Helena hears the coyotes howling. They hurl distended vowels – O’s and U’s – into the dark as they pound through the forest behind the house. They must have especially supple lips and tongues to make those chilling, semi-human sounds, she thinks. The yip-howls intensify and her slight frame trembles.
Helena knows the coyotes have a deer or maybe someone’s dog in sight. In the cartoons of her childhood, it would have been a chicken. She wonders what she will do if the wild dogs are suddenly in her yard. She is afraid of many things: bees, free-roaming sharp-beaked geese, speaking in public, abrupt noises, being in a forest without a man-made path, ice.
Right now, standing on the deck, one hand on the door, ostensibly for balance, she feels the way she does when driving alone in the remote black of night. Once, traveling the highway that hugs Lake Superior, she spent hours gripping the steering wheel and chanting “I am with you always, I am with you always.” God’s reassurance against hitting a moose. Helena believes God would protect her against night rambling animals. Better to invoke His goodness than to slow, or stop, or fix a whistle to the hood of her Subaru, the way truckers do on their big rigs, even though hitting a moose would only damage a transport, not kill the driver. Helena doesn’t believe God would let her die. Although he might test her, she thinks now as the howling subsides.
The coyotes have passed. Remnants of their yelps float in the cold, fall air and Helena imagines this absence of sound is what lingers after the frenzied hounds of a traditional fox hunt pass through. Not that she would ever be anywhere near a fox hunt.
So much is so different here, this place where yesterday she saw a bumper sticker saying “Kids who hunt, trap and fish don’t mug old ladies.” A place without any of the totems of city life. No big box stores trailing neon into the washed out sky, just crystallized black air and freshened wind. A few days ago, it was so quiet that from her yard, she heard the beating of a swan’s wings as it crossed the water, pounding like a helicopter made of cotton batting.
Helena is not sure she likes it here, although there is a gracious rhythm to this life. Still, there are many things she would no longer do: Streak blue into part of her jet black bobbed hair. Lose her temper over errant customer service. Buy an erotic book. She does wish she could convince new friends and service people to pronounce her name correctly. It’s the European pronunciation, she has explained repeatedly. He-LAY-nuh, not HE-leh-na.
Image: Rufino Tamayo, Coyote, 1950, via Art Knowledge News