Your husband is in the garage with two dead coyotes. He’s laid them back-to-back in a sticky puddle of their own blood—a morbid Rorschach image on the concrete floor. “Got them this morning,” he says, nudging the closest one with the toe of his work boot. “Down by the creek.”
You found Juno there last week. Juno was an ugly, one-eyed shelter mutt with terrier instincts, and whatever she’d been chasing that morning had left pieces of her all along the creek bank. The steam from her innards drifted over the water, away from you. “Fucking coyotes,” your husband had said when he got back from burying her.
They aren’t as big as you imagined they’d be. You thought coyotes would be the size of huskies, of wolves, but these two aren’t much bigger than Juno. Forty pounds? They could easily be mistaken for strays, somebody’s pets. Burrs and blood mat their fur, and their lips curl in a dry snarl, exposing brown teeth. The smaller one, the one on the right, is missing an eye and part of its skull where the shot went through.
The one on the left is pregnant, stones in her belly now rather than pups.
Looking at her, the obscenely distended nipples, makes your own breasts ache—the ghost of babies suckling. Did Juno die for those pups, keep their blood pumping in the womb, only to die again when the gun went off? For a second, it looks as if something moves against the taut skin of her abdomen, but you know that’s impossible. A branch casting shadows, a car driving by—a trick of the light.
“Just get them out of here before the kids get home from school,” you say.
He nods and goes back to cleaning the shotgun with a greasy towel and the aerosol that makes your throat burn. He’s a good man, your husband; a good hunter and protector, too. You know he blames himself for Juno, but what could he have done?
Inside you wash up the dishes from last night and wipe down the counter. You make a grocery list and a hair appointment for next week, determined not to let the stylist talk you into bangs this time. The boys’ bathroom needs to be scrubbed—again—because boys are disgusting at this age. Your daughter’s bed needs to be made and her shoes put away because girls are slobs, too. On the way back to the kitchen you wonder if your husband changed the cat’s litter yet and detour to the laundry room. (He didn’t.)
You forget about the coyotes. You forget about the smaller one’s exposed, broken skull. You forget about the stink of blood and the meaty exit wound on the female’s chest, just above the rise of her belly. You forget about the pups and how long they might have lasted after the shot, suffocating. You forget the feeling of phantom babies at your breasts. You forget the way your nipples bled and scabbed when you had trouble breastfeeding. You forget about the way your own body changed with each baby.
You forget a lot of things as the days unspool, the little details of making a life accumulating in their wake, a straight path through from birth to death.
In the garage you pull the new bag of kitty litter from the shelf and wonder if there is more toilet paper for the half bath. Where the coyotes had been is a dark stain on the concrete that might be oil.
Jody Keene is a writer and social media coordinator living in Little Rock with her family and as many dogs as possible at any given time. Her work has previously appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine.