet cream butter that she loves!”

And so The Pretty Girl did what she was told, and she took the basket, and set off for her Grandma’s house, which was in the suburbs just outside the city, on the other side of a forest. In the middle of her walk through the forest, The Pretty Girl happened upon the Wolf. The Wolf was a Wolf, and had an innate wolfishness, which manifested itself in his longing to devour The Pretty Girl, tear her apart and slurp her down whole. But there were others in the forest, actual men, real men, with real jobs, and who carried axes upon their broad hairless shoulders, and so the Wolf simply asked The Pretty Girl where she was headed. And The Pretty Girl, who did not yet know, had not yet learned not to engage, had not yet learned of any need to not always be her lovable, young, ripe self, said in her sweet and lovely way, “Oh, I’m going to my Grandma’s house, I’m taking her this freshly­baked soft, soft bread, and a bit of this sweet cream butter that she loves!” And she held out her basket, as she said this, tilting it toward the Wolf, delicately lifting up the top, and, in a heedless rush of demonstration, or was it performance, lightly pushed her young white tender fingertips into the springy softness of the still­warm bread, which now exuded a fragrant steam.

“Oh?” he said, “Does she live very far from here?” The Wolf did not look long at The Pretty Girl’s smooth tender fingertips fingering—kneading almost, nearly—the pulsating bread, wasn’t it pulsating, like a living thing wrapped warm. He thought he might give himself away, surely by his dilating pupils if not by the protrusion growing with a pulse of its own, in his woolen trousers. He slid his paws behind his suspender straps, and felt, for a moment, their tightening, the slight eager strain.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said The Pretty Girl. It was strange that she said this, because of course she d​id​know exactly where her Grandma’s house was, and therefore whether or not it was far away (it was rather far away, as are most of the things we set out for, rather far beyond our reach, no? In a most enticing way, a most thigh­clenching way). But she wanted to look longer at this wolfish face before her, his salivation, could it not be her salvation? His hunger, could it not be her hunger? How else was she to keep this moment, between two hungry creatures, facing off in a forest, that is on the one hand just a forest full of trees, but on the other hand, ten thousand other things? How many decades or centuries or millennia ago was it that a pretty girl first pretended to not know something for the sake of just several more moments with the most scrapingly, achingly, slice­to­ribbons set of sharpened teeth a pretty girl had ever been starved for?

The Wolf smiled at The Pretty Girl, and waited.

“Oh, well. My Grandma’s house is just on the other side of the forest. The first house. The suburbs.” The Pretty Girl did not know what else to say. She swung her basket a little bit. “That’s fascinating,” said The Wolf. He said it in a very sincere manner. “I am foreversuccumbing to novelty. New things, you know, things I have yet to touch. I have never seen a Grandma before, do you think I might see her too? Wolves don’t have Grandmas, you know, and I would be so much obliged. Well? We can make a game of it, a date of it, I go one way, you go another, one of us will arrive first and wait for the other.”

The Pretty Girl was still caught on the word, d​ate, ​it was kind of a sweet­sounding word wasn’t it, its sweetness not something she had noticed before. She blinked rapidly a few times, her breasts felt full and warm beneath her capelet. She was about to say something, but The Wolf had already nodded winningly, and wolfishly, at her, and started off on his way, assuming she would take the other. Which she did, feeling a feverish sort of blindness, a sensation as if she was the cool sweat coating a wide and long stream of fluttering silk ribbon, winding itself through the forest of its own accord, aiming for the house on the other side, aiming for the heart of The Wolf, who surely would arrive first, who would surely be waiting for her, heart exposed. She wound and wound herself through the trees, kneeling down on her knees occasionally to feel the thud of her knees on the dark forest soil, to feel the tearing of roots and stems as she yanked and ripped at bunches of wildflowers. She floated after a butterfly, she gathered nuts into her skirt, held some in her mouth. She stood still, and pictured him.

The Wolf was already there. He knocked at the Grandma’s door. Knock. Knock. Knock. On your knees.

“Hello? My lovely, Pretty Girl, is that you?” the Grandma called.

“It’s me,” said the Wolf, his snarled lips near the seams of the door, nearly touching the wood, “And I’ve brought you some freshly­baked soft, soft bread, and a bit of this sweet cream butter that you love!”

“Oh I am all tucked into bed, do you mind just turning the outside knob counterclockwise, and the latch bolt will recede from the face plate, causing the bolt and the nut to shift, and the spindle to enter into the rose of the inside knob, and the push­button to unlock?”

The Wolf did as he was told, and the door opened wide. He launched himself over to the bed, fairly threw himself down on top of the Grandma, and ate her. He ate her so fast. He had not eaten in three days, and had just spent the last hour careening through the forest, salivating over The Pretty Girl’s pungent unfurling. Best to devour this old one, tamp down on his lust for a moment, and be primed, steady, rock­solid for the one just about to be split open, sweet juice dripping, a ripe fig. He pressed the push­button on the inside knob, and locked the door. Then he settled himself in the Grandma’s bed, which was still warm. She came.

Knock. Knock. Knock. O​n your knees.

“Hello? My lovely, Pretty Girl, is that you?” The Wolf pitched his voice. Almost to a scream.

The Pretty Girl shuddered at the sound of the voice. She did not feel like she knew it, but she rationalized: the rumor was that Grandma was not feeling very well, this was the reason for her visit, anyway, and so her voice was possibly gruff and hoarse from a sore throat, and so The Pretty Girl straightened her shoulders. Maybe she knew, somewhere, on some level of blood and hormones and fantasy, that it was The Wolf who had spoken to her from inside. But didn’t she want The Wolf, wasn’t that want pure and simple enough to darken all other thoughts and banish all misgivings?

“It’s me,” said The Pretty Girl, her mouth pressed full­on against the wood of the door as she spoke this, something hard against something soft. “And I’ve brought you some freshly­baked soft, soft bread, and a bit of this sweet cream butter that you love!”

The Wolf could barely lie still. He rustled under the sheets. “Just turn the outside knob counterclockwise, and the latch bolt will recede from the face plate, causing the bolt and the nut to shift, and the spindle to enter into the rose of the inside knob, and the push­button to unlock!” he shouted desperately.

The Pretty Girl did as she was told. She opened wide.

The Wolf pulled the covers up, he smoothed the covers back down, then up once more. “Just leave the freshly­baked soft, soft bread, and the bit of sweet cream butter that I love on the counter.”

The Pretty Girl did as she was told.

“Come to bed,” The Wolf commanded. There was a sliver of something glinting, on the very edge of his voice.

As if in a dream, or as if it was all she had dreamed of, The Pretty Girl took off her clothes. She climbed into the bed. She expressed shock at the sight of Grandma in that nightgown. It was so completely unbecoming, so very unfeminine. Would she become like that too, as an old woman? What became of old women? What became of pretty girls? She squirmed under the blanket. The Wolf edged closer to her. The Pretty Girl shivered now, moved restlessly against the sheets.

“Grandma, your arms are thick and flabby and hairy.”

“The better to hug you with, my Pretty Girl.”

“Grandma, your legs are very veiny and furry.”

“The better to chase you with when we play games, my Pretty Girl.” “Grandma, your ears are so big and sharp.”

“The better to hear your moans, my Pretty Girl.”

At this, The Pretty Girl stopped writhing for a moment. But it was too late, she couldn’t stop, the game was being played.

“Grandma, your eyes are so cold, so dark, so dangerous, how they gleam!”

“The better to see your near­perfect flesh, perspiring, blossoming, opening for me, my Pretty Girl.”

The Pretty Girl stilled.

“Grandma, your teeth are like the teeth I have dreamed of, that would tear me apart, and give me my first breath.”

“The better to devour you, your sweet and lovely naked body, to slurp you down whole.”

The Wolf said these practiced words, and threw himself against The Pretty Girl. But she had opened her eyes as he said those words, she had opened her eyes as he fell upon her, and she had seen that they were old phrases, that they circumscribed all that she would ever see, through her Pretty Girl eyes. And in that moment, The Wolf just as quickly reeled forcefully back, found that he could not eat her, for she had grown old, in the playing of this game.

He shut his shining, black eyes. Back in the forest, he would find something exceedingly more delicate, more lovely, more simple. Something not just playing dumb. Something less formed.

Bonnie Chau is a writer from Southern California, currently living in Brooklyn and working at an independent bookstore. She studied art history and English literature at UCLA, ran writing programs at the nonprofit, 826LA, and is an MFA candidate in fiction at Columbia University, with a joint concentration in literary translation. Her fiction writing has been published in FLAUNT magazine, and is forthcoming in AAWW’s The Margins.

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