A BEAR, A WOLF, AND A COYOTE
A BEAR, A WOLF, AND A COYOTE
Bear sat on the stoop of the mobile home waiting for Wolf. Wolf generally moseyed down one of the gravelled trailer park lanes around this time, which was not even seven o'clock in the morning. Today was Saturday and the boys were out of school for the long summer break. But there wasn't much doing in the sector. They could sit on Bear's porch under the awning shooting the bull, or kick a ball around. The air-conditioned bowling alley in town, where a few pinball machines stood against one wall, didn't open till noon. The flat top mesa presented another possibility. Bear and Wolf usually ended up going there.
Bear spotted Wolf coming along. He was a lanky kid whose hair had started turning gray, which explained the nickname. Bear was short for Bertrand pronounced like Bear's French mother used to pronounce it. But she'd died in a car wreck a year ago last July, broadsided returning from the market one afternoon by some drunk. Bear's father hadn't said very much since then. Even before the accident he wasn't a talkative person.
Wolf came over to where Bear sat and stood at the foot of the run of stairs. He had on his hiking boots. Bear's father had already left in the pickup for coffee at the diner. Later on he'd probably drive to the fishing reservoir, about a thirty mile trip, where he usually spent his free days in a folding chair with a line in the water.
"Hey what you doing, Bear?" Wolf said.
"Where's your dad?"
"Went to the diner."
"Yeah some frozen waffles." Bear loved frozen waffles. He grilled them in the toaster, drenched them in margarine and blueberry syrup. He needed to cut down because of his weight.
"My mom fixed bacon and eggs," Wolf said.
Bear sighed and glanced at a solitary, drifting cloud.
"Let's do something," Wolf said.
"Go over to the mesa I guess."
Bear went inside to his room and put on socks and a pair of solid hiking boots like Wolf's. He grabbed the canteen off the closet shelf and filled it with water at the faucet in the kitchen. He opened a cabinet and found some saltines and a half-empty jar of chunky-style peanut butter. He pulled out the silverware drawer, removing a butter knife. He stuffed everything into his knapsack and walked outside. The boys passed through the main gate, heading north along the asphalt roadway that unfurled like a black ribbon onto the arid plain. They walked nearly a mile before veering off to where the mesa swelled up from the flatness of the earth in the manner of a monstrous wave.
The boys took the zigzag track that led to the plateau. As they climbed they noticed a pair of eagles floating on the rising thermals, hunting prey above the plain. Five or six other birds glided in, wheeling over a point on the flat top mesa. Larger than the eagles they flew much lower to the ground. "Look at those vultures," Wolf said. The day was brilliant and clear and the scavengers were silhouetted sharply against the paleness of the Western sky.
The boys arrived on the tableland. The mesa spread before them like an umber and ochre sea. They sat against a palo verde tree close by. Bear took out the jar of peanut butter, spread some with the butter knife on a few salt crackers and ate them. He and Wolf sipped water from the canteen. After a while Wolf said, "Let's go see," and the boys got up and made their way toward the group of circling vultures. As they came nearer, they heard them chuffing and hissing, and distinguished their red, naked heads, the lighter plumage on the underside of their wings. Beneath them struggled an animal. It growled and whimpered in the dirt, caught in a snarl of rusty metal wire. Blood stained the tawny fur where it kept snapping at the wire trying to untangle itself. It seemed exhausted, and between the growls and whimpers it panted hard to catch its breath. It looked up at Bear and Wolf and something beaten glinted in its eyes. Dark vertical lines streaked the forelegs. It was a young coyote male. Wolf stood back. But Bear felt brave. He took out the canteen, walked over and knelt by the coyote, pouring water into its mouth. The coyote lapped the water. Bear wanted to get it loose from the wire. It took a long time. The legs were tightly wound. The animal lunged its muzzle down now and again to where Bear's hands were working, yapping like a pup, and Bear feared it might bite him. But it didn't bite. Once Bear had set the coyote free he went back to stand beside Wolf. The coyote waited on its four legs, gathering strength, its yellow gaze fixed upon the boys.
"I miss my mom," Bear said, and it was the first time he'd referred to what happened to his mother to Wolf.
"I'm sorry," was all Wolf knew to say.
The vultures moved off. Bear was thirsty and drank from the canteen. After he put it away in the knapsack the coyote walked up and licked one of his hands. Bear froze. Bear was happy. He thought maybe the coyote needed the salt in his sweat. Its supple tongue was long and narrow. Then the coyote turned around and trotted away. It traveled in a straight line, limping from its injuries, stirring up a trail of dust. Soon the dust trail swirled by the mesa wind was all the boys could discern in the distance, and it seemed as if the animal vanished and only its spirit remained to move over the lonely land, pure force invisible, unbound, inviolable, like the wind itself.
Curt Saltzman was born and raised in Los Angeles. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gargoyle Magazine, Sou'wester, The Bitter Oleander, Into the Void, Epiphany, and elsewhere. He lives in France.