See in the Dark, Like an Animal

I’ve lived in this house for eighty-three years, and some people say that’s a long time but of course it’s not. It’s not as long as this house has lived here. It’s not as long as the coyotes have lived here.

We’ll look out in front but not in back, if that’s all right.

It’s just an old driveway. And an old Ford. I’ll take you out front. Why don’t we go take a look and walk around out front? It’s really something, my collection. Maybe we’ll even see some deer or that coyote. You don’t need to worry, she never hurt anyone. So if you’re afraid you don’t need to be.

I’ve got a Kent cement mixer out there. And an AEC 1953 fire engine. And two semi-truck cabs and the sort of front-loading John Deere combine they don’t make anymore cause a few fellows found theirs on fire but that was a great machine nonetheless. Some people say it’s all a waste, but it’s not.

You can spend a lot of money on what they call art. I’m sure you’ve seen it. Like naked pictures sometimes, or sometimes just bits of paint in no real picture at all and sometimes, if it’s meant to be a sculpture, just a pile of wood or metal that just looks like a pile of wood or metal. I don’t mind that. I think art is important and spending a lot of money on it if you want to is okay too. So my collection is my art. I spend hours out there looking at it, just me and it.

And sometimes this one coyote comes up. She’s not afraid because I never wanted to hurt any coyotes, ever. Not even when I had chickens. So this one coyote comes up sometimes and walks back and forth watching me watch my machines or sometimes sits down in the dry dirt and licks or sleeps. I’m not afraid of her and she’s not afraid of me. It’s silly to be afraid of animals. Though it’s not silly for animals to be afraid of people.

I know it can’t be the same one but sometimes I like to think it’s the same coyote what I found once on this land, fifty years ago I guess, or almost, licking and licking and licking at its fur. It was wandering round the yard almost crazy-like licking its fur which was covered all over in something awfully sticky. It was night, that kind of heavy summer night we get round here, you know, so black being so far from the city, so that the only light really was from our front porch light. Anyways, since it was like that, you know, dark as death, I couldn’t see what the coyote was licking at, only that she was going almost crazy doin it. I was scared back then. I was scared of the coyote. Because, see, I’d been out at Palmer’s helping with a job and stayed on for drinks after and was walking home cross the field when I saw that coyote all crazy and thought oh God that coyote’s gonna cause trouble. And I was scared. But I shouldn’t have been. Because that coyote wasn’t looking to hurt me. Because there was nothing was the fault of that coyote.

I sometimes see deer too. Though they stay farther away. They like to play around the old school bus I got out there. Some people say I’m crazy for not shooting them when I could so easy, when they’re so close, but of course I wouldn’t. Nobody ever says to those deer, why don’t you shoot that man when he’s so close.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe I would like to have had kids. But that’s a hard kind of question, isn’t it? Like, on the one side having a kid would mean bringing more people into this world where that’s the number one problem, but then on the other side a kid might be able to live on in this place after I go, you know, and be sure it doesn’t get turned into a highway or Shell station. I’ve lived here thirty years. I mean eighty. I’ve lived here eighty years.

Even though I was pretty drunk because Palmer still remembered how to do things from way back during prohibition, even though all that, I couldn’t get myself to sleep that night I saw the crazy coyote. I just kept hearing her howling. And I’m used to hearing coyotes, of course, I like hearing them, I can even do a sound pretty much like one of them if you want to hear, but this coyote sound I kept hearing wasn’t like normal. It wasn’t a normal sound. So, maybe because I was drunk or maybe because I was scared I said to myself, bugger this, Herb, let’s take the rifle and find out what in hell is the problem.

Out front I found some pieces of a ripped shirt and that was really mostly all. A ripped shirt and a bit of some stains, like a bit of a trail of some stains on the gravel drive that could have been anything really, cause it was so dark out.

I walked round a bit more in front and didn’t find anything ‘cept this torn shirt and this trail of stains and I thought well heck, how about going round back cause the more I thought about it the more it seemed like that’s where the sounds were coming from anyways. So I tried to be sneaky and step quiet, even though you know how quiet that really is, when a man’s drunk and in his boots and out on gravel, but I was trying anyways. So I sneaked round back with my gun raised cause God I was getting scared, and I was right about the noises cause they were getting louder and louder.

And then I saw her. She was up in the cab of my Ford, up so that her face was right at the same level as mine and she was licking and licking and looking at me like crazy. When she saw me she opened up her mouth and let out a whole other kind of new sound I never heard before and showed her teeth and lunged my way and God I was scared and thought shit shit and I kind of forgot where I was but then I remembered the rifle in my hand, and without even aiming or anything I pulled back on the stiff trigger with my eyes closed.

And then, because my eyes were closed, I remember things in sounds. The tiny click of the trigger against the metal, the sound of exploded gunpowder, my own grunt as the rifle thrust into my shoulder, and the wail of a baby, of a very small, very young baby. God, I thought. This coyote’s attacked someone’s baby.

And I opened my eyes.

And like the way you can suddenly see when a light’s turned on I could suddenly see really good even though it was so dark out like I said. My eyes adjusted from having been closed. That works, you try it.  I could see in the dark, like an animal.

The coyote was gone. And right where she had been, or behind it just a bit I guess, were four tiny animals, all round and closed-eyed and mewing like children. Three of them mewing. One of them not mewing. This fourth one’s mouth was openin and closin like drowning or like looking for its mother maybe, but it wasn’t making any real sound with it. On the side of this animal a mouth of a bullet wound gaped too, leakin and leakin but not making any sound either, the liquid pouring out, mixing with all the fluid already gathered in the low grooves of my truck.  I picked him up, he wasn’t bigger than my hands, I picked him up and held him in my hands like communion and held him and held him still as stone. After some time the mother came back and started licking and feeding the others. She sniffed at me first but I was still as stone so she moved back into the cab after a couple of minutes of that. I watched her and felt my hands gettin wetter and colder but I just held them and watched her and stood still as stone.

I guess you have to go back to town. Be sure to go out through the front, right, not out back. You know I’d give you a ride but I don’t drive.

Emma Hooper was born in the cold blue of Alberta, where she built things out of snow and attended lots of music lessons for twenty-four years. She now lives in the soft green of the UK, where she is a doctoral candidate in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia, teaches Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, and plays a lot of music for a lot of brilliant bands. She lives in Bath but goes home to Canada as often as she can.