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  • Alan Allinger

Tricksters of All Sizes


Mom and I were walking along the road early this morning to celebrate the dawn when we heard a small rustling of leaves, and a pair of large coyotes came trotting from the brush. The smaller of the two moved easily, the taller of them was limping- its rear left foot was apparently damaged in some way. They looked briefly at us and separated, one rapidly heading into concealment nearby and the other pausing to see what we were up to. They weren’t afraid of us, but the innate caution of the species causes them to appear tentative. My mother fished a memory from her pocket- it’s something she keeps in soft-sided lozenge form and carries with her. She tossed it to the coyote. He caught it in midair and nodded, remembering, now, how to speak.

“What happened?” asked my mother briskly. You never know what sort of schedule coyotes are on, so protocol calls for brevity, especially in daylight hours. The coyote cocked his head, worked his jaws, and gave us that special winning smile that speaks of one’s continuing pain.

“Iron-jaw trap,” he snarled. “Got me, not expecting one so close to a children’s playground.”

Mother nodded in understanding, clearly not liking it one bit. Free-lance trappers in urban areas sometimes put spring-traps around parks where the local wildlife has learned there’s easy scavenging. Most of what they injure are considered varmints- possums, racoons, nutria. If the creature gets free, crippled, it won’t manage to survive long against its natural enemies. While some look askance at injuring smaller, fuzzier animals, there are no restrictions on trapping or killing coyotes. The urban and suburban rancher mentality continues to see them as competition, and their hides are still worth a few dollars in bounty, no questions asked. My mother frowned at several things, all at once.

“Can we help?” she asked. The coyote regarded us for a moment, shook his head. “You look like you’re fading.” The coyote stretched, nonchalantly, pretending for a moment to be feeling nothing. The wild things prefer to give no clues to a watcher.

“My heart was more damaged by iron than was my foot,” he replied graciously, and my mother nodded to him in promise. In an instant the coyote had disappeared completely, invisible in the bushes. My mother lifted her upper lip on the right side in a slight curl, showing one of her canines. It was a look I remembered well. If the trap-setters weren’t already proven to be the sort of spineless scum the planet could well do without, one could almost feel sorry for them. Our eyes met, and we exchanged faint smiles. My mother’s smile is particularly feral, and if I ever saw it focused upon me in such a fashion, I would shiver.

“My dear,” she began genially, as she continued to look at me without blinking, “do you, perhaps, fancy a walk in the park?” Nodding, I offered her my arm. “I find myself entirely fascinated to see who might be coming by the playground this morning, to check on their mechanical devices.”

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