By Maureen Mancini Amaturo
I knew she was going to ask me to go. She asks every year. “Will you take Grandma this basket tomorrow? I made her favorite soup and some carrot muffins,” Mom said.
“Do I have to?”
“That’s your own Granny, and it’s her birthday, so yes. After all she did for you when you were just a tot. Have some respect.”
“Can’t I go another day? I have a date with Little Boy Blue tomorrow.”
“Always too busy for your own family. No, go tomorrow on her birthday and think of someone other than yourself for once.”
Leaving the kitchen resigned to make that trip through the woods, I texted Boy Blue as I walked to my room. “sorry, have to cancel tomorrow.” A sad emoji popped up on my screen. I sent him one back and typed “reschedule?” He sent me a thumbs-up and a heart emoji. I returned the thumbs up, but not the heart. Not going that far.
Mom was making conversation over dinner, but I could only squeeze out an “uh-huh” or a “nope” or “okay” every now and then. Not in the best mood. After helping to clean the kitchen, I just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. Can’t sulk with her staring at me. “I’m going up early. Going to read.” Was texting with Boy Blue a while, then just stared at the ceiling, annoyed at having to cancel my plans. “Please let there be a thunderstorm in the morning so I don’t have to go to Granny’s.”
Morning totally crashed my hopes by arriving with birds singing, sunlight dancing through my window curtains, and the smell of fresh hay and mums bringing bees to buzz along our hedge. “Another glorious morning. Uggh.” I put my pillow over my head to block the light of the horribly nice day. I wish my mother would deliver that basket herself.
Mom called, “Daylight is wasting.” I heard the thump and clunk of pots and bowls on our wooden table. “Up and dressed, I hope. Come eat your breakfast so you can get a move on to Granny’s.”
I punched my pillow and forced myself to crawl out of bed. I put on my blue, wool dress and the white apron Granny had made for me when her eyesight was better. That’s what Mom would ask me to wear anyway, so I thought I’d skip that argument. My oats, milk, and berries were on the table waiting for me when I got to the kitchen.
“There you go, my girl. Hurry now. And wear your red cape and hood today. There’s a chill and a breeze about.” Mom gathered some laundry to wash. “I’ve got Granny’s basket ready over there, on the corner chair.”
How I hated trudging through the woods carrying that thing. I sipped my milk and considered faking an illness, but I know my mother. She’d overreact and trap me inside that cottage feeding me herb teas and mixtures for a week. I couldn’t bear it. Visiting Granny was the lesser of two evils. I cleaned up my bowl and the table, slipped into my red cloak, and grabbed the basket. “Well, another birthday, Granny. Here I come.”
As I made my way deeper into the woods, the sun’s warmth gave way to the November chill. I was glad to have my red wool cape about me and pulled my hood up to block the wind from circling my bare neck. I looked at my cell phone. At least another twenty minutes’ walk to go.
The aroma of those carrot muffins was tempting, but I knew better than to help myself. Mom would have a meltdown. So, on I walked, feeling cold, bored, and dying for one of those carrot muffins. My feet ached, so I sat on a large stone to rest for a few minutes when I heard the crack of twigs and crackle of leaves. I dropped my hood to peek around. I thought I saw a man in a fur coat in the distance.
He seemed to be spying on me and hid behind a large oak tree when I looked his way. Strange. I grabbed my basket and pulled up my hood. Best to get this trip over with. An uneasy feeling washed over me. I knew I was not alone. Footsteps, raspy breathing, and branches snapping behind me kept me on alert and walking quickly. The thud of the stranger’s feet on the dirt sounded closer. I scanned the forest for a shepherd’s hut, a ranger station, any form of shelter or help. Nothing. I ran.
The stranger ran, too. I heard his growls and grunting getting closer. Suddenly, I felt his grip on my shoulders. He pressed one big, hairy arm across my chest from behind. In a gravel-coated voice he said, “Red is my favorite color.”
I strained around the edge of my hood to see his face. “Oh, jeeze Louise. Not you again.” I thought the wolf had been banished from our village after being found guilty of destroying the pigs’ houses for the second time. They had him red-handed on that charge: criminal mischief and vandalism. As a repeat offender, he had been banished from town. “How did you get in here?” I pushed my hood back.
“I have my ways.” He wiggled his brows.
I spit at him.
“That wasn’t nice, Red.”
“You’re not nice.”
Smiling, he said, “I could be.”
“I doubt it.”
“Where are you taking that basket? As if I didn’t know.”
“Grandma’s. It’s her birthday.”
The wolf folded his arms. “She still alive?”
“Rude. How did you sneak back into town, anyway?”
“Chief of Police owed me a favor. So, Miss Red Riding Hood—”
“Stop calling me that.”
Laughing, the wolf said, “So, Betty, how’d you like to salvage this day? I got two tickets to the Pied Pipers concert tonight. Wanna join me?”
“No way!” I tried for weeks to get tickets—called radio stations, even offered Humpty Dumpty twice face value for his handicapped seat. “That show sold out in minutes. How’d you get tickets?”
“Let’s just say the Department of Housing was grateful that I helped them get those three eyesore buildings knocked down in town. They were blocking progress on the new condo project.”
“You mean the pigs’ houses?”
“That’s the ones.”
I was confused. “But they ran you out of town for that.”
“Just for show. I was working for them. Now that those luxury condos are up, the property taxes are, too. I did them a solid. They said if I ever wanted anything, just ask.”
“And you asked for Pied Piper concert tickets?”
“That’s your favorite band.” The wolf winked. He pulled two tickets out of the pocket of his red-plaid, flannel shirt. “Tempted?”
I smiled. “Does Jack Horner eat plums?”
I had to think. If I hurried, I could get to Granny’s, make some small talk, do a chore or two for her, zip out of there, and still be in time to get to the concert. I totally wanted to see this show. Go with Wolf, not so much. This being my only chance, I figured I had to say yes. “You asked for these tickets because of me, for real.”
“I have everything I need. Except you.”
“Let’s be clear here, Fur Ball. Just because I go to the concert doesn’t mean you have me. Got it?” I kicked a stone in his direction.
“Got it.” The wolf pulled my hood up. “And wear that cape. You’re a vision, my dear. Only you could look good in a get-up like that.”
“What time?” I pushed my hood down again.
“Meet me here at seven.”
“I better go. Granny’s waiting.”
“Tell her I said hello.”
I punched his shoulder. “Not funny.”
“Just being nice.”
“Please, she’s still not over that surprise visit you pulled last year. You nearly killed her.”
“I was only trying to see you, Red.”
“And you never gave back her nightgown and cap, by the way.”
“After the concert, come by my den, and I’ll be happy to give you back Grandma’s pajamas.”
The wolf ran his paw over the fur on his head. “Can’t blame a man for trying.”
“You’re an animal.”
“I’ve been called worse.”
I don’t know what it is about that wolf that makes me forget all the things I don’t like about him. “Seven.” I brushed away the fur hanging over his eye. “I’ll be wearing red.” I loosened the bow at the front of my dress.
He broke a twig off a nearby bush and snapped it. “One of us is dangerous.”
“One of us is excited.” I could see in his eyes, and in other places, he didn’t want me to leave. He was sexy, despite that unkept hair. Muscles everywhere. Next to this guy, Little Boy Blue was a bore. I turned and headed for Granny’s. I could hear his heavy breathing as I walked away.
“Third row! Backstage passes, too!” he shouted.
I pretended not to hear. I grasped the soft, wool folds of my cape, then pulled my hood up thinking it must be my lucky charm. Last time I wore it, I got the job I’d been hoping for. The time before that, I bought a lottery ticket, and it won. Gotta wear it more often. Good things happen in the hood.
Maureen Mancini Amaturo, NY-based fashion/beauty writer with an MFA in Creative Writing, teaches writing, founded and leads Sound Shore Writers Group, and produces literary and gallery events. Her fiction, essays, creative non-fiction, poetry, and comedy are widely published. Maureen was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and TDS Creative Fiction Award, was awarded Honorable Mention and Certificate of Excellence in poetry from Havik Literary Journal, and her work was shortlisted by Reedsy and Flash Fiction Magazine for their Editor’s Choice Award. A handwriting analyst diagnosed her with an overdeveloped imagination. She’s working to live up to that.