ALL BABES ARE WOLVES
by Pauline West
My grandmother’s Charleston was ruled by water. The intractable tides, downpours and languor of a feminine city: for South Carolina, as with any great matriarch, love and control were the same thing.
“It’s official, my darlings, we aren’t werewolves!” Nona would say, sweeping her curtains open to the morning.
Our mother sat there drinking coffee steadily. “You mean vampires, mother. We aren’t vampires.”
Nona glided towards her. “Yes, perhaps you are a werewolf. You’ve got such slitty little disappointed eyes, my dear. Where’s your sunshine?” Lily and I giggled. Our Nona beamed. “But these two pass muster, I think. You aren’t a monster, now are you, Miss Lily?”
“Slitty!” Lily said. Mama glowered.
Nona curved away, flicking her wrists. “Ah, you’re only as happy as your unhappiest child. But don’t let that go to your head, darling, I’m happy as a tick.”
“Let’s not fight, please. We’ve come all this way.”
“The only real fight is with a sword. Roll those eyes at me again, daughter mine, and I’ll roll your head. Kshk!” The world was Nona’s own private snow globe, anything she wanted only ever a thumb’s length away. She was a magic woman, conjuring stopped time the way ordinary grandmothers knitted or baked biscuits.
Her eyebrows and lashes were colorless, giving her a seraphic indifference. Her lower lip was cut straight across, always waxed a coppery red. Once upon a time her hair had been lit too, bright as a struck match, people said, but I only ever saw Nona with curtains of bled-white silk, always center-parted, soft as sea foam to the day she died. Exuberant silk blouses and long emerald skirts pinched in mercilessly at the waist, she was still standing on her head at parties when she was eighty.
Hers was the kind of beauty that made people stare, that called lives into question, that gave her cause to be celebrated like some uncatchable tiger running rogue in the wood. Her rich, throaty laughter, that fanged love; should we sin, in hesitating over choosing a cookie, say, or an offering from her jewelry box at Christmas, Nona would swipe her gift away. “If you don’t know what you want, my darling, you’ll never have it!” she said.
“Marguerite, they’re kids, for god sakes...” Daddy said, from the chair.
“Oh yes, we do want to believe the worst about people, don’t we?” Nona said. She thought Daddy was an unforgivable rag.
Those gumball nuggets of emerald, onyx and gold, glittering at us from their velvet crib in Nona’s arms; her limbs were still graceful pipes, even now that they were draped slightly from true. Her skin was the palest, softest chamois. Nona bathed in Shalimar. She smelled like the glinting of diamonds. She was a white throat, a dark room, a closed door.
“Christ Lily, what on earth have you been eating? Everything, I suppose. Do you want a Chinaman to catch you up and fry you like a little piggie, is that what you want?”
And Lily cried, but olly olly oxen free, bitches. Our Nona Marguerite held the secret of life: a withered heart cannot break.
ALL BABES ARE WOLVES: In 1950s Charleston, South Carolina, a secret plunges Marguerite Hastie’s life into ruins. Seventy years later, her granddaughter, wild child Temple Hastie explores whether adulthood means escaping her heritage or embracing it.
Still in (slow) progress: first chapters available by request :)