The coyote hunkered under streetlight. Skinny and feral, lean in pure purpose, sinewy, it looked back at Donald and then trotted off toward skyscrapers, lifted in the glittering distance of nighttime Los Angeles. It was a hot August Friday night, conducive to insomnia and the sort of behaviors that had the city — at least its northeastern part — wearing a sonic garland of sirens. A man crawled around his pool and made canine noises. It was a sort of mating call.
Donald had opted for a feral approach to life, the pressures of the office and his marriage obliging him to snarl instead of smile, at least after quitting time. Knowing this, he attempted a fraternal howl; it came out as a croak.
Beyond the chain-link fence the coyote looked back, as if annoyed, and then moved on.
Donald rose and entered his house. He lived with his wife on a hilltop in South Pasadena, near the L.A. border. The house had been designed by him on modernist principles, with pure angles and hard surfaces. Karen looked at him.
“Are you barking again?”
“I looked into his eyes,” Donald said. “We made a connection.”
“Why don’t you start a website for human-coyote hookups?”
He ignored the barb. “I wonder what their lives are like.” He paused. “They seem to live over there, near El Sereno.”
“Well,” Karen said, “property values are cheaper there.” She gestured toward the recesses of a less-desirable zip code. “I mean, on the Los Angeles side.”
She had wanted their kid to attend the South Pasadena schools. That’s why they had bought the house here. However, she had developed female troubles, and the marriage had been childless. His children, in consequence, became the children of the night, the howls that would have pleased a vampire’s hearing. Like now, a ululating with an oddly tinny resonance, inspired by a siren somewhere in Highland Park.
“Isn’t it awful?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “There’s a certain plaintive quality.”
“You would say that. I bet you’d like to be a coyote. To hunker in a hole all day and hunt stray cats at night.”
“I don’t like cats, that’s true.”
She snorted. “At night you come out to listen. What’s next? You’re going to talk to them? What’s up with that?”
He hated her attempts at trendy speech. “They’re real.”
“You don’t know what’s real,” she said.
A wailing in the distance, a shrill sound.
“There!” He pointed outside. “That’s real.”
“Why don’t you just join them?”
“Maybe I will.” Donald stood and walked out the door and into the heated evening. He heard the howls, and he turned in their direction, going across the street and into the hills. He hiked up the street, passing above South Pasadena, the blue oblongs of swimming pools below. He passed people watching television inside; something about the heat of the night made the TV’s phosphor light look radioactive, as if the houses might explode. Soon, the grading dropped off, became hilly. He walked over the foundation where the Castros’ house had rolled down the hillside when last winter’s rains broke the drought and sent real estate tumbling.
He neared the humbler abodes of the Los Angeles community of El Sereno. That’s when he saw the coyote. It lumbered ahead, its form outlined in the updraft of yellow light. It slithered under a chain-link fence. Donald reached the fence and couldn’t advance. The coyote looked at him once and left.
The police siren neared, and the coyote howled. It was an ancient language, far older than these gouged hills, and joined others in a harrowing chorus. They sang; they did not sing to him. But he could sing to himself. Alone, he dropped to four limbs and howled.