Time’s the problem. Time and arithmetic. You’ve known from

Time’s the problem. Time and arithmetic. You’ve known from the beginning that the numbers would cause trouble, but you were much younger then—much, much younger—and far less wise. And there’s culture shock, too. Where you come from, it’s okay for women to have wrinkles. Where you come from, youth’s not the only commodity.You met Jonathan back home. Call it a forest somewhere, near an Alp. Call it a village on the edge of the woods. Call it old. You weren’t old, then: you were fourteen on two feet and a mere two years old on four, although already fully grown. Your kind are fully grown at two years, on four feet. And experienced: oh, yes. You knew how to howl at the moon. You knew what to do when somebody howled back. If your four-footed form hadn’t been sterile, you’d have had litters by then—but it was, and on two feet, you’d been just smart enough, or lucky enough, to avoid continuing your line.But it wasn’t as if you hadn’t had plenty of opportunities, enthu-siastically taken. Jonathan liked that. A lot. Jonathan was older than you were: thirty-five, then. Jonathan loved fucking a girl who looked fourteen and acted older, who acted feral, who was feral for three to five days a month, centered on the full moon. Jonathan didn’t mind the mess that went with it, either: all that fur, say, sprouting at one end of the process and shedding on the other, or the aches and pains from various joints pivoting, changing shape, redistributing weight, or your poor gums bleeding all the time from the monthly growth and recession of your fangs. “At least that’s the only blood,” he told you, sometime during that first year.You remember this very clearly: you were roughly halfway through the four-to-two transition, and Jonathan was sitting next to you in bed, massaging your sore shoulderblades as you sipped mint tea with hands still nearly as clumsy as paws, hands like mittens. Jonathan had just filled two hot water bottles, one for your aching tailbone and one for your aching knees. Now you know he wanted to get you in shape for a major sportfuck—he loved sex even more than usual, after you’d just changed back—but at the time, you thought he was a real prince, the kind of prince girls like you weren’t supposed to be allowed to get, and a stab of pain shot through you at his words. “I didn’t kill anything,” you told him, your lower lip trembling. “I didn’t even hunt.”“Gestella, darling, I know. That wasn’t what I meant.” He stroked your hair. He’d been feeding you raw meat during the four-foot phase, but not anything you’d killed yourself. He’d taught you to eat little pieces out of his hand, gently, without biting him. He’d taught you to wag your tail, and he was teaching you to chase a ball, because that’s what good four-foots did where he came from. “I was talking about—”“Normal women,” you told him. “The ones who bleed so they can have babies. You shouldn’t make fun of them. They’re lucky.” You like children and puppies; you’re good with them, gentle. You know it’s unwise for you to have any of your own, but you can’t help but watch them, wistfully.“I don’t want kids,” he says. “I had that operation. I told you.”“Are you sure it took?” you ask. You’re still very young. You’ve never known anyone who’s had an operation like that, and you’re worried about whether Jonathan really understands your condition. Most people don’t. Most people think all kinds of crazy things. Your condition isn’t communicable, for instance, by biting or any other way, but it is hereditary, which is why it’s good that you’ve been so smart and lucky, even if you’re just fourteen.Well, no, not fourteen anymore. It’s about halfway through Jonathan’s year of folklore research—he’s already promised not to write you up for any of the journals, and keeps assuring you he won’t tell
anybody, although later you’ll realize that’s for his protection, not yours—so that would make you, oh, seventeen or eighteen. Jonathan’s still thirty-five. At the end of the year, when he flies you back to the United States with him so the two of you can get married, he’ll be thirty-six. You’ll be twenty-one on two feet, three years old on four.Seven-to-one. That’s the ratio. You’ve made sure Jonathan understands this. “Oh, sure,” he says. “Just like for dogs. One year is seven human years. Everybody knows that. But how can it be a problem, darling, when we love each other so much?” And even though you aren’t fourteen anymore, you’re still young enough to believe him.At first it’s fun. The secret’s a bond between you, a game. You speak in code. Jonathan splits your name in half, calling you Jessie on four feet and Stella on two. You’re Stella to all his friends, and most of them don’t even know that he has a dog one week a month. The two of you scrupulously avoid scheduling social commitments for the week of the full moon, but no one seems to notice the pattern, and if anyone does notice, no one cares. Occasionally someone you know sees Jessie, when you and Jonathan are out in the park playing with balls, and Jonathan always says that he’s taking care of his sister’s dog while she’s away on business. His sister travels a lot, he explains. Oh, no, Stella doesn’t mind, but she’s always been a bit nervous around dogs—even though Jessie’s such a good dog—so she stays home during the walks.Sometimes strangers come up, shyly. “What a beautiful dog!” they say. “What a big dog! What kind of dog is that?”“Husky-wolfhound cross,” Jonathan says airily. Most people accept this. Most people know as much about dogs as dogs know about the space shuttle.Some people know better, though. Some people look at you, and frown a little, and say, “Looks like a wolf to me. Is she part wolf?”“Could be,” Jonathan always says with a shrug, his tone as breezy as ever. And he spins a little story about how his sister adopted you from the pound because you were the runt of the litter and no one else wanted you, and now look at you! No one would ever take you for a runt now! And the strangers smile and look encouraged and pat you on the head, because they like stories about dogs being rescued from the pound.You sit and down and stay during these conversations; you do whatever Jonathan says. You wag your tail and cock your head and act charming. You let people scratch you behind the ears. You’re a good dog. The other dogs in the park, who know more about their own species than most people do, aren’t fooled by any of this; you make them nervous, and they tend to avoid you, or to act supremely submissive if avoidance isn’t possible. They grovel on their bellies, on their backs; they crawl away backwards, whining.Jonathan loves this. Jonathan loves it that you’re the alpha with the other dogs—and, of course, he loves it that he’s your alpha. Because that’s another thing people don’t understand about your condition: they think you’re vicious, a ravening beast, a fanged monster from hell. In fact, you’re no more bloodthirsty than any dog not trained to mayhem. You haven’t been trained to mayhem: you’ve been trained to chase balls. You’re a pack animal, an animal who craves hierarchy, and you, Jessie, are a one- man dog. Your man’s Jonathan. You adore him. You’d do anything for him, even let strangers who wouldn’t know a wolf from a wolfhound scratch you behind the ears.The only fight you and Jonathan have, that first year in the States, is about the collar. Jonathan insists that Jessie wear a collar. Otherwise, he says, he could be fined. There are policemen in the park. Jessie needs a collar and an ID tag and rabies shots.