- The Wolf Girl of Terezia
Come closer, now, to see her. Leave the switch—your eyes will adjust. See, there, the telltale curve of her spine, the way the pink neon FOXY LADY sign on the street outside illuminates it like a roller coaster? See her hands knuckled on the ground like slabs of concrete? See the primordial yawn of her jaw? I've measured her: fifty-six inches at the shoulder. I've inspected her: if forced to straighten, sixty-eight. She resists such procedures but doesn't snarl, despite her name. Her face is smooth and yellow as rock. She's coming closer.
My first sight of her was shared by millions. You know the famous video: shaky camera, forest at dusk, purple fog. Figures like charcoal smudges. Front left: her.
The news cycle went wild for a week, then forgot. But I didn't. I tracked reports through obscure blogs and forums, one step behind the hunters photographing her muddy prints. She flashed through Bosnia, Bulgaria, Romania.
I had a lot of free time on my hands back then. While this was always the most passionate and hardest-working anthropology department in LA, half a year ago it was also the poorest. We had no printer or coffee machine, no funding, no research projects of our own. We subsisted on scraps of data analysis work tossed our way by Dr. Phee's ex-husband, who ran a big lab in Phoenix. We, of course, were two: Dr. Phee and I. We were collaborators, intellectual partners and equals, though some of us couldn't be paid quite yet. [End Page 80]
Mother, famous mixer-upper of words: Slave, you are? Indented labor? Me, patiently: We're calling me a research assistant. Just for now.
I was eating when I read about the Wolf Girl's capture by a duck huntress in a province so small it lacked a newspaper or university system. I sucked mayonnaise off my finger and tried to imagine the huntress's ruddy face. Dr. Phee knocked. I jumped. She told me we'd won a grant for a new project. A true anomaly, a child raised since birth among Baltic gray wolves. Had I heard of her?
So you can see how we viewed the Wolf Girl as a gift from the gods of anthropology. I built a shrine from her news clippings. Center: a high-resolution photo taken after capture, her neck hunched, eyes hidden by a wash of pale hair.
We laid prayers for salvation at the Wolf Girl's gnarled feet. She would rescue our lab from obscurity and the demands of the university; from her innocent mouth with its twelve remaining teeth would pour wonders and wisdoms that we would translate for the world. She would rescue me from thirty-one years of Mother's skepticism, plaster my name (Researcher, Co-Author, Collaborator) across the pages of prestigious journals. And she would rescue Dr. Phee from her nefarious ex-husband and his tangled web of extortion, loosen her tight smile, and open her to new possibilities.
Mother, disbelievingly: Two women scientist? Pah! Bad lock.
I know what you're going to ask—how did we manage to snag her? Our talented but tiny department, her fame. I suppose it can't hurt to tell, not anymore.
I asked the same question at lunch, a time when we liked to relax professionalism and share little intimacies. I'd brought Dr. Phee a hot dog. You should know that Dr. Phee—though still a very attractive woman—was thinned by the strain of her divorce. She subsisted on clementines and Tic Tacs. We'd spent many lunches discussing her need to Move On. My personal contribution to the Move On initiative was to bring her a helping of whatever I had for lunch. This initiative had, [End Page 81] so far, only resulted in my gaining ten pounds and a sheen of chin acne.
"Well," Dr. Phee said, crinkling the foil. "I may have intimated—I may have let them think that a member of our research team grew up where the Wolf...