He is down there with Mary Anne. He kicks the trunk of the tree and doesn’t look at her. She can’t look at him either. There is a howl in the wind from starving coyotes.
“They are out hunting, I suppose,” he says.
“They don’t hunt,” my sister says to the boy.
Her back is against the tree. When he kicks it, she can feel the kick. He rubs his boot on it and she feels every grain from the sole. When he spits, she feels the soil beneath her pull it down. She can feel the roots feeding and the birth of something.
“What do you mean,” he says to her.
“They don’t hunt,” she says. They don’t look at each other. Their eyes are off nowhere. “They come round here at night. I can see them from my room. They come down running over them hills and pace back and forth across the yard. They howl, sure, but they don’t hunt. You hear that call they make? It’s pitch? They’re starving. And they travel in small packs too slow to hunt. Too slow to catch even sleeping rabbits. They come out from under rocks at night to howl and call to anyone willing to hear them. They’re all desperately looking for something. But they don’t hunt.”
“They sound weak, I suppose. But they sound like coyotes.”
And they are. My sister and the doctor’s son are coyotes talking to the moon from down under the tree.
“What do you suppose we ought to do?” he says to her.
“They’re starving and that’s all that shows. Pray they come close and you’ll see them. Their stomachs pull their ribs in tight until they suffocate. But they ain’t weak. They’re starving but it hasn’t gone to their heads and they still walk together in the night and howl and curse.” He spits and she feels it under her dress. “They mate for life, you know? Coyotes? When the mama has her litter the pa stands up and does it all with her. The closer they are together, the more likely they are to keep keeping on. They’re a family like that. They do everything together. They feed and howl and starve, but they are together. And they are alive.” When he spits, it soaks her dress. “If the mama though, if she can’t, if there’s something that’s happened, if she, you know, can’t, and there’s complications, and the pups don’t make it out right, and they don’t make it, and she, well, can’t, well, then the pa leaves. They don’t talk no more and he leaves and there’s no mark or nothing, he just leaves and she don’t hate him for it. It’s how it goes sometimes.”
“Do you want me to leave?” he asks.
“There ain’t no complication. And even so, he wouldn’t say none. They just get up and go. To try again maybe. Him, at least. Her, he might leave, and though he don’t say nothing, the others keep their distance because they know. They know because coyotes mate for life, ‘les there’s the complications and she can’t, and then the others know even though he don’t mean nothing by it, but they know because they’re together for life until they ain’t. And though he don’t mean nothing by it, and she don’t blame him, it still is what it is and no more will come around for her because they know. They know without anyone saying anything.”
“People ain’t coyotes.”
“Even then. Even then, he’d just go. He wouldn’t say nothing.”
“I’m still around,” he says and he’s sorry he said it and he kicks the tree and she feels it on her spine and they don’t look at one another.
“We could go. Just you and I.”
But Mary Anne won’t go. She told me she’ll be here forever, and she will be. She’ll sneak out at night sometimes and fall through her lie but she’ll always fall back on it. Until I believe her again and know what she’s saying she means and anything else was just a mistake.
“What do you suppose we do?”
Her bones ache. Wet from the spit swelling in the ground and broken from the cracks against the tree.
“You’re right,” she says, “you didn’t leave.”
But the boy is a coyote because he’s hungry. I can see his ribs when he stands against the sun. I can see them shining, glowing orange, through his shirt. Mary Anne and the doctor’s son are coyotes. They are down by my tree in the middle of the night, with their shadows and their persons mixing together, talking to the moon.
The doctor’s son kneels down by my sister and their heads cross with the tree behind them but they don’t look at each other. Their eyes and their heads and their bodies are somewhere else, but something, part of something, is there together.
Jack Galati studied Creative Writing at Arizona State University, where his fiction was selected for the Undergraduate Student Showcase. His stories have appeared in Marooned Magazine and Blacklist Journal.