The snow was cold beneath the pads of her feet, and there was ice matted between her claws, but she reveled in the bitter cold, the bracing wind. To move on four feet instead of two was to embrace her true self, the one with thick fur that was designed for life in a harsh environment.
She sniffed the air and caught the familiar scents of home and family – her human family. When she’d told them that she needed to go for a walk, her husband had understood what she meant, but her children had not. They didn’t know what she really was.
A rabbit scurried across her path. She considered chasing it, bringing it home for dinner, but she knew what the kids would say… “Rabbit’s gross. It’s so stringy. Mama, we can’t eat Thumper.”
She would never judge them for their human tastes, but sometimes – most times – she missed the chase, the kill, the way fresh venison had that slightly gamey undertone.
A mournful howl cut through the wind. It wasn’t one of her kind, but she answered anyway, her return song one of reassurance. “You will be alright,” she sang. “Winter won’t last forever.”
The sunlight was beginning to fade as she turned for home and she paused at the edge of their property just to look at the cozy house, all aglow with lamplight. Subtle wisps of wood smoke emanated from the chimney. Wood smoke and beef stew. Her husband had been cooking.
Shaking the snow from her back, she climbed the three steps to the back porch. She stepped out of her pelt, as she climbed, laughing as her shadow appeared to have six limbs at one point.
She dressed in the clothes she’d left on top of the bench, and bundled her cast-off fur into a soft, cloth bag.
Her husband was waiting just inside the mud room. “Feel better?” he asked.
“Yes, thank you.” She leaned to nuzzle his neck and then kiss his whiskery cheek. “Here,” she said. “You keep this.”
But her husband shook his head. “You know I can’t accept it. I want you here out of free will, not out of some compulsion.”
They had the same argument every time.
“You’re not taking it from me,” she explained, yet again. “I’m giving it to your care, just as you’ve given me your heart.”
“But I can abuse it,” he said.
“But you won’t,” she countered. “Any more than I would abuse your heart.”
Reluctantly he accepted her offering. “The second you want it back…” he began. But he didn’t finish; she knew what he’d say. Instead he simply asked,”You hungry? Dinner’s ready.”
Sometimes, she thought, a bowl of stew and the smiling faces of a family meant more than any hunt.