Little Wolf

By Wallis Eates

little-wolf-tereza-stehlikova.jpg

It was a noiseless afternoon; there wasn’t a sound to be heard. At least, not a sound that results from a happening, but just perhaps, the presence of being. It was the type of afternoon, where if one closed one’s eyes, just by listening, they would understand distance.

Blanketing and illuminating the space at invisible speed, was the light from the Cappadocian sun. The trees were no barrier to the rays that touched them. The sunshine forced its beams between the gaps in the leaves, almost but not quite obliterating the silhouettes they made, and scattered dappled patterns beneath.

Where the shade of one tree stopped, the light hit hard on a garden path. A different shadow appeared upon it, one long and triangular. Accompanied by a voice that sent the silent distance into non-perception, it called,

‘Ulfilas!’

The boy ignored his mother’s calling. He was at the far end of the garden, looking intently at the path. She smiled as she observed his red hot ear and the glimmer of sun upon his head as if he were crowning a halo. Marvelling at the little ball of limbs carrying it, she wondered at the strength of mortal flesh to withstand such everlasting brilliance. Anticipating that her son did not need a cup of milk, she returned inside.

Ulfilas, not yet turned four, had heard his mother but did not quite realise it. He was too absorbed studying ants. Having earlier, for some reason he didn’t consider, been very aware of the distance surrounding him, he found it incredible that the ants were able to use so little space and yet produce so much activity. To unravel the mystery, he fixed his gaze upon one ant. He surveyed the little creature as it scurried back and forth, weaving in and out of the other ants. Ulfilas made no sense of it. Why did you turn back when you got there? What had happened? Why don’t you wander off like some of the others do?

He decided that he must observe the relationships between the ants, if he is to truly work out the reason behind their movements. Darting his eyes from dot to moving dot, he attempted to keep a mental report on each individual ant and his interactions with the others.

The heat upon his head rendered such a dizzying task impossible to perform, and as he momentarily lost interest, his gaze seemed to fall behind the ants, beneath them. His eyes rested there quite a while. It was a minute patch of the path, no bigger than an ant itself and perfectly in the centre of all the hurried action. So small was it that only occasionally would an ant pass through. However, that is not to say that the only time he saw an ant was at one of these moments, for outside of his focused gaze, he could see every single one of them. Continuously and together they would form new patterns. Ulfilas decided that he had inadvertently discovered the method of understanding the ants and he glared and waited for the answer to come to him.

It never did. But his breathing did adopt a certain rhythm, and it was one that mimicked the dance of the creatures in his stare.

Ulfilas felt himself becoming sleepy. His red cheeks almost seemed to be protruding into his periphery, and his hair felt like and smelt like burning straw. Unable to maintain his stance any longer, his head drooped and he shut his eyes. Upon the backdrop of his inside eyelids, he saw a negative version of the ants, but there was not movement, it was a still image. A scribble of yellow upon a dark purple background.

At that moment he heard distance and suddenly realised that recently there had been a sound that had overlaid upon it. It was a sound he knew well – his mother’s voice! She had spoken to him. The noise she had made took the form of something not only familiar, but personal to him. It was the sound that means him. Remembering his name whilst hearing the distance, he could hear all other sounds within it. That was when he realised, in his heat ridden, dazzled, child’s daydream, with the scribble of ants beneath his eyes and without words, that he is not Ulfilas, but he exists nonetheless. Ulfilas is his echo, his negative space that promotes him. And ever more subtly, and yet just as definitely, he learnt the necessity of applying structure to perception; to create and understand meaning.

Bishop Ulfilas (311 – 382 ad) Creator of the Gothic alphabet of Germanic languages


Wallis Eates is a writer and artist. This story was originally published in the November 2006 issue of the London Magazine.

Image by Tereza Stehlíkova.