Fraternal twin, of course. Come back to the house, and I'll tell you the rest of it.
Naw, Lupe's not 133. She's nineteen, same as me. Old for a wolf, but I've helped. And don't call her my dog; never call a wolf a dog.
I don't expect you to believe the story; just hear it out. My mother told me some of my history just before she died. Mom had fallen in love with a hunter; moon going on full, she fell in love pretty often. At least she called it "falling in love" when talking to me.
When full came, she got out into the woods and hid. Hunter'd never have had a chance of finding her if a wolf hadn't done it first. So here's ol' wolf howling at her, and here's ol' hunter aiming at howling wolf. Mom had to choose, and she jumped the hunter. The wolf got into the game fast. Lupe's father tore the throat out of my father. Then he covered Mom, who had really been in the mood even before she smelt blood. I've never blamed Lupe for what her father did, though.
Mom felt she was real lucky to bring us both into the world alive. Part, it was a later full moon. Anyway, Lupe is my twin sister. Fraternal, like I said. And not a touch of the were in either of us.
We grew at our own rates. First I can remember, her half- grown cubs were lookin' after me. Their understanding of 'looking after, ' of course. Mom had plowed a furrow around house and barn. One of the first things I learned was to only piss on that furrow; critters would never cross that line. Winter I was five, Mom talked me into wearing clothes -- first pants, then shoes. Warmer that way, but she made me keep them on come summer. Next fall, I started school -- riding Harry 'bout three miles each way. Harry was happy enough to go; it was better than pulling a plow, and horses don't much take to wolves.
I took to school, though. Mom had taught me my letters and some words, but that was either in her rough handwriting or in the old books with cramped print she read herself. The first time I saw the big print in the books in school -- and the pictures -- I fell in love. More or less fell in love with Miss Wilson, too. She taught the lower grades.
Mom grew much of what we needed on the farm. Strongest woman you ever did see. For years, I would think every woman was stronger than me. Mom got checks in the mail -- rents and old bonds; they paid for what we couldn't grow. Soon I was riding Harry to old man Lauther's store with a list (and sometimes the check) and hauling the purchases back from town.
By then, I was helping with Lupe's litters. She could go off to hunt when I was home, and I'd see to the cubs. They'd soon outgrow the need, then outgrow me; and then I'd wait for the next litter.
Lupe's last litter'd been gone some time when Mom was shot. Mom crawled to the barn in the full moon, then waited till it set.
Strongest woman you ever did see. Took nearly two months to kill her. But we couldn't ask for the doctor. He'd see too much. Rallied some in the first full, but died before the next one. And she wanted to die by then. 'Fore she went, though, she told me part of the past. And she made me practice her signature -- as she got worse, it looked more crabbed and easier to do.
When Mom died, Lupe howled for an hour. Then she went out and dug a hole as deep as she could. I pretended Mom was still alive for another day. Then I helped deepen the hole; and Lupe and I dragged Mom to it on the quilt from her bed. We piled dirt on her till she was well hidden. Then I piled rocks on the pile 'til I couldn't carry any more. Then we scooped dirt and manure on top of the rocks. I poured a half a bell jar of gasoline over the grave then. Critters, they all hate the smell of gasoline.
Mom had never encouraged visitors, and nobody came 'round to ask why I wasn't in school. Sheepherders, farmers, people in town, each group looked after their own, sorta. But we weren't any of theirs, and they weren't looking for more trouble than they had. I think Miss Wilson would've asked why I wasn't in school, but she'd gone back to the city at the end of the year. Got married, I heard.
New teacher wasn't goin' to do anything, and neither was anybody else.
Still, I held off riding to town for the longest time. Didn't even empty the mail box till Mom had been in the ground two weeks. Some of the mail in there was ruined, two checks I couldn't even read.
One I could read was for more money than I had ever seen on a check, near five thousand dollars from some oil company. I practiced Mom's signature for weeks before I got up nerve to ride into town. Lauther stared at the check for a long time, front and back. "Well," he finally said, "that's a big check. It'll just about pay your bill off."
He'd never said anything about a bill before. He had a big sign behind the cash register, "NO CREDIT!"
"Bill?" I cried.
"Give me that check and it'll pay your bill off, and leave about a hundred over. Otherwise, you can try to cash it elsewhere, but no more purchases until you bring in some cash." He waited until I agreed. I got one axe handle where I'd planned to buy several, five pounds of flour where I'd planned to buy ten, and a box of nails. I got a precise written statement from him of what my purchase cost and what I had left on account.
I still had another check in my pants, but I saved it for another day.
I was less than half the strength Mom had been. Doubt I'll get any stronger than I am now, and that's still not near her strength. Better with tools, though. I can put a handle on an axe, a hoe, or a hammer, put a steel plowshare on our old plow, use a knife, hold a nail with one hand while I hammer it in with the other. 'Stead of putting the handle on an axe, she'd buy another, so we had several axe heads around the place. And heads for some other tools.
As checks came in, I'd get some new tools or new handles. I'd hoe the fields, but it was more than I could handle. And I didn't know enough. Farm kid learns something, and harvest was almost over when Mom got shot. So we sorta made out that year. Lupe did what she could, bringing home some parts of sheep come spring when they were put out to pasture. Plowing and planting were sheer Hell come spring, though. Lupe couldn't help much, and I wasn't strong enough to handle the wooden plow Mom had used. We just about got through 'til harvest.
Sometime before harvest, though, I got a bill for taxes on the farm. The last year's taxes hadn't been paid; and if it went a couple of years longer, they'd sell the farm for the taxes. When the large check came, I rode out to see Jennings, whose name was on the bill. His daughter, Sarah, had been a year younger in school with me. She made a fuss over Harry, who she hadn't seen in more than a year. Maybe 'cause of that, maybe just out of kindness, Jennings explained what was up. The check, he called it a royalty check, would cover more than one year's tax. He told me to pay the old bill and put the rest down on the new. If some tax was owed after four years, they could sell the farm to pay it. Even if the whole tax was paid for the time in between, they'd do it. Mom didn't have many friends.
Harvest hadn't been half what Mom had brought in, and -- wouldn't you know -- winter that year was awful. I spurted up, too. I took to wearing Mom's clothes, since mine didn't fit. Hers were too big, but too big is easier on you than too small. Sheep, of course, were nowhere around for Lupe to get. She hunted out the small stuff and would share with me. Twin or not, she always treated me like a cub. Rabbits were fine, but I never could take to mice or voles. And Lupe didn't pay that any more mind than you would pay to your kid's taste choices if he was starving.
Add to our troubles, roads were snowed in for days at a stretch. Mailman didn't bring any checks, and I wouldn't have been able to get to Lauther's store even if he had. More'n half the furrow Mom had plowed was unreachable. Pissing out in a heavy snowstorm was a miserable experience, anyway. I took to using only a few spots in the lee of the barn.
That must have been how the wolf got in. Wasn't one of ours; wasn't even all Wolf. I was in the barn trying to figure out how much hay we had when Harry started to buck in his stall. I went to the door to see if one of Lupe's old cubs was visiting. Harry fussed 'bout Lupe sometimes, but not that bad. This was a total stranger, and he was looking at the barn door like prey was inside. He had the look of dog about him, longish hair and all. Maybe had some coyote in him, though I've only seen pictures of them. Big cuss, though, bigger than Lupe.
My axe -- I only had one back then -- was in the kitchen. The barn door didn't latch, no reason for it to. So I stood with a sort of pitchfork with wooden tines in my hand looking out through the crack in the door as the wolf got his courage up. I'd try to block the door; I'd try to get him with the pitchfork. Neither looked awfully likely. The wind was whistling through the crack, too. Wolf didn't need to break in; he only needed to stay around the few hours 'til I froze to death.
When the wolf looked over to the side, I followed his glance. There was Lupe, trotting along with a rabbit in her mouth. She'd been in deep snow; you could tell from the stuff frozen to her side and belly. The space between the barn and the house, though, was blown almost clear.
.... There is more of this story ...