The Wolf stalked among the trees and overgrowth along the hillside. Schenley Park isn’t the normal home of large carnivora. Nor has Western Pennsylvania seen a wolf in over a century. The early evening winter storm squalls had given way to a deep and clear, cold night.

Past the light pollution’s haze, the Wolf looked into the distant fire of the stars.


Eyes keen, peeled wide, the Excel spreadsheet glowed; the boss gone for the day, the Man tore himself from the screen. Pushing away from his desk, his knees and low back popped and cracked as he walked to one of the exterior windows.

From the 40th floor of BNY Mellon Center, the Man took in the view of the North Shore, across the Allegheny River, Heinz Field, and PNC Park glowed in faint periwinkle and white highlights. The dim hull of the gray evening reflected off the three rivers in a dull leaden sheen.

A benighted day gave way to the grim hungry night.

The Man, 40 years old, tried to draw out the excited feeling the coming of night used to bring.

The phone in his pocket vibrated. The Man noticed and didn’t care because the text would only be from one of two people: his boss or his mother.

His muscles went rigid, locked in a spasm of frustration, before he checked the phone.

It was the boss.

The Man hated the boss, a man five years younger, a man whose schmoozing, incompetent ass got the promotions. The Man hung out on a lower rung, comfy and not much else.

Misspent twenties, a six-year stint in the Guard, and his father.

The life of an unambitious lease analyst who started late on a career.

The Man looked at the phone.

His eye caught a new Bumble notification.

He slipped it back in his pocket.

Walking around to the other side of the floor, an unidentified feeling drew him.

Outside of the window towards Oakland, its skyscraper cathedral stark against the hills rose in the distance east over the city to meet a deepening sky of dark violet and black blue.

Oakland, the universities, so many memories of better days, nights, and friends. Long-lost hopes, victories, and triumphs giving way to recessions, desperation, youthful friends sucked into premature bitter middle age and once-kind affections running raw with spite, disappointment, pills, and alcohol.

Upon the winter’s dark broad cloak, the moon, leering, peeked through a break in the clouds.

It seemed like it all went to pot after his 24th year. So many changes in the way life goes.

He peered out to meet the face of the moon.

So much change, yet this, this moon, in this sky, that is still the same.

From deep inside, the Man felt it again, a faint stirring that has come back as of late, a young man’s hunger.

A taste he can almost feel, of Straub beer, of cigarette smoke, of a slut’s cheap perfume, of pot smoke clinging to your clothes.

What was her name again?


It didn’t matter, not then, and especially not now.

Youthful infatuation; any young woman in your proximity who giggled and made eye contact when you talked.

“Oh, you’re taking corporate tax accounting and planning.

“I’ve seen you around.

“Do you want to get coffee?


“Okay, maybe some other time?


False hope against hope.

Maybe you find out later she had a threesome with her ex-boyfriend and roommate while you were hoping for a crumb of attention.

Made to feel naive and childish.

Again and again, until the heart grew hard.

Then, still facing the night’s cold maw, the Man palmed his phone and checked the Bumble notification.


37 years old.

And fat, fake smile, full of fake sincerity and a cloying sweetness.

Topped off with a pair of cute glasses.


The Man’s finger moved to send a “how are you?” for the tenth time this year. A short non-conversation would follow of talking around anything meaningful. An onerous burden for the former slim 17-year-old, 20 years too late, hiding behind 50 pounds of blubber, to uphold her end of the conversation.

His finger pressed into the screen.

“You’re looking good lately, my man,” the Kid chirped to the Man.

The Man nodded and said, “Yeah.”

“What have you been doing? Me? I always pack on the pounds in the winter.”

“Uh,” the Man looked at the screen, numb, then looked up, “well I’ve got an exercise mat, chest expanders, and a punching bag. Basic, really.”

“Really, just that? Nothing else.”

“Yep. I warm up, go for an hour, then do a jog around the neighborhood. Three times a week.”

“That simple? Because this Arnold split six times a week is killing me and isn’t doing anything.”

The Man towered over the Kid, who had a good chance of turning into Franco Columbu if he kept at it.

“On my off days, I stretch an’ go for a walk.” The Man eyed the Bumble message. An image of another Friday date at a brewpub flashed through his head; the people, the noise, the jagoff bullshit, the cost, and then maybe a sloppy starfish fuck at the end of the night.

“Do you think I’d look like a hard motherfucker if I took up boxing or MMA?”

The man appraised the Kid; a good V-taper, squared shoulders, deepening chest, decent biceps and legs. But nothing in the world was going to launch him from five foot six to over six feet.

“Manlet”: that is what the immature dorks on the Internet called it.

“You’re thinking of chicks again. Honestly, dude, you have a better build than me. I mean, look,” the Man spread his wiry arms, “I’m built like Clint Eastwood in his heyday, nothing fantastic. If the girls have a problem, it’s theirs, not yours.”

The Man didn’t want to tell him that being six foot one and able to lie matters more than having a work ethic and sincerity.

“If you want to take up combat sports, sure, it’s great, especially if you need a change. Pumping iron for more than two sets bores the shit out of me, but for aesthetics, weights are better.”

“Hey man, what do you think of Madison in accounting…” the Kid prattled on.

The Man’s jaw clenched.

“Listen, kid,” the Man winced, “if anyone overheard this, it could cause problems. Sexual harassment an’ all that. Sure, if one of the girls here is interested, ask her out, but burning your way through asking out a bunch of uninterested women is a good way to get into trouble.”

The Kid lapsed into a thoughtful silence.

The Man likewise let the conversation drop into the long chasm of years that separated the Man from the Kid.

The years of hard and lonely existence.

The moment stretched into an understanding before the Man spoke again. “Listen, this is something I learned from personal experience. Look at us both, having to put in extra hours when we’d rather, like all the popular kids in the office, be snug at home. All of us here right now are unpopular, low end of the totem pole, eating shit for a paycheck. We have that in common, an’ it doesn’t matter how much effort you put in: the unpopular kids get the smackdown when they try to pilfer from the top dogs’ harem.”

The Man turned back to the view. “To be honest, moments like this,” he motioned to the snow-flecked city, “matter more and more as I get older.”

“Moments like what?” The Kid asked.

“A moment where you are alone, at peace an’ above all the bullshit. That’s why I love winters. All the assholes keep to themselves—outta sight, outta mind—and because I can endure it and they can’t. The cold reminds them they’re mortal, weak. The dark makes ‘em afraid, like there is something in the shadows they can’t handle. An’ they can’t.”

Chagrin came over the Kid’s face. “Bro, you’re dark. What did the war do to you?”

“It wasn’t the war, it was everything after.”

He looked at his phone again and hit the “unmatch” button on Kristine.

“Let’s close it out for the night. Fuck what Mr. Big Shit wants. We’ll hit up the tap room at the Omni?”

“That is kind of a fancy place, isn’t it?”

“What? We’re white-collar schmucks. Besides, hot shit rich chicks can be down to fuck.”

“Wouldn’t they be kind of old?”

“You want a girlfriend? Get on Tinder. Maybe you just need some post-nut clarity instead of constant disappointment.”


Ensconced amid the dark wood paneling and polished brass fixtures of the Tap Room 20 minutes later, the Man and the Kid eyed the room.

The directional lighting cast deep shadows over the Man’s lined face, lending him the aspect of a Roman senex, harsh, stern, unforgiving as he hovered over his pint of beer.

“What I’m sayin’ is love is bullshit. You get hurt and more, and you harden. Never wear your heart on your sleeve,” the Man said.

“Where should you wear your heart?” the Kid asked.

“In your fuckin’ chest like a damn man.”

“Dude, I dunno, this all seems outdated. I mean every chick I know says—”

The Man gesticulated, cutting him off, and took a long swig of his beer, “They recycle the same shit all the time online. I was there for the start back in ‘04. Facebook, MySpace, all that hallmark greeting card meme horseshit. Lies learned from their momma. An’ they believe every last fucking line of bullshit they spin. Getting attention got cheap. Fuck ‘em.”

“But everyone is online now, meeting someone at a bar is like…” the Kid’s eyes darted to the side, “for boomers.”

The Man wrinkled up an eyebrow; the ridges of his forehead turned to mass of crags. “Oh, thanks. I may have a few lines in my face, but no grey hairs or bald spots I know of. My dad was a boomer…”

The man stared deep into his beer, “…was.”

“What happened, man?”

“You don’t really notice age these days anymore. Just a long gray streak after you graduate college,” the Man’s eyes held a wet sheen, “you know your youth is over when you bury one of your parents. My dad passed two years ago. The milestones people looked forward to in life. That shit doesn’t exist anymore. The milestones just become tombstones. It’s like waking up from a dream. I thought I could handle it. I lost two buddies in the sandbox. Lost another to suicide years after. But it’s when you hear about a friend’s father dying on Facebook, losing an aunt…it’s then when perspective sets in. I remember when my grandfather died, how it affected my dad. But nowadays,” he drained his glass halfway, “who was there for me?”

The Kid’s eyes flicked away for a moment. “I know, my last girlfriend, we broke up after she finished nursing school and got a job in Philly.”

“How old was she?”

“26, a couple years younger than me.”

“Also, ‘we’ didn’t break up. Someone took the initiative.” The Man squinted; crows’ feet scored the corners of his eyes, “Let me guess: she either outright broke up with you or she just kept picking fight after fight over penny ante bullshit until you snapped and told her off. Then you were too demanding, controlling, or some other pop psychobabble bullshit.”

The Kid lowered his eyes and drank a hard gulp of beer. “She kept comparing me to other guys when I wasn’t excited about her new job opportunity, former boyfriends, guy friends, her brothers, uncles, dad. Until one time I just lost it and told her, ‘Are you fucking them?’”

“She probably was. Anyone who plays games like that isn’t worth trusting.” The Man cracked a lupine grin.


“Do you really regret it?”


The Man polished off his beer. “If it was me, I’d only regret I didn’t tell the bitch off. Then again, she could fuck your life six ways to Sunday. Happened to guys in the service all the time,” the Man put on a bug-eyed look, “like ‘hoooyaaah, Ms. Dependapotamus filed charges of domestic violence against Corporal Hard-On, guess he can look forward to an other-than-honorable discharge from the service. Enjoy the fucking wide world of construction career opportunities while Ms. Dependapotamus enjoys getting fucked in the ass by a big black nigger dick.’”

The Kid let out a laugh.

Out of the corner of his eye, the Man caught some yuppies’ disapproving glance.

“Hol’ up.” The Man winked and got up.

Taking several long strides to the bar, the Man cast an evil eye to the disapproving yuppies, two men and one woman. He could make out the rolls of fat marching up the men’s necks; the woman was a decent-looking strawberry blonde, the type who looked good made-up but upon inspection jiggled more than the fare at a retirement home.

The stepped to the bar and ordered, “Two more pints of Straub, please.”

While the bartender poured, the Man walked behind the yuppies and laid his hands on the shoulders of the two men facing the strawberry blonde.

He eye-fucked her, then whispered in a harsh sibilant tone to the men, “If you want to stare, take a fucking picture, it will last longer and you can piss and moan on the Internet, but it won’t stop me from kicking your asses and fucking up your lives.”

He gave the two suits a gentle but firm shove and collected the beers.

Neither turned to acknowledge him.

The strawberry blonde’s jaw dropped to her quavering melons as her eyes followed him.

The Man placed the beers on the table.

“Where were we?”

“I don’t know, who cares?”

“Sounds like we are on the right path.”

The Kid asked, “So what’s the deal with them?”

“Nothing, except they’re going to mind their fucking business now.”

“So what did you do in the army?”

“Military police in the Army National Guard; thought I would get a commission when the Great Recession killed all the careers.”

“Did you?”

“Why not?” The Kid slurred as he powered down the booze.

“Because every asshole with a degree was trying every branch of the military to get a career as a commissioned officer or some technical specialty, anything that would be far from combat.”

“And a degree from Pitt couldn’t get you that?”

“Nope. Business accounting wasn’t what the military needed. I spent six years cruising as an E-4, a couple of deployments in between reserve time, I did temp work, tried to find a real career, ended up using my G.I. Bill to pay off the student loans.”

“Why didn’t you become a cop? It would have to be a hell of a lot more exciting than eating Smithers’ shit.”

“Who would want to? Wearing a uniform got…tiring. This is a paycheck, I get by, what more do I need?”

“But girls dig uniforms.”

“And nothing else. Let me tell you, having a bitch,” the Man threw an extra emphasis on the last word, “interested in your uniform and bennies but not you,” he leaned back in his chair and took another draw from the pint, “takes it out of your heart.”

Looking the Man dead in the eye, the Kid said, “Truth is that is exactly the feel I get now with every girlfriend I have now, like I’m a cardboard cutout.”

“Until you realize that it was the pursuit that got the blood pumping, the turmoil, the striving. The relationship itself,” the Man spread his hands wide, “it’s just another thing to do, like taxes, another job you pay for.”

“What’s left?”


A man in a severe black suit walked over to their table. “Good evening sirs. I am the manager and we received a complaint that you accosted a couple of our patrons, and I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

The Man cracked a grin. Without acknowledging the manager, he said, “I guess that is our cue to get off, er—” he snickered and threw two twenties on the table, “—get out. Keep the change.”


Outside, the freaks and weirdos milled in and around Mellon Square, filling the sidewalks of Oliver Avenue and Cherry Way. Hip collegiates, city kids, crazed and drugged derelicts, yuppies, city government clerks, out-of-towners, the hustlers, and the slingers moved, loiterers loitered, assholes on electric scooters zipped every which way despite the weather.

Fluffed flurries of snowflakes drifted down the canyon wall of buildings.

The wind from the Point whipped the flakes back up into the air before they petered out to settle in the gutter.

“What now?” the Kid asked.

“We could Uber over to the South Side and go wild, or there is Grant Street Tavern or Bar Oxford a couple blocks away.”

“Nah. I think I’ll just go home and fuck around with a vidya gaem.”

“Alright then, see you next week.”

They watched the wan partiers go by as the Kid waited for his Uber.

The snow continued to fall.

The air grew colder.

The city lights burned brighter in the dark.

As the car pulled away, the Kid caught a glance of the Man highlighted in a building’s accent lights.

He stood granite hard against the night in his overcoat, watching.

But watching for what?


For all installments of “The Night Swallows the Heart,” click here.