Coyote

Fiction
James Butt


Photo credit: naathas/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Angie was on the sofa in the living room, on her side with her back to the TV. One of those reality wedding shows was on, the ones where the drama appeared natural enough. I put my work bag on the kitchen table and poured a glass of water.

“Any dinner?”

She didn’t respond. I didn’t expect her to. She rolled toward the TV, resting her right arm across the top of her waist as she reached for the remote. She probably thought these little gestures of hers prevented me from noticing her growing bump.

I rummaged in the pantry for a loaf of bread and filled a sauce pan half-ways with water before putting it on the stove. “I’m boiling some weenies. You want any?”

She shook her head no, and I went to the fridge. There was a casserole dish with sour cream and salsa dip on the middle shelf, covered with cellophane.

“We having nachos?”

“No,” she said. “That’s for Eileen and me. She’s coming over later and we’re doing some planning for the baby. You’re going over there to play poker with Ray tonight, remember?”

Eileen was a few months pregnant. She and Angie got together regularly now to discuss her baby. I’m not sure what things they discussed, in terms of Eileen’s baby plans. But it seemed to help Angie some. She’d been happier the last month or so. It meant I had to spend more time with Ray, because that’s who we hung out with now, Ray and Eileen. Tonight was poker, and he’d have his construction pals over to fill out the table.

I closed the fridge and put the pot of water in the sink. I threw the bread in the trash. “I got fired today.”

She glanced over briefly and I couldn’t read her face. I said nothing else and turned for the bathroom to get ready for poker night.

*

Ray and Eileen lived next door to me and Angie. We shared a fence in the back, and the path between us was beat down to a thin dirt trail. Ray had a new poker table set up in his garage. We usually played at the kitchen table, but now, with Eileen pregnant, she didn’t want smoke in the house.

Ray was a big guy. He looked exactly how a construction worker ought to, with a large shaved head and barrel chest. His construction pals looked the same as him, each had arms thicker than my legs.

They were already at the table. Ches and Paul, and a new guy I hadn’t seen before. He was younger than the rest, with a cap pulled tight over his head, and a thick, wiry beard hung down below his chin. All four of them were smoking cigarettes, something I rarely seen outside of poker night.

The garage door was open, and their beers dripped with condensation from the humid night. A few moths pecked at the light attached to the door opener above the table.

“Hey, Chuck,” Ray said.

My name isn’t Chuck. But I’d gotten sick the first time playing poker with Ray and his pals. They all called me Chuck now.

“This here’s Aiden. Hired him for that hotel contract we got a few months back,” Ray said.

I nodded and reached my hand across the table. Aiden passed me a beer from the fridge behind him. Ray started to deal. I looked at my cards. None of them made any sense so I folded. The hand played on without me, and I gazed around Ray’s garage. It was neat and organized, obsessively so, with a workbench along the far wall. There were painted outlines for all his tools on the pegboard above the workbench.

“I knew Angela back in high school,” Aiden said, “before she went away to college.”

“That so?”

“Small world, sometimes, seeing people like that from the past again.” He grinned and flashed teeth white as bone, bright against his dark beard.

“Yeah,” I said. My attention drifted to the middle of the pegboard to where a large machete hung vertically. The blade was close to two feet long, coated in black enamel that’d been chipped away in some spots.

“She was popular back then, being so pretty. Smart, too.”

“She still is,” I said, getting up from the table. I moved over to the pegboard. They continued to play the next hand.

“A lot of us fools went for her back in school. Asking her out or trying to get her to come out to a party. She wouldn’t have any of it, though.”

“Never seen this before, Ray. It’s a big blade,” I said.

Ray turned from the game to eye what I was on about. “Yeah, needed that for hunting last fall. Glad to have it, too. Saved my skin.”

“You serious?”

“Yeah. I went deep in the Highlands after the first snow. Tracked a buck for miles. He led me deeper than I’d been before. Big buck, a full seven pointer. Maybe close to 600 pounds. It took awhile, but he fell. Good thing he was close to the road.”

I glanced back to him. “Thought you said you were deep in the Highlands? No road out there deeper than one or two miles.”

“Well, I had to cut the road first,” he said and nodded toward the blade.

Ches and Paul and Aiden laughed behind me, but I didn’t get it. I leaned in close to the pegboard and could see old blood and fur caked to the edge of the blade. “What’d you use it on? That doesn’t look like deer hair.”

“Coyote,” Ray said. “They came at me while I was hauling my buck down to camp. Must’ve smelled blood where I quartered him and tied him to the sled. I heard their cries, but the sound bounced around the hills up there. I couldn’t get a good read on where they were.”

“That’s something else, Ray,” Ches said.

“Thing is with coyotes is they’re smart. They got intelligence enough to know when to be tricky. They used that so I couldn’t get a sense for them. I don’t usually see them in packs, but with the snow and my buck, I’d a hunch they’d be round in a pack. They answered howls back and forth, louder and closer for about an hour. But they used those hills. Smart, see.”

I had a recollection of this story from some time before.

“They have weakness, too, just like all animals,” Ray said. “They come at you from the front, for the throat. You get a chance to see them before they strike. And soon enough they showed themselves right in front of me.”

“Christ,” Paul said.

“No matter. They showed themselves, and I cut each one down in turn. I brought those hides home, too. A nice trophy to go with my seven points.”

I lingered at the blade a couple minutes more before taking my seat again. I stared over at Aiden, but he seemed less interested in me then. The next hand was dealt and I finished my beer. My cards made no sense so I folded, and the hand played without me.

*

I was home later than I’d liked. Eileen had left a couple hours before, and Angie had gone to bed. The TV was on in the bedroom, the blue glow visible between the floor and bottom of the door. When I entered she was on her side, facing the wall away from me. All the blankets had been stripped off the bed, and she lay there in an old tank top and a pair of my boxers. She wasn’t asleep. People asleep have a softness to them, like all the weight been squeezed out of them. Her body was too rigid for sleep.

I flicked off the TV and opened the window a bit wider. A night breeze came in, and a ceiling fan spun above our bed. I lay next to Angie. It took less than six years for me and Angie to fall out of love. I tried to think of what that meant, but my attention strayed to the twirling blades above.

If I stared at one blade at a time I could follow each unique rotation around the room. I watched them spin and tried to listen for the call of coyotes in the distance. I watched them and wondered who the father was. I watched them and wondered if it mattered.

pencil

James Butt lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A graduate of Dalhousie University, his time is split between the excitement and spontaneous nature that is family life, and the crafting of short fiction based upon those experiences. Email: james.butt[at]eastlink.ca

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