"St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves" by Karen Russell

May 29, 2020
In this short story, the narrator and other girls raised by wolves try to adapt to life in human society.
We forgot the barked cautions of our mothers and fathers, all the promises we'd made to be civilized and ladylike, couth and kempt.
We tore through the austere rooms, overturning dresser drawers, pawing through the neat piles of the Stage 3 girls' starched underwear, smashing lightbulbs with our bare fists.
We jumped from bunk to bunk, spraying. We nosed each other midair, our bodies buckling in kinetic laughter.
In Copacabana, the girls are fat and languid and eat pink slivers of guava right out of your hand.
Our pack was hirsute and sinewy and mostly brunette.
Our pack was hirsute and sinewy and mostly brunette.
"The girls at our facility are backwoods," Sister Josephine whispered to Sister Maria de la Guardia with a beatific smile. "You must be patient with them."
We ran past the wild apiary, past the felled oaks, until we could see the white steeple of St. Lucy's rising out of the forest.
They had been ostracized by the local farmers for eating their silled fruit pies and terrorizing the heifers. They had ostracized the local wolves by having sometimes-thumbs, and regrets, and human children.
Our pack grew up in a green purgatory. We couldn't keep up with the purebred wolves, but we never stopped crawling.
We spoke a slab-tongued pidgin in the cave, inflected with frequent howls. Our parents wanted something better for us; they wanted us to get braces, use towels, be fully bilingual.
Our diminished pack threw back our heads in a celebratory howl—an exultant and terrible noise, even without a chorus of wolf brothers in the background.
We supplemented these holes by digging some of our own. We interred sticks, and our itchy new jumpers, and the bones of the friendly, unfortunate squirrels.
They conferred in the shadow of the juniper tree, whispering and pointing.
She backed towards the far corner of the garden, snarling in the most menacing register that an eight-year-old wolf-girl can muster.
We had never wanted to run away so badly in our lives; but who did we have to run back to? Only the curled black grimace of the mother. Only the father, holding his tawny head between his paws.
The advanced girls could already alternate between two speeds: "slouch" and" amble." Almost everybody was fully bipedal.
Mirabella would rip foamy chunks out of the church pews and replace them with ham bones and girl dander.
The main commandment of wolf life is Know Your Place, and that translated perfectly. Being around other humans had awakened a slavish-dog affection in us. An abasing, belly-to-the-ground desire to please.
As soon as we realized that someone higher up in the food chain was watching us, we wanted only to be pleasing in their sight. Mouth shut, I repeated, shoes on feet. But if Mirabella had this latent instinct, the nuns couldn't figure out how to activate it.
She'd go bounding around, gleefully spraying on their gilded statue of St. Lucy, mad-scratching at the virulent fleas that survived all of their powders and baths.
She was still loping around on all fours (which the nuns had taught us to see looked unnatural and ridiculous—we could barely believe it now, the shame of it, that we used to locomote like that!), her fists blue-white from the strain.
Jeanette spiffed her penny loafers until her very shoes seemed to gloat. (Linguists have since traced the colloquial origins of "goody two-shoes" back to our facilities.)
I probably could have vied with Jeanette for the number one spot, but I'd seen what happened if you gave in to your natural aptitudes.
We spent a lot of time daydreaming during this period. Even Jeanette. Sometimes I'd see her looking out at the woods in a vacant way. If you interrupted her in the midst of one of these reveries, she would lunge at you with an elder-sister ferocity, momentarily forgetting her human catechism.
We spent a lot of time daydreaming during this period. Even Jeanette. Sometimes I'd see her looking out at the woods in a vacant way. If you interrupted her in the midst of one of these reveries, she would lunge at you with an elder-sister ferocity, momentarily forgetting her human catechism.
Much later, they found Mirabella wading in the shallows of a distant river, trying to strangle a mallard with her rosary beads.
The final slide was a bolded sentence in St. Lucy's prim script: DO YOU WANT TO END UP SHUNNED BY BOTH SPECIES?
She was covered with splinters, keening a high, whining noise through her nostrils.
Etiquette was so confounding in this country.
"Something must be done," Sister Ignatius said firmly. The other nuns nodded, a sea of thin, colorless lips and kettle-black brows. "Something must be done," they intoned.
Beulah pretended not to mind when we got frustrated with the oblique, fussy movement from square to square and shredded the board to ribbons.
Jeanette was learning how to dance. On Holy Thursday, she mastered a rudimentary form of the Charleston.
The nuns decided we needed an inducement to dance. They announced that we would celebrate our successful rehabilitations with a Debutante Ball.
The choir director—aggressively perfumed Mrs. Valuchi, gold necklaces like pineapple rings around her neck—taught us more than the nuns ever did. She showed us how to pattern the old hunger into arias.
Clouds moved behind the frosted oculus of the nave, glass shadows that reminded me of my mother.
The nuns had transformed the rectory into a very scary place.
Black streamers swooped down from the eaves and got stuck in our hair like bats.
The brothers didn't smell like our brothers anymore. They smelled like pomade and cold, sterile sweat.
But we had only gotten up to Unit 7: Party Dialogue; we hadn't yet learned the vocabulary for Unit 12: How to Tactfully Acknowledge Disaster.
"You smell astoooounding!" Kyle was saying, accidentally stretching the diphthong into a howl and then blushing.
I had rubbed a pumpkin muffin all over my body earlier that morning to mask my natural, feral scent. Now I smelled like a purebred girl, easy to kill.
I could feel my jaws gaping open, my tongue lolling out of the left side of my mouth.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” I grunted from underneath her. “I didn’t want your help. Now you have ruined the Sausalito! You have ruined the ball!” I said more loudly, hoping the nuns would hear how much my enunciation had improved.
We graduated from St. Lucy’s shortly thereafter. As far as I can recollect, that was our last communal howl.

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