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The Coyote

Ruth Z. Deming

The coyote is native to North America and Central America. It is smaller than its endangered close relative, the gray wolf. However, because of its wide distribution and abundance throughout North America, Mexico and into Central America, not to mention its versatility and adaptability, the coyote is not considered an endangered species.

I have no problem at all with the critters who make themselves at home in the backyards of our development known as “Briarwood Meadows.” To be fair, it was their land before it was ours. They are quiet neighbors – raccoons, ground hogs, moles, voles, mice, deer, squirrel, skunk and coyote. There’s probably more I’m unaware of. As it says in the book of Job, “Who can number the clouds in the sky?”

As a woman of a certain age – okay, I’m seventy-nine – I exercise in my backyard every few days during the fair weather. Miranda Esmonde-White on Public Broadcasting is the woman who taught me everything I know. “Move move move” or your body will atrophy. With my small purple boom-box set on the grass and playing my Miles Davis albums, my Beethoven and Mozart, I do daily sets of twenty minutes, disturbing no one but the ants and whomever else dwells unseen underground.

Suddenly this well-proportioned red-headed woman – arms uplifted and swinging like a square dancer – began to fall.

Oh no!

I could feel myself go down in slow motion. I had no idea what was happening. Was I, in fact, dying? Having a fatal stroke or heart attack? If so, it would be my first – and probably my last.

I fell on my belly. My face was on the grass, licking the dirt. How humiliating. I could be dead and all I felt was humiliation. But I seemed to be fine as I lifted myself up.

Fine I was not. A pain shot through my elbow. Darn!

Clarissa must have been watching from the kitchen - she ran outside. “Grammy!”

Soon she was driving me to the emergency room where my ulna bone was x-rayed, taped, and a hard cast twined ´round it in a small room off the ER. I was sent home with pain pills I would never take.

“Sure, Clarissa,” I said. “Use my car any time you want.” She and her boyfriend Arnold shared my Volvo station wagon. I would not be needing it until the cast came off. In my retirement years I continued teaching, this time tutoring immigrants at the local library. Luckily I had gone to Le Papillon only a week earlier to get my hair colored the red that reminded me of Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke, whose reruns I watched at night when I was unable to sleep.

Instead of exercising in the back yard, I began visiting neighbors who were home early in the morning. I took leisurely strolls, my arm upraised in a seemingly permanent wave. Judy and Bob across the street told me they were leaving this week for the pink sands of Bermuda. They put the brittle-boned mother-in-law in the dreaded “old ladies home” enabling them to relax and not worry about her. She was ninety-six, much older than I was. I had two built-in baby sitters, so the hope was I’d never get put away.

Carol Anderson, widowed a dozen years ago, lived across the street from me. She never left home. And once you visited her, you’d never leave her home either. A mother of five, she could not stop talking. I rarely visited. Whenever I did, she would load me up on coffee and Entenman’s coffee cake which we ate in the living room while Little House on the Prairie played as background sound. Who could blame her? We’re never quite prepared to lose our spouses. My Dickie had taken his leave over a bowl of corn flakes in the kitchen. As good a way as any.

What was this I was seeing? Walking in the middle of the street I saw the new couple standing outside their large house with two puppies on leashes. It’s not because I am nosy that I must get to know my neighbors. I consider it a matter of survival. A sort of tribal thing as they’re calling it on public television.

We all have the good ole American lawn. Grass. The homes across the street from me had lawns that were on hills. Good for sled-riding. Good for falling. The new folks were on quite a high hill. They stood just outside their door with an ironwork porch railing surrounding them and their little dogs.

They looked my way and waved. I gave an instinctive wave with my left casted arm which twinged in pain. This was my chance to meet them. Did I look like an old lady? Oh, I suppose so. Would they mind? We’d see. I walked over to their driveway and stood like a supplicant at the bottom.

“I’ve brought you something,” I called in my still young voice, or so I believed.

The man trotted down the hilly drive, staring at the package in my good arm.

“Just some peanut butter cookies,” I said. “Keep the tin. I have a million of them.”

Jerry invited me inside. How, I wondered, could a young couple afford a house like this. A wedding gift from Molly’s family, it turned out. I never ask. Maybe they can read my mind. We all sat at the kitchen table. A fan whirred above our heads. They poured me some sweetened iced tea – mint – that was quite good. They were still on their honeymoon and were breaking in the pups.

Dog-owners usually assume people are afraid of their pets. Not me. As the brother and sister dogs, Darwin and Theodora, assaulted my legs, I buried my good hand in their fur and scratched under their chins.

“I think they like you,” said Molly, with a wide smile. The dogs had been rescued at the nearby SPCA. Just in time, too, they said. I shook my head in disbelief. We parted company with hugs for one another and “come see us agains.”

“I’d like that,” I said. “And you must come over and meet my grand-daughter Clarissa and her boyfriend Arnold.” I didn’t mention, of course, that Clarissa had gotten herself pregnant and couldn’t decide whether to keep the baby or not. The decision could almost be made for us since the state of Pennsylvania had more human rights for unborn children than it did for its children or adults. The child would keep my Clarissa from her career path – studying medicine downtown – and we all knew who would end up raising the little tyke.

Boredom consumed me, this one-armed bandit. It was certainly not as terrible as I made it out to be. But, give me a break. Let me wallow for six weeks in self-pity. I still took my morning walks, wearing a Phillies baseball cap to shield me from the hot morning sun. Since I was one of the “original owners” on the street, having moved in when Dickie and I were young lovers, as age twisted itself inside me, I was unable to walk all around the block with its killer hills.

I did enjoy sitting out on my shady front porch. My pink dogwood had already bloomed but its green leaves fed tiny bugs. Berries grew there for the birds when autumn would arrive. My ceramic bird bath drew birds of every kind – cardinals with their loud tweets, bluejays with their squawks, mourning doves and their gentle moans. Waking up in the morning was the best time of day.

The honeymoon couple, as I called them, would often leave the pups outside on long leashes so they could learn about the world. Two bowls of water sat with them on the grass. Every morning I would walk to the bottom of their hill and holler good morning to the dogs. Perhaps the couple were inside making love. I couldn’t even remember what that felt like.

As I sat on the porch mopping my brow with my hankie, I saw something very strange. When it’s hot outside and your eyes blur up from the humidity it’s hard to believe what you’re seeing. A friend of mine and her husband went up to Danali National Park in Alaska to view the grizzly bears. Not my cup of tea, but Tom and Shirley went every year. Another couple, Larry and Natalie, went camping – in tents – to some New Jersey camp ground – where they woke up at dawn to go fishing.

A fawn-colored animal emerged from a neighboring street and began to trot down our street with great confidence. He resembled a dog but his movements were not like that of a dog. I have seen at twilight six deer take the same path looking for food. Deer were not meat-eaters but they’d eat a yellow dahlia or mint leaves or even tarragon in a second. This new animal trotting by began going faster and faster. He was fast as a race horse just let out of the starting gate.

Without thinking, I stood up from the comfy chair on my porch and began to run. I ran the best I could, arm upraised. Instead of looking like a “hello” my cast now looked like a weapon ready to strike.

I ran up that steep driveway with all my might. I was totally out of breath and panting. God help me, I prayed, as the coyote began to push first one pup and then the other with his long snout. The pups were stunned and lay on their backs squealing. A more awful sound you never heard unless it was the growl of the coyote. Or the noises that came from my mouth. For I was screaming as loud as I could.

I began beating the coyote with my cast as hard as I could. I was unable to feel the intense pain underneath. Then I grabbed the two water bowls and beat the coyote’s head rhythmically. I was making headway until he defended himself by nipping my good hand. By now the honeymooners were outside and stood on their porch paralyzed with fear.

“Kick him,” I shouted. “Kick him with everything you’ve got.”

Finally it was over. Darwin and Theodora were fine, just stunned. Not a drop of blood shed on their little bodies. The coyote had vanished, none the worse for wear.

Of course I had to visit the ER again to make sure the coyote didn’t give me rabies. Darn it. Clarissa drove me over in the Volvo.

To make matters worse, the local paper came out to write us up and take our pictures.

The headline was horrible.

“Old Lady Shows Coyote Who´s Boss.”

I looked great in the photo and wondered, idly, if some ole bachelor or widower thought I was good-looking - “a fox.” There were coyotes and then there was the beast they call a “cougar.” An older woman – perhaps seventy-nine – who hooks up with a younger man.

Stranger things could happen.

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