“Cloud Food,” by Julia Gibson

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Short fiction by Julia Gibson special to MQR online.


It was the third dry year. There had been a stream once, made of snowmelt from the mountains to the north, but even the snow had been sparse the winter our coyote mother met our dad, a dog who had his own concerns. When he stopped showing up, it wasn’t because he didn’t want to, Mam said. His obligations conflicted.

That spring it only rained a time or two, and the sage covering the hills went brittle as Mam swelled with more of us than she could sustain. When the stream became a mudpath, she dug down to the damp. After a time, though, she could dig no deeper. So, coyote to the bone, she did without.

Little water made little milk. At first there were five of us wailing mewlers, but if too many latched on, the milk ran out before anyone was satisfied. Then we all were crying, and Mam worried we’d be found by somebody bent on bringing coyote numbers down to none. One after another, three pups departed for the Beyond, and then it was only Luz and me, and there was barely enough.

With no mate to bring her food, Mam went gaunt. She couldn’t leave the two of us to ourselves, and so she ate a little of this, a bit of that, dry stalks and rotten acorns, whatever there was to be had. Most nights she had little in her to cough up for us, so we learned early to nab beetles and scratch out grubs and somehow grew our lanky limbs on such measly fare. Mam lay beneath the toyon boughs at the mouth of the den, licking her ragged pelt, calling us to her if we wandered.

Hot as it was, it was best to stay still anyhow, listening to the rustle of the soft broad sycamore leaves, the rattling of the oaks, and the voices. Owl, mouse, hawk, skunk, jay, and the rest of them made their complaints, sang out sun songs and glorias, had their scraps and confabs, and all that was endlessly captivating, as it always has been. But there were other voices, the voices of the stinkers, those wily two-legged creatures who’d forgotten all we taught them in the long ago, and when we heard those we were to go solid, wherever we happened to be, and use our heads first, before feet, because, as Mam so often said, our feet weren’t good at thinking yet.

Notice, Mam told us. They don’t hear well. They can’t pick up smell to any extent. There’s a lot they don’t see. But many, many coyotes have been forced into the Beyond because they underestimated a stinker.

We learned to hear them coming from many bounds away, and whenever we could, we listened to their talk. Mam said it never hurt to hear what they were up to, if you could do it undetected. Once one of their dogs crashed along our hillside after a lizard or some such, but didn’t find it, or us either, because Mam had glared us down flat and we stayed that way until the dog skittered back up to the trail that went along the ridge that ended we didn’t know where.

But maybe that was our dad looking for us, Luz said.

No, Mam said. It wasn’t.

Well, how come we’re afraid of dogs, if our dad’s one, then?

Because of who they live with, Mam said. You can never forget that.

Do I have to be afraid of my papa, if I ever see him?

No, baby, Mam said. Only his circumstances.

Well, when’s he coming? Luz wanted to know.

Never, said Mam. He doesn’t know where to find us.

Why doesn’t he?

Because I never told him, Mam said. He’d want to come and see you, and his padrone might follow, and then we’d have to move to another den, and I like this one.

It was good ground that we had, she always told us, with its mouse banks all along the steep walls of the canyon, and the shady toyon with its prickers that discouraged anyone from barging down the slope. But ground could be slippery, and a coyote could one day find that terrain she thought was hers would never be any coyote’s ground again. And once you were spotted by a stinker, things were likely to go downhill. So even when we got quick enough and light enough on the feet to hunt, we never got to leave our narrow canyon, and soon we’d maimed or run off almost all the rodents, and when Mam went for rabbit or squirrel or a mouthful of eggs or a piece of snake, we weren’t to venture more than halfway up to the ridges on either side, and no farther than this tree, that rock.

Most beginnings and endings of night, we could hear our neighbors to the north and to the west calling to each other and singing down the sun or singing it up, whichever way it had to go. We didn’t join them. Sometimes we saw them silhouetted up on the ridge against the evening sky, touching noses and chasing around before settling into song and then making their ways.

When can we meet the other clans? Luz asked on a night when the yips and howls hit the rocks as if to dislodge them.

When you’re big enough to fight if it comes to that, Mam said. Not that I would have you start anything.

But why would anybody want to fight us, I said.

You’re not quite like other folks, she said. Some coyotes fear what they’ve never seen before. Some consider all dogs to be enemies, and you have dog in you. It’s plain and simple ignorance, but some folks are proud to be empty-headed.

How aren’t we like them, Luz said.

Mam smiled. Take a look at Shade, she said. See how big his paws are? He’s going to be taller than most coyotes ever get. Your father Vladimir is tall, even for a dog. You both have his features. You more in the build, Shade, and Luz in the face.

Well, when can we go and see him? Luz said. He won’t try and fight us, will he?

No, Mam said. He’ll be so glad to see you, he’ll cry. He feels things deeply, Vladimir does—like you, Luz. And Shade, you talk just like him.

How do I, I said.

Not just your strong, sweet voice, she said. Also the way you say things. I can’t explain it, but it’s uncanny.

But how do we be ready? Luz said. When can we? How far away is it?

Not close, Mam said. You have to be able to track as well as I can. Or better. Your father’s from a royal line of hunters, you know. You’ll both be excellent trackers with more practice.

But why don’t you let us—

Mam gave Luz the glare. Luz’s mouth snapped shut and she stood stock still, because if you got Mam annoyed you spent the whole night inside the cramped and airless den, and most likely wouldn’t get a scrap of anything to even start to fill you.

And, Mam said, turning the frown on me now, though I’d done nothing. You’ve got to be sharp-eared, which you’re not, and sharp-witted, which you’re not, and stop asking about it. You’ll be ready when I say so.

But soon after, she took us farther on our own terrain than we’d ever been before, and all the rest of that hot panting summer Mam kept us with our noses to the ground, sniffing at the trails and liedowns and grazing grounds and burrows of every kind of flying, hopping, straggling, slithering being, in order that we might determine the age, size, demeanor, and intention of every passage. Luz was adept at tracking and deciphering, and was better at flushing and flanking, and was quicker on her feet besides, so I began to dread our excursions, as I was always being shown up.

I only outshone Luz in remembering the songs Mam taught us. The songs filled and slaked me when there wasn’t much else to gulp down. I could swallow them whole, it felt like. I didn’t have to labor over which part went where and how the phrasing ought to go, like Luz did. I had twenty of them down before she had five, and while she was practicing I mockingbirded the wrens and towhees and made my own little ditties.

I hadn’t much to sing of. I crooned of catches and yipped out disillusionments, as pups will do. I sang of the mist and puddles Mam said would come in the fall when the rains would surely begin. We’d never been dampened but for Mam’s tongue baths, and those were brief and scant. Rain was just another of Mam’s stories, far as we could tell. And so, for all we knew, was Vladimir. Maybe when we met him he wouldn’t be long-legged in the least, but mangy and squat and squint-eyed. Or maybe he was handsome and fleet of foot and would play tag with us like Mam never did, and maybe he had songs of his own. I didn’t care if they were dog ones. I could hear his voice, like mine but more so, reverberating in the canyons, making rockslides that would forever scare away the flocks of cheeky crows.

She’s never going to take us to see him, Luz said one time when Mam was gone hunting too far from our own ground to take us.

You better not ask her, I said. Or she won’t for a whole lot longer.

It’s your fault, she said. I’m ready. I’ve got his nose. I could be a royal hunter. You couldn’t find a possum if it walked over your own big feet.

I didn’t say they were his feet, because there was Mam with a squirrel in her mouth. Just as she dropped it, a mournful wailing came from somewhere past the ridge. There were no words, but it spoke of despair.

Someone’s gone Beyond, Mam said. Her ears were high and stiff.

Another coyote joined the first, then others, four or forty. The song went on, a drone of sorrow. Even Luz had nothing to say. Chill rippled through me. Then the song cut off, done in a gulp, like jaws had grabbed hold of every singers’ throat.

That’s how it ends, Mam said. The death song. All at once like that.

She seemed sad, as she did sometimes, and we tussled over the squirrel to take her mind off things. It was a young squirrel, hardly enough for one of us. Even a well-fed squirrel is mostly tail and scrawny limbs.

I’m still hungry, Luz complained. I could catch my own meat if there was any. Can’t we go with you hunting next time?

A coyote gets accustomed to nothing, Mam said. Nothing more was said for a little, but for crunching. When I was your age, Mam said, I wasn’t taken any distance from the den. Certainly not as far as you’ve been already. But I had my two parents and my aunts and my brothers, and you only have me. If something should happen to me, you’d better know your way around.

Neither of us said anything.

Are you listening to me? Mam barked.

Yes, Mam, I said.

Luz?

I’m listening.

You’d better be. Now keep your ears up. Pay extra close attention, and keep track of where we’re going so you can find your way back if you have to. No playing, or we’ll go straight home. Hear me?

We bounded up the hill. I said no running, Mam said sharply, though she hadn’t, and we had to pick our way along. Then we were in another arroyo, the eastern edge of our terrain, Mam told us.  She stopped, tasted the air, and took off up a steep slope, Luz right beside her. Burrs, whole long twigs of them, clung to my flanks. Mam leapt from one boulder to the next, waited for us to almost get there, kept going up. The moon was a short-whisker slash that night, and didn’t light much. But there was Mam’s tail waving from the ridgetop. A dog barked from somewhere.

Is it you? the dog said. I went solid. Could he be the very one? Were we going to wherever he was? What would he say to us in his voice like mine?

Slowpoke, Luz said, and she shoved at me so she could edge ahead. I stumbled. Dirt billowed into my eyes and up the nose as I slid down the slope. I stiffened my legs and came to a stop. The dog was elsewhere, forever a stranger. A sniff to get my bearings made me sneeze, and I couldn’t see up to the ridge through the grit cloud I’d ructioned up, and I didn’t want to call out. Above was a skyful of stars, no overhead branches or hilltops obscuring. The moon smiled thinly. I heard Luz panting, and by the way the air coursed through her I knew that fear had shouldered away her excitement, and so I was overtaken by the same, though I didn’t know what it was we were afraid of.

I made my way up, and saw Mam and Luz standing side by side where the spine of the ridge could go no higher. I scrambled upslope. The backs of Luz’s legs were ever so slightly trembling, and her tail was brushy. When I came up over the ledge, I saw what she saw. Stretched out below was a vast plain of lights, as if stars burned fiercely all along the ground, shooting out dots and streaks that sizzled all the way to horizon any way you faced. They pulsed and hummed, cackled and spat, with mesmerizing, see-me insistence. Light seeped skyward, smearing the night with its ooze, putting the brightest of planets to shame.

That was what was tightening up her throat and rattling her. Our ground, it seemed, was but a lumpy patch surrounded by this other. We were on a tiny island, and the lights were intent on infringement. Rain or no, there would never be abundance in a place where woodpeckers had to hole up in the scattering of trees that no jay or owl or raven would cotton to, where coyote and hawk vied for a couple of desolated warrens, and deer wandered dolefully in spirals.

That’s what they call downtown, Mam was saying. In the daytime you can see the ocean if the air’s clean. That’s the Valley over to the north. It’s all just city as far as any of us are concerned, and your father lives in it.

I’m not afraid, said Luz. Let’s go.

I hope to the Breathing that you’re bragging, Mam said. You’ve got to be afraid. Every one of those lights has it in for you. See the ones moving? Those are hurryups, that take the stinkers around—big, heavy, and fast. The other lights are because they can’t stand the dark. Do I have to tell you again what else they can’t stand?

I know, said Luz. But I can handle it, is all I meant to say. The city. Shade, too.

No, Mam said. You can’t. Don’t talk as if you’re ignorant.

Okay, Luz said. Okay.

That was Luz for you. She was never one to let fear just walk away, but had to wrestle it to the ground and kick it in the head. Mam took off at a lope along the spine of the ridge, and got onto a deer path that took us to a hard road that snaked through the park we lived in, which is a place, Mam said, that stinkers visit when they get lonely for trees. But only in the daytime. And anybody who’s not a bird is considered a trespasser. Although they do appreciate a deer, if it’s standing a way away, being pretty. And a few coyotes might be tolerated, to keep down the squirrels. And we were lucky, having what we had. There were those who had to try to make a living on the street, and they hardly ever made it, Mam said, and there were those who had no ground at all, but went from place to place—wayfarers, who might never find their own terrain.

And now, she said. Who knows how to get home? And not the way we came, either.

We were both stumped. I thought west was one way, Luz another, and neither of us was right. Mam helped us get our bearings. We went along and were lost again. It took us the rest of the night to get on familiar ground.

I don’t want to ever hear you say you’re ready for the city, Mam said. I’ll be the one to say so.

I understand, Luz said.

But she didn’t. How bad can it be? she said to me when Mam was out of earshot. Dogs live down there, lots and lots of them, and they get by just fine.

That’s just the thing, I said. We’re not dogs, are we?

We’ve got dog blood, she said.

So what? I said. We don’t live in the city, so we’re not dogs. That’s all there is to it. Stop mixing everything up all the time. And the more you think about it, the more you’ll want to ask Mam, and then you will, and she’ll never let us leave the den as long as we live.

What do you think, I’m stupid? she said. I’m not going to say a thing about it to her. I’m only talking to you.

Well, don’t, I said.

I’m not, she said.

And she didn’t bring it up again. But I knew she thought about those lights. Once you looked at them a while, they weren’t so frightening. They must have lit up so much, if you were close enough to see what. Some of them streaked around like vivid falling stars. How could a light, or even a lot of them, hurt anybody?

 

 

Moons of all sizes came and went, and the fall was upon us, dry as the summer. It’s sure to rain soon, Mam said. It will. I first met your father in the rain. It was rain that made us fall for one another. You remember about that, don’t you?

She’d told us many times. Tell it, I said.

He’d thought she was a vision. She came toward him out of the mist. She let him see her because he was so graceful and had that voice. Violet dog, he called her.

I’ll take you after the first rain, Mam said. She smiled at us. It was a promise, better than nothing.

But what if it never rains again? Luz said.

We’ll be careful, I put in.

Mam’s smile had fled. She looked at me hard, then at Luz the same way. The moon was a fat bulge, and we could all see each other, though we were on low ground and the sky was bordered by branches. I keep meaning to take you, Mam said. First I thought when you were old enough to hunt alone. Then at the end of summer. And now the fall’s half gone. As the song tells, a smart coyote assesses every option, and takes as much time as is wise. But I wasn’t being wise about it. There’s no good reason not to have taken you already. I hope you can forgive me.

It’s all right, I said. I hated for Mam to be unhappy, as she sometimes seemed to be, chin on paws, thinking.

Let’s go right now, Luz said, on her feet, tail up.

Is a smart coyote impulsive? Mam said in a low growl.

I was kidding, Luz said, though she hadn’t been. We should go when the moon’s dark, right? The better to stay hidden?

Good girl, said Mam, and almost smiled again.

The moon swelled over the next several nights, and then reversed her shapes until the night she wasn’t there. We crossed our northwestern border and continued over ground we’d never been on, much like ours in its particulars. My step was springy. The time had come. When I saw what he looked like, I would know what I looked like. We’d chase and feint, just like he and Mam had done in the rain.

We passed the clink, where creatures of all kinds were held captive. Mam had told of her grandmother’s uncle, who’d been driven to distraction by the taunts of prey inside, so he and his clan burrowed beneath the high stone keepout that surrounded the place and found a flock of pink long-legged birds to feast on. Because of that, a better keepout was installed, and nobody could get in any more, and if you were one of the unfortunates inside, escape would be pure fluke, and capture thereafter almost sure.

We were quiet, going by it. Even from outside, we could hear the coughs and groans of huge beings and the screams of birds we didn’t know. I thought of the coyotes that the uncle had seen in there, a mismatched pair who couldn’t abide each other, furiously trotting around their enclosure in opposite orbits. He’d tried to talk to them, but one spat insults and the other turned away, pretending she heard nothing.

The edge of the park announced itself long before we came to it, harsh smells replacing dusty soft unfoldings, a shamble of sound overtaking the ebbs of the Breathing. We came to a keepout, easily skirted by loping a short distance up the hill. We did so, and came down slowly and stopped just outside the keepout, and looked at the road ahead, lined on either side with palm trees and lights on stalks, and short grass in strips and squares, and back from that, rows of straight-edged stinker dwellings. Some of the stalked lights were on and some weren’t, and some of the dwellings were lit from within, and some were dark inside but had a light dangling from an overhang, and some were dark altogether.

Stay sharp, Mam said. Keep to the shadows. And don’t even sniff at any food. They throw a lot away. It can smell more delicious than anything you can ever imagine. Leave it.

She went low, looked, listened, sniffed the breeze, scuttled to a bush by one of the stalked lights that wasn’t lit. Luz and I, twin shadows, made our dash.

We were in the city. It had seemed a fearful place, looking at it from the ridgetop. But there were plenty of places to be invisible, and the lights, once you got to know them, didn’t seem to do anybody any harm, and the hurryups mostly rested in tidy lines. Those that were on the move were much too loud to come upon anyone unawares. We went apace. There were the scent-marks of dogs all around, food gone half-rotten strewn along the wayside, the smell of hidden water, cats up high and skunks in the bushes and other hidden well-fed creatures, all of that entwined with grime and grindings, and nothing investigated, all passed by.

The strongest smell was desolation. Some dwellings were fractured and decaying, while others sustained. The few stinkers we came across were for the most part enclosed: a face, a figure behind a lit-up square or in a hurryup. A few darted from one to the other, wary and tense. Conversations and other doings took place in the interiors, but all we got were snatches as we loped from shadow to shadow. Every voice sounded angry or afraid, though some seemed to be faking cheer. One place we passed had a shouting crowd inside. I wondered how so many could fit inside the little square dwelling, but realized then that it had to be the box talking. Everybody had one of them at least, and listened to it instead of to the Breathing.

We turned corner after corner, went beneath a hurryup river on tall stalks, then along a wide road, then a narrow one. We edged along a stony wall, squeezed through a slat. Mam trotted up to a keepout made of twisted strands of metal. She pressed her nose against it. Through the pattern you could see grass and other plantings, and on the far side, a dwelling, all dark.

I should have known, Mam said. It’s too late. He’s not outside.

But we’re here, Luz said. How do we tell him?

You stay right here, Mam said. Both of you. I mean it. If anybody comes, take off if you have to, but meet me right back at this spot. Got it?

We watched her turn at the corner of the keepout. She disappeared. I listened for her and heard only hurryups. How would we chase each other if our dad was inside a keepout and we were on the other side of it?

I’m starving, Luz said. Mam wasn’t kidding about the food around here. Smell that?

If I can’t eat it, why do I want to smell it? I said.

It’s almost as good as eating it, she said. Don’t you ever do that? Even if I pretend I can smell something, I feel like I’ve eaten a little. Right here, where my foot is.

The tip of a paw was on a scrap of rubbish. She lowered her nose to it. She touched it with her tongue. Oh my, she said.

Luz! Are you twisted? You’ll get sick!

She pushed the scrap at me. Try it, she said. There’s not enough there to make anybody sick. You’ve never dreamed anything this good.

It looked like nothing, a dark smear on white, smelling sweet and rich. It was barely a taste, but I was permeated by dark sweetness, transported. All seemed possible. I would have starved from one full moon to the other for a crumb of it.

“Okay, boy. Okay,” said a stinker voice from inside the dwelling. “You can go out for a minute.” A square of light came on. We went solid. The flavor was still alive in my mouth. The scrap, clean and damp, wafted, settled, tottered along like a wounded moth.

You know I wouldn’t wake you if I didn’t have to, a dog replied. His voice was low and light, a voice that could do anything, go into crevices, soar.

His claws clicked eagerly, followed by a stiff two-legged tread. The dwelling scraped open in a wedge of light and a dog stepped out, a lanky silhouette. A man’s face appeared and was gone as the opening creaked shut after him. The dog was at the keepout in a few long bounds.

My beauty, he breathed.

Hello, said Luz. I’m Luz.

Oh, goodness, he said. I beg your pardon. Luz. What a lovely name. I am Vladimir. It’s delightful to meet you.

He bowed. You look so much like her, he said, and turned to me. You, I would say, favor the old man perhaps. It’s not the best light, though, is it?

There was a rustle at the corner as Mam came around. Quick as a lizard’s flick, he was at her, and she at him, each of them licking their side of the keepout and the face pressed against the metal weave. He bent down to reach her. He was tall, with broad shoulders caped by white curls, and a slim middle. A thin black stripe went from brow to the tip of his curved narrow nose, and his eyes were rimmed with black.

It’s been so very long, Vladimir said, gazing at Mam. Please say you haven’t been suffering as I have. Oh, I can’t say how much I miss you. There are no words. All I do is dream of you. Daydream, night dream, all the time dreaming. My beauty.

These are your children, Mam said. Shade and Luz. Your father Vladimir.

You’re angry, he said. I don’t blame you. But try to understand. So much has happened since we were together. Remember then my padrone had everything? Now I’m all he’s got. You don’t know what it’s like to have a situation. How can you know? But, darling one, he’s got the dying sickness. It’s no time for me to run off.

I’m not asking you to, she said.

You could come and visit, Luz said. You wouldn’t have to stay. We could dig from this side and you could dig from that side, make a burrow right under this keepout.

Vladimir grinned. Beauty and brilliance, he said.

They’re smart, both of them, Mam said. Sometimes too much so.

One would hope, Vladimir said. The pureblood with the wild. Most unusual. I would think they’d get good situations without any kind of problem, if that would be of interest.

Mam was still. The man was at the opening, a hunched shadowy figure.

I offended you, Vladimir said. I don’t mean it. They won’t want situations, of course. They don’t know this kind of life. Nor should they. I’m just addled, excited to see you all. When will you come again?

Mam, watching the man, wasn’t about to answer. “Come on, boy,” the man said, his voice feeble and rough. He wasn’t old, but his body was giving out. You could smell the sickness all through him. He took a bite of something he was holding, white in the dim light, soft to the mouth. It took little effort, like biting off a piece of cloud.

All right, our dad said, all in a rush. Listen. He gets worse every day, the padrone. He used to have the medicine, but now he can’t get it. You have to be rich for this kind of medicine these days, not like before when there was the clinic and he could get the pills for cheap. No more. So much went bad so fast, even since one year ago. It’s all the big shots, stealing everything from everybody else. He doesn’t even want to be alive if this is how the world will be, he says. He’s very low most days, very bad. I can’t see how he’ll last through spring. That will be the time for me to go. I’ll be able to hunt after a bit of practice, if you show me some things. My people are from the old country, maybe your mother told you, hunters for the royals. It’s in the blood.

“Hurry up, boy,” the man rasped.

Come often, Vladimir said. Please. If you could come by in the afternoon, that’s when I’m out for a good long time. We can make our plans. Goodbye, my beauty.

Mam said nothing, eyes on the man. He mouthed another piece of his food. It smelled delicately milky, not a bone or whisper of gristle in it.

I won’t go until you say it, Vladimir said. He stood up and shook himself. Something he wore around his neck, I just then noticed, made a clatter when he moved, exuding the faintest whiff of metal.

“Vladimir!” called the padrone, to the best of his wheezy capacity. “What the hell are you doing? Come!”

Say it, demanded Vladimir. His metal vibrated beneath his curls. How could I not have heard it before?

Goodbye, my handsome, she barely whispered.

He touched his nose to the keepout’s metal strands, still shiny from their kisses. She didn’t move. Nor did we. He turned and trotted away, the clatter at his throat. Sorry to keep you waiting, he said to the padrone. Let’s get you back in bed.

“Good dog,” said the man, holding the last bit of cloud to Vladimir’s mouth. They went into the dwelling and were shut back in.

Even Luz was quiet as we went along the streets and up the little hill around the keepout and into the park. Sycamore leaves were soft underfoot. If either of you leave this park without me knowing, Mam said, I’ll shred you. Now give me a good head start and then track me.

She sped away in long leaps, flying over stands of sage. Well, I’m famished half to death, Luz said. I can’t get the smell of all that food out of my mind.

Don’t talk about it, I said. I didn’t want to remember the pungent bones scattered in the street, or the smells of salty fat that came from here and there, or the white softness that you didn’t have to even chew, or that sweet kick in the head of a wrapper.

That stuff the man gave our dad looked really good, Luz went on. Did you notice how Mam got so bent out of shape when he said that about a situation? Well, he gets plenty to eat and he isn’t in a lick of danger. I don’t see what’s so bad about it.

He can’t ever leave, I said.

He could, Luz replied. He just doesn’t want to. Would you?

I hoped I would. I hoped I’d dig or jump or claw my way out, whatever was required. But maybe I wouldn’t, if there was always something to fill me up. But would the cloud food he’d been given take away hunger?

Are we standing here the rest of the night? I said. If we don’t hurry, Mam won’t take us hunting, will she?

We ran faster than the deer we’d never been able to keep up with. I conjured up the smell of that certain little rodent being, one who was tired of running from the teeth, one who’d welcome a good long eternal rest, the relinquishment of it, and I attempted to hear the vibration of its resignation, so that I’d surely come across a rabbit pair haunched in a dirt spot, gasping over some cloudy, clovery joke of theirs, and all I’d have to do was quiver up and spring and I’d be on the one, the worn one, the spent one, its back broken under me and its body convulsing its last gracious gratitude.

Then we would eat until our skin stretched. But inside my nose there was still the smell of the soft white morsel our father had swallowed. The man stroked the dog’s head. The dog lifted his chin in pleasure, was shut back in.

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