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Authors: Alissa York

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BOOK: Fauna
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He’s found another one—she can tell by his low, snuffling wuff. Lily loves the shape he makes, shaggy and substantial, true black against the Canada Trust Tower’s glimmering granite wall. She knows a stab of pride. His coat is impressive, even here, in the eerie, aquarium light of the business district before dawn.

“Whatcha got, Billy?” Crouching down, she cups the ruched, wet-velvet edging of his lips. His breath is jungly. As she feels up over the points of his teeth, he relaxes his jaw, delivering the small feathered body into her grasp. She drops a kiss on his wet black nose.

“Good boy.” She rises, closing the bird in her palms. It’s alive, the certainty palpable. “Any more?”

He sets to work again, nosing along a planter’s edge, disturbing ghostly petunias with his snout. Lily follows him to the corner, where Bay Street stretches north into spotlit
gloom. She can make out the slow-swooping arc of a flashlight maybe a block away. A few minutes, no more, before they ought to be moving on.

Warming the bird a little longer in her hands, she turns to look west along Front Street, wide and quiet save for the taxi line out front of Union Station, shrunk to a mere three cars. Median gardens stand like skinny tropical islands, palm-leaf shadows, flowers lying low. Maybe they’ll try there next, cross three deserted lanes to pick a path along the concrete rim. Birds that live through the impact often make their way to the nearest patch of green.

Across Bay, the Royal Bank Tower shows a sensible black hem of three or four storeys before rising in golden, knife-edged pleats. Its heights betray the first red hints of sunrise. Gulls are beginning to circle up from the lake; a fat one lands close by, stretching, then stowing its wings. It rotates its snowy head Lily’s way, eyeing her carefully clasped hands.

“Fuck you,” she murmurs, “fucking creep.”

Pressing the stunned little body to her chest, she frees a hand and unsnaps her right cargo pocket. The hunting vest isn’t much to look at—shit brown and big enough to hold two of her—but it’s lightweight and warm, and all those pockets mean she generally has what she needs. The Tim Hortons bag is used but clean. She shakes it open and slips the bird inside.

Billy’s growl is soft, the frequency felt as much as heard. Lily turns. At the curb, a woman in bike shorts and a pale sweatshirt stands astride a mountain bike. She’s unusual-looking, built like a gymnast, pretty in a not quite human way. Lily flashes on the little tree frogs that used to cling to
the siding beneath her bedroom window. Grey-green backs and pearly bellies. That trilling sound.

Billy eases up beside her, his growl rumbling in her kneecap, humming coldly in the steel shank of her boot. She touches a hand to her breast pocket, seeking the folded outline of her knife.

“Excuse me,” the woman calls, “can I ask what you’re doing?”

There’s something of the teacher in her tone, maybe even the cop. Lily takes a step back.

“Don’t be scared.”

Lily spins on the spot and runs, Billy right behind her, keeping himself between her and the woman at the curb. The bike glints where she left it, propped in the recess of an emergency exit door. The crossbar means she has to swing her leg out over the back wheel, but it’s better like that, you can bring your boot down pumping and tear away.

She burns down Front on the sidewalk, headed for the first glaring slip of day. For seconds she’s on her own, then Billy pulls alongside her, a shaggy black bison on silent hooves. Lily grips the handlebars. The pair of them stampede toward sun-up, leaving the frog woman to choke on their dust.

Nothing in the kitchen traps this morning. They’re getting wise to him, learning the heady scent of peanut butter can herald death. Maybe he’ll have better luck in the yard.

For now, Guy sips his coffee, using the barbecue tongs to prod the frozen grey lump simmering on the stove. An inch of
water in Aunt Jan’s cast iron skillet—she’d kill him if she knew. If she wasn’t long dead herself.

The mass in the fry pan is beginning to break up. Like the crust ice beside a riverbank, it develops seams along which to divide. Softening, it reveals heads and slender tails. Bodies separate, becoming distinct. Limbs loosen and seem to swim.

Good enough. Guy plucks the mice from the water one by one, arranging them like furry sausages on the tin pie plate in his hand.

Letting the screen door slam behind him, he stands for a moment on the concrete step, looking out across the yard. Howell Auto Wreckers, also known as home. The place always looks its best in the morning—the sun cresting the metres-high piles of wrecks along the eastern fence, winking through missing windows and gilding crumpled hoods.

Behind him, the house stretches long, living quarters down this way, cinder-block office at the other end. All that stands between it and the sullen, mud-coloured Don are the sloping ruins of Aunt Jan’s garden, the high back fence draped in creepers, the on-ramp to the parkway’s roar.

A whiff of warm, wet mouse calls him back. He walks south along the wall and rounds the corner. A narrow chain-link enclosure runs between the house and the southern fence. Setting the plate down on the ground, Guy feels for the key on the chain around his neck, opens the padlock and steps inside.

Down the far end, the dead oak looms. It was a big job, sinking the trunk two feet deep and bolstering it with a pair of engine blocks; he couldn’t have done it without Stephen’s help. It’s handy having a live-in employee, especially one so keen to learn. It was the first time Stephen had laid hands on
a chainsaw, and as usual Guy only had to show him once. Stephen took his time, measuring the oak’s limbs before stunting them. When they stood the tree up on end in its hole, it grazed but didn’t breach the cage’s roof.

At the near end, they rigged up several of the cutaway boughs. Guy has to stoop to avoid them as he drags the mesh door closed, and for a moment he feels a sense of winter forest, barren canopy overhead. Between the branches and the tree they came from lies a run some twelve metres long. A stump stands at the midpoint. Guy sets the pie plate down on the round, ringed surface and steps back.

Invisible until this moment, the enclosure’s inhabitant appears. Forsaking its private branch at the back of the oak, it stretches one yellow, reptilian leg along a leafless side limb, then the other. Talons gripping bark, the hawk balances. Its gaze sweeps the cage, touching briefly on Guy before returning to the plate of mice.

Guy catches his breath when the bird takes to the air. It’s over in seconds—only a half-dozen pumps before it reaches out with its feet and lands, retracting its long, mottled wings.

The hawk settles on the edge of the stump then begins to sidle round, showing Guy its layered back, the rusty, spreading wedge of its tail. Shrouding the tin plate with its wings, it huddles and bobs. In no time it’s bolted the mice into its crop. Taking flight again, it falters ever so slightly, flapping clumsily to regain the branch.

As the bird hunches to bring up the mice, Guy pulls a sandwich from the breast pocket of his heavy Mack shirt. Nothing fancy, ham and bread. Uncle Ernie liked his sandwiches simple—a taste he managed to pass along.

The hawk dips its bright crown and tears into a mouse. The sun is warm; it rests like an open hand at the back of Guy’s neck. He stands and watches. After a moment he remembers the sandwich and eats.

As a rule, Lily coasts the last half block to the dead-end foot of Mt. Stephen Street, but this morning she rides hard to the last, jams her boot down on the pedal brake and skids to a halt. Billy gallops past and turns a sloppy U to come panting to her side. She takes pains to prop the bike against the fence, hooking a handlebar through the chain-link so the front wheel won’t fold, taking the old paper-boy basket along for the fall. Its cardboard banana box holds precious cargo, a collection of rustling paper bags.

At the gate, she lays a hand on the painted plywood sign.
HOWELL AUTO WRECKERS SINCE
1966. The key hangs on a bootlace around her neck. She fishes it out and jams it into the padlock with nervous hands. It’s stupid. She must’ve looked over her shoulder a hundred times during the ride—there’s no chance the woman followed them all this way.

She’s careful not to bump the bike on her way through the gate. Billy follows, nuzzling the small of her back.

“Hold your horses.” She shoves the gate closed and fumbles again with the lock. He drops into a sit, releasing a soft, impatient whine.

“Okay, go on.”

Billy whirls, his blunt head trading places with his behind. He lopes across the yard, past the two trucks sitting idle, the
bunker-style office with its shabby add-on house. She watches him disappear around its far corner, hears his bright, delighted bark. Amazing how he knows exactly where to go, his brain-map of the yard sparkling with streams of scent. Lily wishes she could sniff people out. Smell them coming before they get close enough to do any harm.

She runs a hand through the choppy, hot pink inches of her hair, turns back a moment to peer through the gate up the lightening street. Nobody. She guides the bike forward, following Billy’s trail.

Guy steps out of the flight cage as she rounds the corner of the house, and Billy greets him with puppy sounds, his dark mass rippling with joy. Lily watches her dog best the jumping-up instinct she trained out of him. It felt a little cruel, saying no over and over like that, but she hadn’t any choice once he reached full size and started knocking her to the ground. It was easy teaching his Newfoundland retriever majority—bred to work and generally eager to please—but there was the other portion too, the muscular mystery breed responsible for his height, his shortened muzzle and steely jaw.

Guy doesn’t let him suffer long. He drops into a crouch, grasping Billy by his furry jowls. “Hey, Billy. Hey, Billy-boy.” Billy licks him on the cheek. Lily taught him that too. No kissing on the lips.

Down the far end of the cage, the hawk mutters, fussing along its branch. It humps its wings, directs its gaze at Billy and releases a prolonged, peevish shriek. Billy parts his jaws, but Lily nudges his back end with the wheel. “Quiet, you.”

“Hi, Lily.” Guy stands, glancing down into the box. “Not so many this morning.”

“Nope.”

“Any live ones?”

“A few.”

“Good stuff. Bring ‘em in and we’ll take a look.” He leads the way, waiting while she leans the bike against the house and lifts the box free. “You want a hand?”

“I’m okay.”

He holds the screen door open for her and Billy, leaves a gap before stepping in after them and letting the door slap shut on its spring. She likes the weird little house. It’s more like an oversized trailer than anything, the kitchen flanked by Guy’s bedroom and the can on one side and Stephen’s room on the other. No denying the hum of the parkway, but she’s used to that after the last couple of months; she’d have trouble getting to sleep without it.

Standing in the bright patch where the door lets in the morning, she watches Guy open the Living section of the
Star
and spread it out. She’s fond of the table too. It’s the old fifties kind, with shiny metal legs and a scrubbed pink surface that used to be red. He always leaves the centre leaf in, even though the edges don’t quite meet up.

BOOK: Fauna
9.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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