hybrid by Grace Wagner
A ten-hour shift at the Tupelo Travel Stop leaves you feeling like a pumpjack pistoning an empty well.
You take off your nametag that’s not even your name, a three-month old hand-me-down. You get in your ten-year-old Taurus. Tomorrow you’ve got a shift at the truck stop and a shift at Sonny’s Grocery. Tonight is another microwave meal and glass of milk mixed with Jack like your father used to drink. Tonight is taking care of the cattle. Tonight is another Ambien and a night on the couch.
You get home, start the long walk up the gravel path, and stop. A coyote—caught in the barbwire fence that lines your family’s property, its limbs cross-tangled, hooked by the spurs and spikes of twisted metal. The coyote sees you, growls deep in its throat, whimpers as another barb pierces skin. Blood flows down its mottled coat. A smell like dead deer hits your nose, and you’re caught by the look in its wild, rolling eyes.
Your mother always called coyotes song dogs. When you were ten, you’d listen all night to their yipping, their half-hearted howls.
You turn, walk out back to the shed, grab the longest wire cutters you’ve got. The coyote no longer struggles against the gnarled wire. You approach, slowly, hands held up in front. Shush-a-now-shush, you whisper. Black-rimmed yellow eyes watch you. You kneel two feet away, one knee in the red dirt. You reach out with the cutters and clip one length of fence. It springs back, curling around itself. Startled by the sudden freedom of its back paw, the coyote scrunches its body, tries to run, its haunches soaked red.
The coyote writhes maybe ten minutes, wears itself out.
You wait, reach out again, clip another line. This time the coyote simply watches. You cut again and free its front paws. Then with the careful precision of a surgeon, you reach again, maneuver the clippers between fur and wire, steady yourself, cut the length wrapped around its neck, and suddenly it’s free. The coyote snaps at the wire, at you, barrels toward you. You fall back, raise your arms to protect your face. And it’s gone—running past you as you lie sprawled in the dirt. You stand, wipe the red dust from your jeans, go inside, make a drink, microwave your dinner.
Every evening for the next ten days, you stare into the darkness at the edge of the fence, seeing nothing.