No Matter What They Tell You

It was just after the first frost of winter that she noticed the coyote. He was across the road in the empty lot—state land loosely fenced and overgrown. A fragile crust of ice covered the weeds and tangle, and the coyote limped slowly across it, pausing every few steps to sit and lick its back leg.

Alma watched it from the kitchen table, warming her fingers around her coffee mug. In the bedroom, Dan was just getting up, and she heard the floorboards creak as he made his way to the bathroom, a flush, the sound of the closet door opening, and the low moan he made every morning as he eased his body into his robe.

“Look at that poor coyote,” she said when he finally came into the kitchen. “It’s so cold now, and he’s not going to catch anything with that hurt leg of his.”

Dan squinted out into the sun and nodded, before turning to the refrigerator. “He’ll likely starve.”

His hands were stiff as they grasped the carton of orange juice and moved it to the counter. She got up to help him, pulling a glass from the cupboard and pouring.

“Go sit,” she said. “I’ll make you some eggs and toast.”

After breakfast, when Dan was settled in his chair, notebook in hand, tea by his side, dishes done, she went back to the window to look for the coyote. It was out of sight now, and she searched the nearly treeless landscape for a glimpse of it. The clock over the stove ticked, reminding her that it was only nine in the morning and she had nothing to do today.

“Maybe I’ll go into town,” she told Dan, wandering into the living room. He smiled but didn’t look up from his book.

She sat on the couch, looking over the shelves of knick-knacks she’d dusted with so much care yesterday. It was her mother’s collection of porcelain religious figures— meaningless to her, but impossible to throw away now that her mother was gone.

“Get me some licorice?”

She nodded, relieved to have a task, and went to dress.

Even after all these years, she still took time to notice the silence. With the garage door open, she stood next to her white station wagon and listened to the sweep of the wind, the metallic release of the car door opening, the clicking of the old overhead light as it blinked on and off. At the beginning, when she’d first come here, she was delighted by the remoteness. Now, it still pleased her, but over the last few years, it began to make her nervous, though she couldn’t understand why. It had become a part of her. It was almost impossible to believe that at the same time she pulled out of her driveway onto the ever-empty street they lived on that back in Chicago people were squeezed onto buses and the El, bumping against each other as they rolled along the tracks.

She drove without the radio, pushing against the speed limit. Police didn’t bother with these back roads. In about twenty minutes, the subdivision on the edge of town would come into sight, and then the donut shop and the urgent care clinic.

Town made her feel emptiest of all, though she always went when she needed to be filled. Parking lots bigger than they need to be, neon OPEN signs attracting no one, a sagging wooden wedding chapel. She turned down Avenue H and saw the Walmart ahead. Dan’s candy was a good excuse to stop.

The parking lot was ambitiously enormous. Clusters of older model cars were parked near the entrance, but Alma left hers in a far corner. There weren’t any sidewalks out by the house, so this gave her a chance to walk a bit.

Inside, she was welcomed by the familiar smell of freshly sanitized floors and the sterile fluorescence of the lighting. She ran a hand over her hair to smooth it and tried not to look for the young Indian man who managed the front of the store. With her eyes focused on the candy aisle, she walked with purpose. If he happened to intercept her on the way, so be it, but she wouldn’t search for him.

She found Dan’s licorice, picked up three bags, and then put two back. It would be better to return to town for more. Her eyes lingered on the other candies, and she picked up a box of Lemonheads, shifting it back and forth slowly to hear the spill of the balls inside. She wanted them desperately, almost tasting the tartness turning to sweet on her tongue, but knew if she bought the box it would be gone before she even got home, and she didn’t need all that sugar. Dan’s black licorice didn’t tempt her at all. Maybe it would be better to buy him all three packs. She put down the Lemonheads and went back for more licorice.

At the register, a large Latino girl with a dark, raised birthmark the size of a silver dollar on her neck shoved the licorice into a giant plastic bag.

“Anything else?” the cashier said.

It was a wasted question—as if Alma were going to run back for some towels while the girl waited. She shook her head and swiped her credit card.

“And I don’t need a bag,” Alma said.

Someone passed to her right, but she didn’t look up. Out of the corner of her eye, she waited to see if it was him. It wasn’t.

As she walked towards the exit, she felt the disappointment settling over her. If she was honest with herself—which she didn’t often want to be—she came to town only to see him. She’d been anticipating his smile all morning, the drop of his long-lashed eyelids, the way his hellos were spoken to the floor before he peeked up at her. Whether it was his way of charming women or he was truly flustered, she didn’t know. Regardless, she was disarmed. She loved having this effect on someone, especially someone so much younger.

“Did you pay for those?” a soft, accented voice said behind her.

She felt her breath catch and a flush of heat to her cheeks as she turned and awkwardly held the receipt out to him.

“I was only teasing,” he said.

His formal manner of speech and precise enunciation made him seem prep school educated and raised in luxury. He wore his usual starched white shirt and tie under his blue Walmart vest. She wondered how someone like him came to work here.

“They’re for my husband,” she said.

He nodded, and she worried she just ended the conversation. As she should have. She was married.

An employee emerged from the Vision Center waving a soft black case.

“Raaz—this guy wants to return his glasses and doesn’t have a receipt. We don’t even sell this brand.”

“Will you excuse me?” he said to Alma.

Raaz. She inhaled the name like a mantra. It was engraved on his little red, white and blue name badge, but she’d always read it more like Razz. Razz Matazz. Something jazzy and dangerous. But Raaz, with its slow, lazy aah, was a long, deep stretch.

He hadn’t asked her to wait, but she stood there anyway and, in a few minutes, he returned.

“Fascinating—the things people do,” he said, as if they were co-workers, or a couple settling into bed to discuss the day behind them.

“Did you take the glasses back?”

“Of course. I’m not going to argue with a customer.” “How did you know how much to refund him?”

“I asked him what he paid. You can always tell by someone’s eyes when they’re about to lie.”

She wondered what he could see in her eyes.

“Doesn’t that make you mad—to give him money back when you know he’s lying?”

Raaz shrugged. “What are you going to do? Some things you don’t fight.” She suddenly felt silly for having waited. They were done discussing the fraudulent customer and she had nothing else to say.

As he started to say “Would you like to . . . ” she said “I should be going.”

She heard him through her words, but by then it was too late. It would be embarrassing now to ask him what he was going to say, as she’d already declared her impending departure.

“It was nice to see you,” he said. Another shy smile.

She wanted to touch his arm or do something to convey some warmth or familiarity, but this was a boundary she wouldn’t cross.

“Have a good afternoon,” she said, clipped, businesslike, snapping away the moment.

As she walked away, she tried to listen for the sound of his footsteps, and when she didn’t hear any, she wondered if he was still standing there, watching her.

The next morning, the coyote was in her front yard, sniffing around the now- empty trash bins she’d put out the night before. His prominent ribs pushed out against a ragged matt of fur, and she knew then that he was old. He pawed at the bin, as if trying to topple it, sniffed around the base, and tried one more time before hobbling west towards the line of shrubs that divided their property from the Parson’s acreage. She stood at the window, feeling its chill gentle on her cheek, as she watched him walk away.

“Is that coyote back?” Dan asked. He was in the kitchen earlier than usual with a pain pill in his hand, getting a glass of water.

“I think I’m going to put some meat out for him.”

“Are you sure you want to interfere like that?” Dan said.

“I suppose it’s more for me than it is for him. It’s painful to watch him starve like this.”

Dan gazed at her with narrowed, contemplative eyes.

“I wish I could let it go,” she said.

He leaned his head back and dropped the pill from his palm into his mouth, swallowed a few large gulps of water, and said “Today’s terrible,” and shuffled back to bed.

For a good ten minutes she debated cooking the meat or not, and then pulled out a frying pan. She made a pound of ground beef and a cup of white rice, mixed it together, and carried it out on a plate. She set it at the base of the fledgling magnolia tree she’d planted in the front yard last summer. The frost seemed to have driven away the rest of the animal life—gophers and squirrels and birds—so she hoped the scent wouldn’t draw them back before the coyote could return to get it. She sat by the window for hours— book in hand, though barely reading—and waited. After dark, when she could no longer see, she went into the other room to watch TV with Dan.

In the morning, she woke just before sunrise and returned to the window. The food was gone. She put on her heavy jacket, a hat and gloves, and trudged out to the tree to retrieve the plate. She stopped midway, suddenly aware that the coyote could be nearby. She stood motionless, listening, but heard nothing. In winter, there weren’t even birds to peck through the silence. She turned fully around, peering through the holes in the bushes, gaze sweeping along the edges of the house. When she was satisfied she was alone, she continued to the tree, picked up the plate, and returned inside.

She left her coat slung over a dining room chair while she washed the single dish, pulled out more meat to fry and got the rice going on the stove. When she brought the second plate outside, she hesitated just past the front door, again listening for sounds of life, and stretched her arm out in front of her, carrying the plate through the icy silence like a peace offering. If the coyote lunged for it, she could toss it away quickly.

But nothing came for her, and she returned to the house, turned the heat up to seventy-two, and put on the coffee, glancing frequently towards the tree. After an hour, she put her empty coffee mug into the sink, rinsed it, and returned to bed.

Dan startled when she slipped an arm around him to hold him close, and rolled onto his stomach. He turned his head to look at her.

“I thought you were up already,” he said. “The coyote ate the meat.”

He yawned.

“Well, someone ate it,” he said. “Will you scratch my back? Right in the middle. Up towards the top.”

She slipped her hand under his t-shirt and found the offending spot, trying to scratch with the perfect amount of pressure.

“Thanks,” he said, tugging his shirt down again as if to push her hand away.

She snuggled across his back, lay her cheek against his, and he hit her chest with an elbow as he moved to brush her hair from his face. It didn’t seem that long ago when he didn’t care where her hair was, when she straddled him in his office after class, running her tongue along the arc of his ear, whispering “Professor, remind me again how the Russians invade their neighbors…”

Then, he was strong enough to lift her, yank off her jeans, take complete control. She loved hearing the other students passing in the hallway outside, on their way to class, or back to a dorm for lunch, while she lay sprawled across his desk amidst S.G. Nechaev’s Catechism of a Revolutionary and Constitution of the USSR 1936.

The evening he’d first invited her to his home—afraid to take her to dinner anywhere near campus where people might suspect the esteemed Professor Fisker had an inappropriate relationship with his graduate teaching assistant—he cooked for her. She remembered the drive to the house, how she kept commenting “We’re not there yet?” and he laughed. “I told you—it’s almost an hour away,” with his hand kneading the flesh of her inner thigh. She’d stared out the window at the gentle hills and vast space, wondering what it would be like to run through those hills, feeling the freedom of yelling or laughing aloud and knowing that no one could hear her. There was so much energy inside of her then, she didn’t know what to do with all that surplus of life.

That night, when she walked into his house for the first time, the arts and crafts furniture placed around a plush rug and the framed oil paintings on the walls surprised her.

“This isn’t the bachelor pad I expected,” she said.

Months later, he admitted it was all the work of his ex-wife, but that night, he was only interested in showing off the one meal he could make—beef stroganoff—and taking her to bed. Most of that first year, they barely slept, laughing at the dark circles under both of their eyes as he dropped her off at the edge of campus town so they could walk into the History Building from separate directions at different times.

As she lay there now, Dan’s face already turned away from her and his breaths slower and deeper, she reminded herself that only fools believe a relationship won’t change. Besides, Dan was now in his sixties, and the diagnosis changed everything. He went from vibrant and young to stiff and pained in a day. It wasn’t his fault.

He shrugged her off his back. “Sorry, hon—that hurts.”

She moved to her side of the bed and lay on her back, staring up at the ceiling.

“I’m glad I did it,” she said, thinking about the coyote.

They got up together a few hours later—their days now so empty it didn’t matter if they slept through them. When Dan stopped working last year, they thought it would only be temporary until he got the pain under control. But since he didn’t respond well to any of the medications and his absence had grown longer, he’d started talking about retirement.

“Maybe this is okay,” he said. “I’ll have more time to research and write my book. Not have to deal with the politics anymore.”

He was eligible for retirement benefits and two years away from Social Security, and the house was paid off. They had plenty in savings, and didn’t need to worry about money.

“Pancakes?” she said, opening the kitchen cupboards and noticing the mix tucked behind an old box of Corn Flakes.

“Nah,” Dan said. “Just eggs.”

He left the kitchen, expecting her to make them. And of course she would. She went to the window to check on her plate of food. It was already gone.

Smiling, she scrambled six eggs—two for Dan, two for her, and two for the coyote. “Thanks,” Dan said, when she brought him the slightly overdone eggs on a dessert plate. She realized she hadn’t brought him anything to drink, but said nothing. Maybe he could get his own drink today.

She left her breakfast in the pan, and brought the rest out to the tree, exchanging the smaller plate for the larger one. This time, she felt less afraid. She’d already fed him two meals; he’d know not to harm her. Back inside with the front door closed, she watched the coyote limp out from a clump of bushes at the property’s edge. He ate the eggs quickly and retreated to his hiding place.

She carried the still-warm pan to the kitchen table to eat hers while browsing the faculty listings on Since Dan was tenured, they’d been stuck here where there were no opportunities for her. But if he officially retired, they could go anywhere, and maybe she could get at least an adjunct position.

Something clattered in the other room and Dan swore. “You okay?” she called out, not moving.

“Plate fell. I have too much crap on this table. Are you making coffee?”

She rested her face in her hand. This was her life. After all these years out of school, no one would hire her. She’d gotten a PhD to become a housewife. A caretaker.

“Right now,” she said, closing her laptop.

“I’m going into town,” she announced an hour later, already wearing her coat and hat.


“I need to get a few things.”

She wanted Dan to question her—ask what the things were, if she was happy, what she thought about all day—but instead he said “Okay, drive safe.”

Today, there was no pretense. She drove directly to Walmart, parked in front of the sliding glass doors, and let herself look wherever she wanted. Raaz was nowhere in sight.

The pet section was in the far right corner of the store, and she chose a bed specially designed for the orthopedic challenges of older dogs. She hesitated over the treats and fleece blankets, but decided an old blanket from home would be fine. They had plenty.

“Is Raaz working today?” she asked the cashier as she checked out. “Yeah, he’s always here,” the cashier said.

The cashier grabbed a microphone perched on a pole next to her, and said “Raaz—register four.”

“Oh, no! You didn’t need to do that!” Alma said. She wanted to finish paying and get out of there before Raaz responded to the page. But Raaz was fast, and looked genuinely pleased to see her, making eye contact right away and treating her to his wide, perfect smile.

“I’m sorry—I asked if you were here because I wanted to say hi. I didn’t mean for her to call you over.”

“I’m glad she did,” Raaz said.

The cashier looked between them, eyebrows raised, and smiled.

“Let me help you with this,” Raaz said, scooping the large bed up and folding it under his arm. “Are you parked far away?”

“You don’t have to come outside—it’s cold,” Alma said, tucking the receipt into her purse and following him.

“What kind of dog do you have?” Raaz asked.

She kept her eyes on the ground, ignoring his question. There wasn’t a way to answer without appearing insane.

They walked without speaking through the parking lot—the open range between his world and hers.

“Do you want to have a drink with me?” she said.

Raaz laughed. “Right now?”

“I mean, not a drink drink. Just a coffee or something.”

He laughed again and stopped, in the middle of a lane, turning to face her. “Yes, I do,” he said.

His eyes were steady on hers, and suddenly she felt afraid.

“You probably have to get back,” she said. She glanced towards where she’d parked, still another forty feet away, and started to take the bed from him.

“Let me get this to your car and then I’ll go tell someone I’m going on break.” When they reached her Subaru, she opened the back and he leaned inside to set the bed in the uncluttered space. She wondered what it must look like to him, with its black organizer bins separating jumper cables, an emergency blanket and spare water into individual compartments.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, and jogged off towards the store.

She watched him go, and then looked back into her open car. Her life looked so ordered and empty from this perspective. The bins she had taken so much pride in before now embarrassed her. They were the give-away to how much time she had.

She shut the door and stood for a moment in her new reality. It was out of her hands now and picking up momentum. This was how things began with Dan. She’d been fantasizing about it, but one day, there was a spontaneous decision to stop by his office hours. She’d moved her pinky finger to rest against his while they studied a map together. A tiny action, without forethought, that started everything.

She got into the car, and with the key in the ignition, sat waiting. When Raaz returned, he tapped gently on the passenger side window to warn her he was going to open the door. He’d put on a brown barn jacket with a red plaid collar. He settled into his seat and pulled on the seatbelt, wiggling into place like a child who’d been told they were on their way to a candy store.

“Zappy’s?” she said.

“I don’t think we have another choice.”

She started the car, turned the heat on with the blowers set low, and they rolled out of the parking lot.

They cruised through the remainder of town—auto shops, a tractor repair, the broken-down wedding chapel—and past empty burned out fields dotted with abandoned car parts. His questions were benign. How long have you lived here? Do you like your Subaru? Is your house near town? She thought it would be more interesting than this.

When they arrived at the highway-side truck stop / pizza place / coffee shop, she parked near the door. Who would know her here? She was slower to get out of the car, and Raaz stood up on the curb, waiting for her with hands stuffed deep in his jacket pockets, dancing in the cold. He was a different person outside of the store. She would just have a quick coffee, take him back to Walmart and go home. For the next few weeks, she could get her groceries at the Safeway, and she was well-stocked enough on sundries that maybe she could even avoid Walmart for months.

He held the door of Zappy’s for her, and through her puffy down coat she felt his touch light on her back. It thrilled her, and brought her right back to where she’d been an hour ago—needing something more. Inside was wood-paneled and dark, the walls dotted with framed posters and amateur paintings. Half-eaten pizzas sat aging under buffet lights. They made their way to the counter in the back and Raaz paid for two coffees, even while she pushed a dollar bill across the counter.

“I insist,” Raaz said.

She took her dollar back and stuffed it into her coat pocket. Raaz grabbed a handful of plastic creamers and packets of Sweet & Low from the bins on the counter, and they took their coffees to a table near a fireplace in which a jagged, orange piece of plastic danced in an endless wind. As Raaz doctored his drink, she watched the flame.

“Cozy, isn’t it?” Raaz said. He’d taken off his jacket, but she still wore hers. “Are you cold?” he said.

“No.” She squirmed out of her coat and adjusted it to hang over the back of her chair.

The addition of four creamers raised Raaz’s coffee to the rim of his mug, and he bent over the table, sipping off the top.

“I don’t usually drink coffee,” he admitted as her eyes shifted to the pile of emptied bags of sweetener.

“Why did you say yes to coffee, then?” she said.

He wiped his lips with the quick swipe of a finger and his shy smile returned. “I was just glad you asked me to do something.”

“I’m married,” Alma said. Raaz sat back and blinked. “I know.”

She could imagine what he must have looked like at ten—smooth and lithe, with his sweet long-lashed eyes. A mother’s favorite. His next question might have been to ask her why she’d invited him in the first place, if just to tell him she was married. Instead, he said, “But I like you.”

“You don’t even know me,” she said. The words came too fast, and she wished she’d kept quiet.

“I don’t know why I like you, but I do.” She understood.

With the tip of her finger, she tested her black coffee to see if it had cooled, and lifted the mug to her lips. She took a sip and set it down. Next to the fireplace was a painting of a tiger watching a gazelle from behind a tree. The words “No matter what they tell you, you will always be an animal” were scrawled across the bottom in orange.

“What should we do?” she said, turning back to Raaz.

There she went again, handing her fate to someone else. This time, someone who was practically a child.

Raaz blinked at her. “I don’t think I can make that decision.”

She thought about Dan, sitting at home with his books. Her mother’s figurines on the shelves in the living room. The stacks of pilled flannel sheets in the linen closet accumulated over fourteen years of marriage. The dishwasher that needed to be emptied.

Across the table, Raaz took micro-sips of a drink he probably hated.

“Where do you live?” she asked, imagining a boy-child’s bedroom and immigrant parents preparing dinner in a kitchen saturated with unfamiliar smells.

“I have an apartment in Kimball.” “Do you live by yourself?”

Raaz pushed his cup away, and a little milky liquid sloshed onto the table.

“It doesn’t have to be like that,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything wrong.” Alma ran her hand over the dark, shiny wood tabletop, her skin bumping against sticky spots and dipping into graffiti grooves. She could go home now, forget this entire thing, and slip back into her life.

“What do you want?” Raaz said.

She pushed away her half-empty cup and looked directly at him. “I want to be me again.”

Raaz picked up an empty sweetener wrapper and began to fold it, accordion-style, into a tight stick. He was precise and made sure the edges lined up with one another as he went.

“How old are you?” she asked.

He rubbed a corner of his creation into the pad of his thumb. “Twenty-six. How old are you?”

She laughed. Twenty-six. That was exactly the age she’d been when she met and married Dan. “I’ll be forty next month.”

His eyes widened. “I thought you were like thirty-two or something.” She smiled. Nothing seemed to have shifted in him. He stayed.

“Do you have kids?” he asked.

Her mind flickered across all the baby names she’d started thinking about as early as age eight, when she’d decided she wanted one boy and one girl. Jordan, Alex, Marcus, Frank, Matthew, Christine, Laura, Emma, Chloe, Natalia. All the tiny unborn possibilities.

“No, my husband never wanted children.”

“But you have a dog!” Raaz’s voice was bright, a glowing consolation prize. “Do you want kids?” Alma asked.

“Five of them.” “Five!”

“I’m one of eight,” he said. “I guess it’s what I’m used to. And they’re all in India and I’m here.”

“You must be lonely.”

The way he smiled made her want to bundle him into her trunk with the bed for the coyote and take him home to care for as well.

“I work a lot, and that helps. I’m saving money now so I can finish my degree. I had to stop for a while, but I’m hoping to start again soon.”

She reached across the table and took the folded sugar packet from him, setting it aside, and slid her hands into his. When she started to cry, she wasn’t sure if it was for him or for her.

“Do you love your husband?” Raaz asked.

She sniffed, trying to rein in the tears. She knew she was supposed to say yes. They’d been married all these years. There was passion when it started. She wanted Dan to be healthy and happy and taken care of. But for some reason, the word yes wouldn’t come out of her mouth.

What a simple question, but she now noticed that love and responsibility sat side by side, like strangers in a waiting room. She tried to remember what it meant to love and thought of her father, how it had been weeks since she last called him, and her mother, who she didn’t visit until the very end when her father needed help and there were things to do. Loving had always meant taking care of things, but now she wasn’t sure.

Alma took a napkin from the caddy on the edge of the table and wiped under her eyes and along the sides of her nose.

“We should go,” she said.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to ask you something so personal.”

She stood and he followed, helping her on with her coat and nodding to the girl behind the counter.

The brightness outside was a shock, and she squinted while fumbling through her pockets for the car key. As they drove out of the lot, Raaz stared out the opposite window like a child who’d just been scolded and was creating an elaborate plan to run away. She remembered her own childhood escape plans after being yelled at by her parents. She had always been so sure she could do it—run away, hide, take care of herself, start a new life somewhere else. How had that part of her slipped away?

“Again, I’m really sorry,” he said when she pulled up in front of Walmart. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” It was her fault—her selfishness—for pulling him in her silly little diversion in the first place. He stayed in his seat, shoulders hunched, looking miserable. “Really,” she said. “It’s all fine.”

He finally unbuckled his seatbelt and got out, bending to look back inside at her. “Will I see you again soon?” he said.

“Of course you will,” she lied.

When Alma returned home, she found that she’d left the garage door open. A scatter of dead leaves had blown inside, so she took the broom and swept them out. She didn’t want to see Dan, pretend nothing happened, that everything was okay. She didn’t want to make his lunch, do the dishes, watch him make notes for his book while she read on the couch for the rest of the day. She was angry with herself for having lived here for fourteen years without ever pulling to side of the road, leaving the car, and running up a damn hill.

Remembering that she hadn’t swept up behind the garage as she’d intended to do months ago, so she put on her gardening gloves, dragged the green compost can around to the back, and cleaned up the mountain of browned crunchy leaves. It felt good to be outside working in air almost too cold for her lungs, and the effort of it seemed to tame her again.

When she finished, she put everything back into the garage, and clapped her hands together a few times to get the dust off the gloves, and closed up.

On her way to the front door, she saw that the coyote’s plate was empty, so she crossed the lawn and picked it up. She would make a salad for lunch and get some chicken broiling for dinner.

As she started back towards the house, the coyote stepped halfway out from the bushes. He’d been waiting for her just next to the door.

She stopped and they stared at each other. There was nothing friendly in the animal’s eyes.

“Go away,” she said. The coyote didn’t move. “Get out of here!”

He stayed where he was, his gaze unwavering.

She threw the plate across the yard like a Frisbee, and the coyote turned his head to watch it. It went farther than she expected and landed with a muted thud. When she looked back at the coyote, his eyes were on her again.

She took a few careful steps towards the front door and the coyote didn’t move. There was no safe way to get past him. In her head, she could hear exactly what Dan would say. “You created this. I told you to not start up with him.”

It was all so damn predictable. She wondered if she should call out for Dan, but the chances of him hearing her—with the storm windows down and the house so well- insulated for winter—were slim. Maybe raising her arms and waving them wildly, clapping and yelling, would scare him away. Isn’t that what you were supposed to do with animals that approach you in the wild? Make yourself bigger than them?

She lifted her arms and spread them out wide, but instead of screaming, she closed her eyes and felt the sting of the frigid air on the skin around her lips, listened to the sound of the wind combing through the trees, a few more dead leaves skittering along the driveway.

When she opened her eyes again, she understood there was only one way to go. And although she wanted to run, she forced herself to do it slowly, retreating step by step, keeping her eyes on what she was leaving behind to make sure it wouldn’t follow.  

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