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Authors: Alissa York

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BOOK: Fauna
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When he was as clean as he could get, she handed him one of the peppermint towels and bent to run herself a bath. He wrapped himself up and perched on the toilet, watching the water rise up about her ankles, her shins. When she lowered herself into the steam, he rested his head against the lip of the sink.

“Hello?” Mrs. Miske’s voice through the door roused him. “You two all right in there?”

Supper was what Darius would’ve hoped for if it had occurred to him to hope. Tomato-rice soup and hot dogs. They had everything—fluffy buns, ketchup and mustard, as much as he liked.

Mr. Miske stood at the open fridge and asked what everyone wanted to drink. “Milk? Grape juice?”

“Oh, go on, George,” Mrs. Miske said. “I think tonight’s special enough for pop.”

“Right you are, Missus.” He held out two bottles. “Coke or cream soda?”

The jewel-red liquid called to Darius, and somehow Mr. Miske knew. He waggled the bottle. “Good call.” Then, because there was another guest at the table, he added, “Faye?”

Darius looked at his mother then, sitting with her hair draped wetly down her back. Alongside Mrs. Miske, she looked like someone who was barely breathing, someone who could be mistaken for a ghost. He looked back to the man of the house, waiting patiently in the drift of refrigerator light. Nobody to compare him to at all.

“Faye?” Mr. Miske said again. “Something to drink?”

“Oh.” She started as though shaken from a dream. “Water.” Then, after a moment, “Please.”

“Water.” He closed the fridge door. “I believe that can be arranged.”

4
The City Book
TUESDAY

D
arius takes the stairs up out of the valley at a sad-sack pace. He’s been up all night, with nothing to show for his trouble but grazed forearms and grass stains on his jeans. They’re just unlocking the doors at Castle Frank Station when he arrives; he’s the first to shove his token in the slot and descend. He waits at the edge of the platform. After a moment a grubby mouse shows itself, scavenging between the tracks.

It bolts for unknown quarters when the train pulls in. Darius steps aboard and lingers in the doorway’s hollow. Turning his back to the handful of other passengers, he catches himself in the glass. His reflection startles him: a twelve-year-old’s face on a tall, nineteen-year-old frame—still only one shave a week and that mess of brown baby curls. It’s enough to make a man lose track. Make him think he’s back in the mountains where that boy’s face used to belong.

He braces himself as the train begins to move.

He loves crossing the Don Valley. It’s been the highlight of every subway ride since he arrived in the city five months
ago—that moment when the train leaves its dank tunnel for the viaduct’s airy cage. He always makes it his business to stand in a doorway, even when it means shouldering someone out of the way. North-facing on the way downtown, south-facing on the way home—always the side with fewer girders, the clearest view down.

It made him giddy in those early days, feeling the long ravine open up beneath him. Much as he’d told himself he was done with backwoods life, there was something about that remnant of river stretched in its scrubby bed that caused the blood to thrill in his veins. When it was light out, the trees showed him their crowns, still black and bare; winter worked like an X-ray, the space between branches revealing riverbank and brush, trash-strewn campsites, snow and broken grass. When it was dark, the sunken forest grew. The river glinted. The roads—however jammed, however sparkling—were secondary. Some nights, they almost seemed to disappear.

Now, as the train makes that familiar leap, Darius feels the drop of the valley distantly. The trees have filled in, concealing the ragged camps. A girl and her dog are walking along the path below. He looks down on the pink shock of her hair, the wide black sway of the animal’s back. Pressing his forehead to the glass, he twists to keep them in view until the train burrows underground again.

As they pull into Broadview Station, he backs away from the door and sits, closing his eyes. Why this sudden stir of feeling, as though he’s caught sight of someone he knows? The girl is a stranger to him, and he’s seen scores of dogs passing below the train—dark or pale or one of a dozen middling shades. He’s watched them charge into the bushes or
keep like furry trams to the path. The owners are never far.

Except once, when there was no owner at all.

It must be two months ago now—the trees showing an early green haze of leaves—when he looked down from his doorway and spotted a canine with no true colour of its own. Its coat was made of the same clean, shifting light as the sky. There was something different about the way it moved too—none of the nose-down, empty-headed zigzag dogs tend to favour when forsaking a human path. This creature had knowledge of the field it was crossing. It advanced at a steady pace, its stride an easy median between a lope and a stroll.

It wasn’t Darius’s first. Having grown up in the Rockies, on the verge of a national park, he’d come across their scat more times than he could count, glimpsed flashes of pale fur between boughs. He’d even watched that mated pair on the gravel flat where the Bow River took one of a thousand turns. Grandmother had been the one to spot them that afternoon, pointing and holding her finger to her lips. The animals caught wind of them soon after. Stood stiff-legged, returning their stare.

Just let one of them try looking at him like that now.

He’s first off his car at Main Street Station, up and out into the breaking day. Half a block and he’s back under artificial light—the grey-blue lobby of his building, the panelled, vaguely pissy elevator to the twelfth floor out of twenty-six. The door to 1208 sticks like always; like always, he persuades it with the heel of his boot. No point opening the blinds, he’ll just have to close them again when he hits the sack. He crosses to the table. One chair for his backside, the other to hold up his feet. He ought to get himself an armchair, some middle ground between sitting up straight with rails at your back and
lying with nothing but two inches of foam between you and the wall-to-wall.

It takes a minute for the PC to come to life, several seconds more to bring up the blog. Six comments—more than he expected, given that somebody’s already torn all his flyers down. Only two of them talk any kind of sense: scum-hunter and #1lacrossemom. The others are weak-minded, the worst kind of sheep. One bleats loudest of them all.

soldierboy wrote …

Have you really seen coyotes in the Don Valley? Because I haven’t, and I’m down there just about every day. Either way, I have a hard time seeing what the problem is. You say coyotes are vermin and I guess you’re right, because if you think about it vermin is just a word for creatures that do well where we do. Mice get into grain silos or stocked-up cupboards. Cockroaches love all the warm houses we build. Some people might include raccoons on the list, and don’t forget pigeons and gulls. Of course there’s the example you already thought of, rats. And you’re right there too—rats and coyotes aren’t really all that different. Both are smart and resourceful, both thrive by adapting, both are warmblooded and bear live, helpless young. Can you think of anything else like that? Or anyone?

POSTED AT 10:37 PM, May 26, 2008

Darius feels a sudden chill in his spine, right where he
harbours the insidious beginnings of a stoop. How can words do that, leave you literally, physically cold? He’s tired, is all. He rubs his hands to get the blood into them, extends both index fingers and begins to type.

Coyote Cop’s Blog

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Thanks to all of you who wrote comments. Well most of you. But while we are on the subject lets get something straight. This is not some kind of conversation. This is a public service. Got that soldierboy? And by the way are you sure thats such a good name for a bleeding heart like yourself?

So your down in the valley every day. I wonder if you know anything about some flyers that have gone missing. Well I’d like to see you try and tear down this blog.

In answer to your question hell yes I have seen coyotes and plenty of them. They are down in the Don Valley and in just about every other park around town digging their dens and having their poor little helpless babies. If you want to sit around thinking about how much you have in common with them and your other rat and roach buddies be my guest. Eat all the garbage you like. Maybe even find yourself a carcass you can scavenge off. I for one know the difference between a man and a beast.

POSTED BY Coyote Cop at 6:47 AM

Bleeding heart
. There’s probably no point responding.
Boundaries, Stephen
, Mica would say.
It’s his stuff, not yours
. Which was always a bit of a mindfuck when you lined it up alongside the idea of oneness with all beings. In any case, he ought to be giving the kits their morning feed, then checking in with Guy to see what needs doing around the yard.

soldierboy wrote …

Which part of my name do you think doesn’t fit, the soldier or the boy? Because you can take it from me, soldiers bleed plenty, from their hearts and everywhere else. And as for boys, not all of us spent our time blowing up frogs and trying to stone birds out of their trees.

Seriously, though, I’m not trying to say we’re exactly the same as coyotes, only that we’re not so different.

You said I should find some garbage to eat. Ever hear of junk food? And that’s not even getting started on all the people in the world who crawl over landfill every day in search of a meal. As for scavenging, when was the last time the meat you ate was meat you killed? And anyway, where would we be without the vultures and the carrion beetles and, yes, the coyotes? Up to our necks in rot.

Look, I’m not trying to be an asshole. I’m just trying to make a point. I figure if you get that a coyote’s not so different from you or me, you might also get that it has a right to be here. To live out its life in the Don Valley or anywhere else.

POSTED AT 7:21 AM, May 27, 2008

There were fewer birds this morning: a balanced half-dozen, three buried, three tossed up to the lightening sky. Just like Guy promised, the spring migration is easing off. They’ll be safe now until fall—from high-rises, anyway. Nothing Lily can do about pesticides and picture windows, airplanes and slingshots and guns.

After all his good work, Billy’s earned himself a swim. Lily watches him from the bank. He’s up to his belly in the river, splashing like a fat kid, so happy he could be stoned. Still, it’s Billy who spots the woman first. He lifts his wet muzzle sharply, sees that the stranger isn’t male and relaxes back into the flow. Lily hesitates for a moment before stepping out from between the skinny trees.

“What a beauty.” The first thing she hears the woman say. Black shorts and a blood-red T-shirt, dark ponytail down her back. “Newfie cross?”

Lily nods, the two of them standing side by side on the bank, watching Billy flop over in the muddy shallows and roll.

“I’m Kate,” the woman adds.

“Lily.” It’s out before she can bite it back.

“Too bad it’s not deeper for him,” Kate says after a moment. “Looks like he’d love a proper swim.”

“Yeah.”

Lily’s sweating. Not the warm sheen of exertion Kate shows—every pore open and clean—but a secret, slippery chill, confined to the armpits and palms. It gets worse when she steals a glance at Kate’s face. She forces herself to look back at Billy. “You like dogs?”

“Love them.”

Lily looks around. “You don’t have one?”

“No, I inherited a couple of cranky old cats.” Kate interlaces her fingers, stretching her arms out in front of her before swinging them up over her head. “I work with dogs, though.”

“Yeah? Doing what?”

“Vet tech. Veterinary technician.” She releases her grip, letting her arms fall. “We do something like physiotherapy where I work.”

“Physiotherapy.”

“Uh-huh.”

“For dogs.”

“That’s right.”

Lily’s not sure what to say to that. Luckily, Billy’s sociable side gets the better of him then, and he leaves the water of his own accord. As he lumbers up the muddy bank toward them, Kate shows none of the usual caginess a wet dog inspires. When he shakes, soaking them both, she laughs out loud. Billy brightens at the sound.

BOOK: Fauna
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