At night the coyotes run through the hydro field behind our house.
This never used to happen. These packs of mangy, skinny dogs used to live on the outskirts of town, west of Kalar Road in the vast stretch of scrub bush that separates Niagara Falls from St. Catharines. This area was a void, a no man’s land, but now it is gone. Now it is subdivisions, twisting crescents of newly paved roads and prefabricated houses that mark the flat land like a string of chicken pox. These subdivisions have no trees, no telephone poles, and no hydro lines. Everything is hidden, the necessities of civilization conveniently buried so that the neighbourhoods resemble a scrupulous facsimile of existence. At night, when it is clear, one can see across town. The hotels and casinos stand like a neon Avalon rising out of the mist of the falls.
When I was little, my father used to come into my room and tell me a story. It was always late at night, after my mother had given up on waiting for him to come home, after she had gone to bed and his dinner had gone cold on a plate inside a cold oven. I used to pretend to be asleep, pretend to wake up when he switched on the lamp next to my bed.
“Before us, there were the animals,” my father would say. He always stood while he talked, leaning against the open window with a cigarette that glowed mysteriously against the darkness outside. Sometimes, if the moon was full, I could see the hydro towers in the field, great iron structures that stood like sentinels.
“There were deer and owls. There were coyotes, and there were fish in the river that lived a thousand years. These animals had souls, and when we came, we stole their souls because we didn’t have souls of our own.” At this point, his cigarette would be burning into the filter and my room would hold the bitter scent of burnt cotton. He would crush the cigarette out on the windowsill. The painted wood was stained with the charred remains of these cigarettes.
“And the animals said all right, take our souls, but remember that one day we will return, and we will ask for what you have taken.” My father was young then, when he told this story, but I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t understand the sort of uncertainty that existed for him, for the world he lived in. “You will forget,” my father said, “but we will remember that you belong to us.”
On Saturdays my friend Lacey sleeps over. She used to live in my neighbourhood, go to my school. But now she lives in a new subdivision, in a new house with a finished basement that doesn’t smell like stale water. She goes to a new school and talks about boys that I have never met. There is Jacob, with the pierced eyebrow; Matt with the car; Dan who plays the piano but only when no one is listening. They are real and not real. They exist in my mind like characters in a novel.
Lacey sneaks a bottle of peach schnapps in the bottom of her sleeping bag. I have two cigarettes that I have taken out of my father’s pack. We sit on my bed and pass the bottle back and forth and then lean out the open window to smoke the cigarettes. It is January and the world is frozen. The air feels like cut glass. The roar of the falls is stark in the silence and the moon is full and casts long blue shadows along the hydro field. The towers are coated in ice, frozen relics, a testament to the grandiosity of an older time.
The millennium has just ended but the planes did not fall out of the sky. The world did not end. I feel a measured amount of disappointment in this.
In the middle of the night, the frantic wails of the coyotes wake us. They have caught something. Lacey gets out of her sleeping bag on the floor and climbs into bed with me. We press against the window, but there is nothing to see. In the morning, there will be nothing left of this animal they have caught. Coyotes eat flesh, fur, and bone.
“Jesus,” Lacey whispers. “That’s kind of scary.”
“They’ve come back,” I say. Their cries vibrate my bones. I am cracking open. Marrow spills onto the duvet. I feel like I am standing outside of myself, waiting for some great transition that does not come.
My mother wants to sell the house. The basement leaks. It is too big. I will be leaving for school in a few years. There is nothing left in this end of town. There are no grocery stores. The banks are closing up and moving closer to the new subdivisions. My father does not protest. He has probably seen this day coming for a while. A For Sale sign is pounded into the frozen ground of our front yard. There are several of these signs in our neighbourhood now. Sometimes families leave before the houses sell and the houses sit empty. In the summer their lawns will grow, ivy and trumpet vines will creep up their brick facades and reclaim the land that was taken from them.
On Sundays we have an open house. My parents drive to the Tim Hortons up the road and drink coffee while strangers walk through our house, critiquing the paint in the kitchen and the shingles that have come loose on the roof. I will not go with them. This is my only act of defiance. I put on my boots and walk through the hydro field behind our house. Orange plastic snow fences that were put up back in October have fallen from the wind. I follow the tracks worn into the snow from the packs of coyote. Leaning against a hydro tower, I watch the strangers walk through my bedroom. A woman pulls back the curtain, looks out, and does not see me.
I light a stolen cigarette. I don’t really like smoking, but it gives me something to do, gives me a secret to keep. The sky is a pallid shade of blue and the moon is out, a thin crescent, like a smudge of chalk. The air is damp, promising the end of winter. Icicles that hang from the beams of the hydro towers have started to warm up and every once in a while one of them gives way, falling to the earth and thumping in the snow around me.
Our house sells in the spring. I pack my clothes and books and hidden cigarettes into boxes and wait for the day that these boxes will be loaded into the car and moved across town. My parents are silent during the move. My mother meticulously wraps breakables and labels boxes. My father is resigned. He has been this way for a long time, I think, all the restlessness of youth burned out.
At night, I listen to the melted snow running down the street and trickling into the sewer. It is windy all the time, warm currents of air pushing into the city. I lie in bed with the window wide open. There is a smell this time of year, a pure, wild smell that makes my skin itch. My nerves stand on end. The static crash of the falls fills the air and I wonder if I will still be able to hear it from our new house.
I stay awake all night, waiting for the coyotes. They are silent when they come through. They move like the spirits of a forgotten, ancient time and I speak to them from a quiet void inside my body. I am here, I say. I am waiting. »
The Coyote Bride was selected as our 2015 LUSH TRIUMPHANT WINNER (Fiction)From issue #75