“Mange” – Fiction by Cyndisa Coles-Harris

Wild_coyoteMysterious coyotes & ominous heat lightning inhabit “Mange,” Cyndisa Coles-Harris‘ surreal, semi-apocalyptic tale from our Summer 2016 issue.

{ X }

SKINNY COYOTE, WILD WITH MANGE, won’t stop rubbing up against the northwest corner of this house’s foundation.  She leaves rucked tufts of red-silver hair, scabs caught at the edge where the siding meets the cinderblock.

Some nights there’s heat lightning over Lake Los Angeles.  Heat lightning has no color and makes no sound.  You see the light, and you feel a fraction of a second’s gap in the air around you.  Time and the possibility of breathing; that’s where the thunder is.  No sound, but there’s a crack in time and in the air.  I stand out on the back porch and watch the clouds strobe, and I kick the loose hair free of the house’s northwest corner.

And sometimes I think that coyote is Cinderella or Snow White or anyway is somehow enchanted, is trying to set me up for something.  I should collect her hair and spin it on a spinning wheel.  I should stock up on silver bullets.  Something.

In this season, I let my backyard hose drip under the last living Joshua tree day and night.  I feel like I have to.  I didn’t kill the rest, I didn’t make the ungodly heat, I didn’t make my own tree the last one.  It’s only, I’ve been here long enough that I feel responsible somehow.

Once, in a September as hot as this one but years ago, I saw a roadrunner loping circles along the shoulder of the highway, staggering.  Out of its mind, that bird, dying of thirst.  If the coyote is Snow White, then I could’ve called a dying roadrunner the prince, except that these things happened in the wrong order.  The roadrunner stumbled in and out of my life ages ago, before all the rest of the desert died of the heat, long before the coyote started leaving clumps of her filthy hair at the corner of my house.  So I never thought to call that bird a prince.  I missed my chance, missed half the myth.

{ X }

I watch cartoons when the aerial is working.  Often it doesn’t; something in the weather out here sends noise down the wire to the screen, so it snows most days.  Not outside, not ever; this place was always desert, even before the drought.  But it snows on the screen.  Cable out here is expensive, I can’t pay bills with coyote hair.  But like I say, the problem with the aerial is atmospheric.  I’ve learned that if the television is working by noon, then there’ll be heat lightning at night, so it’s useful for guessing the weather, at least.  And when I can, I watch cartoons.

There’s just the one station, and they show cartoons.  Only the coyote and roadrunner.  There are six or seven of these manic short films, and they play on a loop.  Cliff, slingshot, TNT, poor coyote, over and over.  Either the station only broadcasts those six, seven cartoons on a loop, or else it airs more and different things, but if so it’s one hell of a coincidence: always coyote and roadrunner playing when the snow stops and the screen functions.

Then at night there’s heat lighting, and every flash brings that silent gasp of thunder.  Always, the moment, and then the moment’s gone and there’s sound and space again.

{ X }

Except.  I step outside, late, to see the night clouds strobe and to knock loose the fur from the northwest corner and to check the garden hose.  I’m bent over the spigot adjusting the drip when there’s an airless flash that catches and snags, and it stays while I stand up and look, and squint–the light and the inversion persist.  The atmosphere, struck like a bell, rings still, hums silence, binds tight.  I gulp nothing; the air has gone.  The sky is flash-bright, stopped mid-shatter.

I stagger inside.  Hours.  Five, seven, ten hours it feels like.  I can’t say for sure; my watch has stopped, and the clock on my phone, and the clock on the wall, and the light doesn’t change.  I wait, I cower, I don’t breathe and I don’t die and there’s only silence and a piercing pain in my heart, that organ desperate, rattling my ribs like prison bars, but silent.  I lie down on the floor, try to sleep, but my head hurts for oxygen and I can feel my bones humming silence in tune with the airless glow through the window.

 { X }

It feels like morning somehow, and still bright out as last night’s endless flash. I walk the dirt road miles into town, to the One Big Store, where the automatic doors slide open silent ahead of me, shut silent behind.  I mime my order at the gun counter, stand in line for the cashier.   I wait behind people blue in the face buying laundry detergent, people clutching their chests and gaping, people weeping silently and loading store-brand bacon and bottled water and tube socks onto the conveyor.  When it’s my turn, I scrabble in my pockets for stained bills, pay for the box of silver bullets and the long-handled spade, grind my teeth against the way my heart is twisting up inside me.  The clerk’s lips are white with pain, but she remembers to hand me my receipt.  On my way home, the flash shines on behind me, blinds me in the rearview no matter how I tilt the mirror.

{ X }

Some hours, more hours.  Bright and silent still, and I’m exhausted from not breathing and not hearing, and from the pain.  This is a new kind of waiting, calls to mind mushroom clouds and plummeting anvils and framed silver snow.

I prepare to meet my coyote.  I scrape a chair across the linoleum and sit leaning out the kitchen window, closest window to the northwest corner, cradling my revolver.  I wait a long time, until finally a taut kind of sweet feeling in my jaw tells me she’s near.  She appears, squinting, blinking like the flash is giving her eye trouble, like she can’t believe it’s bright out, still, when it should be darkest.  She’s lolling her tongue and shaking her head like she can’t understand why she isn’t breathing, can’t believe the quiet or the blades of light or the pain between her ribs from her runaway heart.

“Cinderella,” I tell her, “your magic is all we need tonight.”  She doesn’t hear me; I’ve spoken but I haven’t made a sound.  She squares her ass up to the corner of the house, just below me and not ten feet away.  She backs up and shimmies, scabbing hair along the corner at the edge where the cinderblock meets the siding.  I fire.  I knew, I knew there’d be no sound, but the shot’s silence shocks me.

She screams and it’s dark again and the worst is over.  She’s naked, bleeding from the wound and from her ravaged haunches.  Pale and human, showing only skin, gone blue in sudden blessed moonlight.  The flash is gone, the whole sky is bruised lavender and charcoal, starlight speckled, moony.  I breathe.

I undress so our bodies match.  I bury her in the yard, in the wet sand under the last living Joshua tree.  I hurry; she’s underground before dawn.

{ X }

colesharris-headshotCYNDISA COLES-HARRIS lives in the Pacific Northwest.  Their fiction has appeared in District Lit, Word Riot, and elsewhere.

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