The Coyote Story With my keys, my cell phone and recycled bags, I’m set.

I leave the apartment, the front door locking behind me. It’s late and the rows of tidy houses are dark for the night. Inside people sleep or watch TV, green glows in their windows. Side streets are dark as I pass with my two golden retrievers. We turn down one very dark corner sitting in the shadow of a giant oak. Trees are silhouettes against a bright, full moon. Their branches reach like witch’s hands into the winter sky. I pull my coat tighter around me. Shadows reach inside me, and out into the street, shrouding everything in darkness. In the center of the street a lone canine stands outlined in the darkness. His silhouette glows with the moon behind him. He is motionless without a human companion. My dogs pull at their leashes, alert now, straining after this strange, lone dog. But is it a dog, I ask myself. I recognize the long, slender muzzle, the lean brisket, the pointed ears and the full, low-slung tail. It is a coyote, caught somehow, as I am, in this urban wilderness. He watches us from the shadows without moving as we approach. He is scruffy as are creatures that live in the wild, eyes glowing in the moonlight. He stands still, noble and fearless. My stomach flutters at the prospect of his wildness so close. He turns his head slowly and steps stealthily, deeper into the shadows. My eyes seek him in the darkness and, watching the direction my domestic canines strain in, I track him sitting quietly on the sidewalk. He regards us without fear. We are intruding at this late hour on his nightly search for food. I rummage through my memories. There is a house that leaves food for the stray cats. That’s his destination. I notice garbage cans left out waiting for the morning collection. The trash laden boulevard holds treasure from every restaurant. He is scavenging, as coyotes are born to. We continue our walk, the coyote following just paces behind us. Are we on his route or is he following us, as curious about me as I am about him? Are we, perhaps, being considered as prey? I am fearless. The equation is changing. Then I see it, a second figure, a little more distant and a tad smaller. Together, their trim, lithe bodies wouldn’t add up to one of my dogs in weight but they could outdistance them in speed and cunning easily.

The two coyotes flank us, one behind, the other in front, on both sides of the street. My silly dogs are dying to make chase, but they could never catch these noble refugees. I wonder, where are they coming from, where do they live? They are following us, I see. They can come close, so they do. They are curious. I have no fear. My dogs do not bark. The silence of the night is broken by the sound of the chains on their necks, tightening and releasing, as they strain against my resistance. “Easy,” I say. “Its okay. No problem. Easy.” They relax momentarily, responding to my comforting voice, then turn back their attention to a call from inside some distant, intrinsic heritage nearly bred from their psyche, some instinctual calling they sense in this canine relative from a distant branch. But the coyotes do not return the intensity. They are aloof, relaxed, silent, just following. Now they are both in front of us, now they are behind us. They move so quietly, gently loping circles around us on our “getting acquainted” walk. My dogs are choking on the metal and leather that separates them from their relatives. Neither beast is panting. One block we are in shadow. They still follow us. I catch them unprotected in a wide patch of moonlight as they jog casually across the darkened and deserted streets on our trail. Dignified they are, these survivors. They have adapted to the obscene urban monotony. They have learned to trot out of hiding when the traffic subsides and the shadows protect them. They come when the odds are good and risks are minimal. In a couple of short hours people will begin their days. Cars will race down these silent streets. Lights will flick on and they will erase the shadows. The coyotes would be compromised and discovered. They are as soldiers in surreptitious urban warfare, taking advantage of the darkness for maximum coverage. But tonight we are all safe as we scrutinize each other in the darkness. We are reaching across an unseen bridge of recognition, of mutual curiosity, to find the similarity in our souls. I long to be on their side of the bridge. I ache to feel their ancient call inside. I feel that alienation from people and concrete, from leaf blowers and traffic lights, from tidiness and the rhythm of bus schedules and working people. We have walked together awhile now. We know each other better now. We are friends, I think. I smile at the kinship I feel. A car comes suddenly skidding, speeding, to an intersection, edging around a curve. Loud rap music peals across the nighttime stillness. The driver ignores the red light and

speeds through the intersection, headlights directly on my new friend. I scream to stop what seems to be inevitable. The two courageous coyotes turn suddenly, missing the oncoming driver who probably never even saw them. They pair together calmly and then, as from an unseen command, they make a ninety-degree turn to another street. They disappear under a pried up fence on the edge of a country club golf course, returning to their secret lair. For one small moment I felt closer to them than to my own dogs. My dogs are the product of centuries of breeding to become divinely domesticated, of pedigrees, of champions, of years of training to create the perfect pet. I love them with all my heart. They have adapted to this city better than I have, for I am still longing for open spaces and great distances, for speed and survival, for risks and sincerity, for an edginess that seems to separate me from the rest of my human race. I come to the city to take what I need from it. I bear it as a mantle of temporary constraint. For my dogs their hearts are wherever I am. For me, my heart is restless, searching like those coyotes in this city; we are foraging for nourishment among the shards of garbage strewn across the landscape and the kindness of strangers who leave scraps for feral creatures. Saddened at their retreat, I understand it, too. The city is dangerous. It threatens our existence. We must be on guard and ready to retreat to safety or we will become victims. I understand. I crouch down to clean up after my dogs with recycled bags, leaving the remains in a nearby trashcan. We turn the corner and I retrieve my key. My cell phone rings with a new text message from Honolulu. The next days we start our walks later at night to meet our new companions. A week later we are truly acquainted. I feel exhilarated at this contact with them and with that part of me that is intrinsically me. My dogs no longer strain so excitedly. We are friends but in the shadows, at a distance. I run into a neighbor with her two small poodles. They are white with poodle haircuts and red and blue bows on their heads. “Have you heard about the coyotes,” she asks. “Be careful! They will attack you and eat your dogs!” I smile at her and thank her for her concern, reassuring her that I am safe and so are my dogs. But she continues to insist we are in danger, and I realize it is hopeless. Sometimes there is no communication. It does no good to try to dissuade her. I think of my friends and of myself, and I hope that we always find our way under the fence. I wonder if I will ever adapt to roaming this landscape as they have so well.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful