She says her spirit animal is a coyote. She says, “Don’t mistake me for a wolf.” She has a grin that bites her bottom lip.
I tell her about the time I was in my garage, door open to the brief autumn. I was putting laundry in the dryer when I heard blown-in leaves crunch behind me.
She has canine teeth dangling from her earlobes. An inky pawprint stamped just above the lowing of her hip.
When I turned, there was a coyote standing beside my car, looking right at me. “I didn’t know they came into the city alone,” I say.
She pinches my butt. She says that I’m a bag of bones. She says, “I’d like to eat you up.”
“That was me,” she says. “Just paying you a visit.” I don’t know how to respond when she tells me things like this.
In the dark, her eyes look yellow. When she climbs on top of me, she leaves her pink socks on.
I’ve read about packs making their way into neighborhoods. Jawing small dogs away from owners, leash and all. Stalking morning joggers.
She loves to rub her feet on the carpet, then crawl back in bed, put her fingers to my lips, to my nipples, see me feel the shock, that worm of static drilling into darkness.
But never a lone coyote getting so close. “I wish I’d had my camera,” I say. “I was scared.”
I take pictures of her in the dark. Before she shaved her head, the flash made her hair sunburst. Some strands silked away from the rest, gravity’s pull ghosted by static.
“I know,” she says. “It was me. The dryer was rattling around like fucking. I wanted to gnaw your arm off.” She says she wanted her teeth to touch bone.
She shaved her haybale of hair off a few weeks ago, buzzed to the horizon of her scalp. I liked that hair. I liked when she mussed it into pigtails, asked me to pull.
I was holding a pair of jeans, heavy from the wet. “You smelled like detergent that night,” she says, “and sandpaper and day-old chewing gum.”
Don’t get me wrong: I like to touch the smoothness of her head now, press my whole palm to it. I want to be there when it turns prickly, then downy soft. When it gets long enough again to tug.
“Why didn’t you just visit me as you?” I ask. She metronomes a finger right in front of my eyes, says, “It doesn’t work that way.”
She tells me coyotes aren’t scavengers. A common misconception. “Opportunists, maybe,” she says. “But we prefer meat that’s fresh.”
I was stuck, staring at the coyote, worried the garage light would time out, terrified of what teeth could sink into—she’d shown me pictures. But it lost interest in me, slipped out into the dark.
Sometimes, we hear the bellow of a train in the night, or fire engines screaming, or the tattooed couple arguing in her apartment complex. “No,” she says. “Shhh. It’s the coyotes.”
“Sorry I couldn’t stay,” she says, leaning back and grabbing me by the ankles. “Sorry I couldn’t puncture the soft spot on your heel.” I wonder where it was she had to go.
All the mechanical clanking of the city, she says it’s coyote bones clattering together. A plane overhead is the ragged lightning of raised hackles. “Listen,” she says, her finger in my mouth.
I stood there, even after it had gone, holding the sopping jeans to my chest. The garage light timed out. I disappeared. I was only the clumsy tumble of feral heartbeats.
The whir and snap of the shutter is the baring of teeth. Now, when I take pictures, her hairless head glares round and bulbous, like the skull of the moon, like it could punch out the sky.
Sam Martone lives in Tempe, Arizona. He has not yet seen coyotes there.
See Sam’s list of 5 Things in our ongoing contributors’ series.