This is Coyote’s sixth Christmas. She lives in the foothills outside of Boulder, off the Wonderland Trail and just up a drainage fi lled with brambles, clearly in the “leash only” area of the greenbelt.
She shares a den with an older male who has maybe one more litter in him and maybe two winters left, but not three. Last winter’s litter is gone to the four winds. Three females and one male made it. Two males died early. She is sad about that, but they aren’t the fi rst pups she’s lost to dogs and cougars and bad luck. The old male is asleep beside her in the den. She cares a great deal for him and shudders at the thought of living with a younger male when he is gone.
“The young ones aren’t worth a shit. Dudes … ,” she thinks.
He stirs and returns to his low snore that shecan’t hear anymore. She looks at him and sees a handsome mate if you don’t take into account a mangled ear, a couple of ragged battle scars and a broken tooth or two. He’s not the love of her life. That one disappeared years ago. This Old One is the one she has gone through time with and can’t imagine life without.
She paws him.
“Huh, what?” he mumbles.
“Evening hunt,” she says. “Snow is coming. We need to eat.”
“Hmmm, sure.” He stirs but crashes back out.
She knows that he will sleep until dark and then maybe go downhill for dinner. He’s field smart — he can provide for a litter and her in a couple hours of hunting a day. And he’s inventive with a squirrel or a fat house cat or Mexican leftovers from the dumpster, depending on his mood and the abundant opportunities. It doesn’t matter if he misses a meal and, even if he has to sit-out a snowstorm, his pot is substantial enough to sustain him.
She licks his head just above his closed eyes and crawls out of the den.
She quickly looks in all directions and sniffs the wind. There is no obvious threat and the wind smells like snow. December isn’t a big snow month in the foothills unless it is a BIG snow month. She knows that the first thing that has to happen is serious cold and a storm that is substantial enough to make it over the mountains. Most storms come from the northeast, but there is the occasional Decemberstorm that makes it over the Divide from the Gulf of Alaska and just locks up Boulder for a couple days. It smells like that storm is coming.
She’s big for a female, almost as big as her mate and as strong as he is now. She is in her prime with a full coat of browns, blondes, greys and blacks that almost shimmers as she canters downhill. She stops near the top of the Old Kiln Trail and takes a healthy dump on the gravel.
“Let the runners know that they don’t own this trail,” she thinks. “Body-Nazi dipshits.”
She stops for a while and looks down into the valley fi lled with thousands of houses, some decorated with colored lights.
“Pretty,” she thinks. “At least for the Holidays they get their heads out of their asses long enough to appreciate family and friends and the season.” She heads downhill and north to The Terrace, a locals’ restaurant among the warehouses filled with forgotten stuff, small businesses going nowhere and studios for half-good artists on the far edge of town.
“Hey, illegal,” she yells.
“Hey, scavenger,” he answers.
She smiles as much as she can she smile for her friend, who sits in the cold on a milk crate outside the restaurant, smoking.
“Feliz Navidad, Mexican,” she says.
“Merry Christmas, Coyote,” he responds.
“How do you know I’m a Christian?” she asks.
“Shouldn’t you be wishing me ‘Happy Holidays’ so as not to offend me if I am not a Christian.?
“Bullshit, Coyote,” he says. “Christmas isn’t just about religion. It’s about a time for family and friends. It’s for all of us even if we are Arabs or Jews or lawyers.”
“What do you have against Arabs and Jews that makes you want to compare them to lawyers?” she asks.
“Coyote, my country is being ripped apart by criminals — innocents, women and children are gunned down in the streets by coke-crazed narcos. The same thing is happening to Arabs and Jews, their lives are run by thugs, miscreants and power whores. No one in the middle is standing up and saying, ‘Basta! We want to raise our children and build our businesses in peace.’”
“So what are you doing about the mess in Mexico?”
The Mexican stares at his cigarette and carefully answers. “I am supporting my family in Oaxaca. My son will go to college, as will my daughter, God willing. Maybe she will make a difference. I am doing the best I can.”
“It’s okay, Mexican, I understand.”
“And you, Coyote, what have you done for the world today?”
“Nothing, Mexican,” she answers. “I slept next to my best friend and I took a crap on a running trail, but my day is young, and maybe I can do some good.”
“Make sure you do, Coyote. What is it you wish to dine on this evening?”
The Mexican returned with a tub of table scraps that the Coyote gobbled.
“Good,” she said and belched. “Will you make sure that the Old One gets the same if he comes around?”
“Por supuesto,” he said.
“Mexican, I wish you were with your family tonight.”
“I wish I were with my family tonight.”
“Yes, soon, Coyote.”
“Feliz Navidad, Señor.”
“Merry Christmas, Amiga.” The Mexican returned to his kitchen and the Coyote began her patrol of the warehouses. Like any survivor, she maintains a routine, but never takes exactly the same route for fear of ambush. She is still looking for food, something to take back to the den, a mouse or a slow rat, a bag of chips, but a Shih Tzu would be perfect.
She sees a flare of sparks in the cold night air and calls on the Artist.
“Coyote, I see you sitting out there. Please come closer.”
“Artist, are there any big dogs around?” she asks.
“No, only Sam the Wolfhound/Sheepdog, who likes you.”
“Because he wants to make a litter with me.” “It could be a worse mix.”
“Tell him to cool it. The Old One would rip his dick off.”
“He knows that.”
Coyote comes closer to the metal sculpture and the arcing sparks.
“Artist, it is good. It is cold, but it stirs something in me as if it were alive inside its skin of steel.”
“Thanks, Coyote. I could make a living if art critics could see the same thing.”
The Artist turns off her grinder and sits on in a rusty folding chair. She throws an old sleeping bag over her and reaches down to take a pull off a bottle. “Coyote, how is the Old One? I don’t see him so much anymore.”
“He’s good. He has slowed down after the last litter, but will be down tonight. There is snow coming, and he hates to hole-up for a couple days on an empty belly.”
“And what will you do when he is gone?” the Artist asks.
“Artist, I have learned from you … life goes on.”
“You know I still miss him?”
“He would work until three in the morning to get a sculpture right. And then he would fall asleep beside me smelling of oil and steel and sweat. And, in the morning, he would want to fool around as soon as he woke up.”
“And you would say?”
“And he would say?”
“Sure, Babe,” and get up and go to work.
“And, as Christmas approaches, where do you think he is?” asked the Coyote.“Someplace better.”
“It’s a place where Art is as important as bucks and that the will to create something from your imagination is valued in the same way that we value the will to gain power is today.”
“And anything else?”
“Yeah,” the Artist said. “I hope he gets laid all the time until I get there.”
“And then, when you get there?”
“He’ll say, ‘I missed you more than you can know.’”
“And you’ll say?
“Ditto. Is once a week enough?”
“And he’ll say, ‘Sure Babe’ and go to work.”
The Coyote walks over to the sleeping bag and puts her chin on the Artist’s leg. Sam wakes and ambles out to the two females and sits opposite the Coyote.
He looks up at the first snowflakes coming down, then he looks at the Artist and the comely Coyote. She snorts and he sighs and lies down beside the Artist.
“Merry Christmas, Artist. May someone buy your art.”
“Merry Christmas, Coyote. May the Old One live for five more winters. And may you die together in a warm den.”
Coyote turns south, working the neighborhoods and heads to Boulder Creek. She has a full belly and has visited friends. There’s one more friend to check on before the storm hits and maybe there will be a shot at a Shih Tzu out for an evening pee.
The neighborhoods of north Boulder are lit with holiday lights and shine a warm yellow from their windows on the lawns. Easy to traverse unseen. There isn’t a black bear, fox, coyote or mountain lion who doesn’t know how to do it.
Downtown Boulder is a bit more of a problem. A coyote could get run over by a cop chasing a drunk driver if she doesn’t watch out. She sneaks carefully down the alley north of Pearl Street and turns south on 15th, crosses Canyon Boulevard and carefully walks in front of Liquor Mart.
“Hey, drunks!” she calls out.
“Hey, dog,” a drunk answers.
“Merry Christmas.” “You too, dog.”
She works her way to Boulder Creek Trail and then up to the 6th Street Bridge next to the Justice Center. She stops and sniffs the air for her friend.
“Sarge,” she calls out.
“Over here,” he says from under the bridge.
He’s 30, or maybe he’s 60. Hard to tell. His face is sunburned, and he walks with a limp. He has laid out his mat and sleeping bag carefully so that he can hardly be seen from the cement trail. His gear is around him neatly, as if he could fi nd anything he needed in a second and could be gone in a minute or two with all his belongings in his backpack.
She hunkers down next to him so that she too will be hard to see.
“So, how are you doing, Sarge? You got enough to eat and drink?”
“Yeah … did some work for a guy today. Fed me and gave me some cash. I bought enough food for two or three days and a half rack of beer. I’m good.”
“So, you know a bad storm is coming?”
“Yes, it feels like snow,” he says and takes a sip of his beer.
“You know you could die out here?”
“Yup, but could have died in a lot worse places.”
“And you aren’t going to the shelter?”
“Can’t walk the three miles up there. Knee went out after I finished work.” “Jesus, this isn’t any good,” Coyote says.
“The Mexican at The Terrace wanted to make sure I did something good tonight.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Merry Christmas, Sarge. You are going to have a two-dog night and see tomorrow,” she says as she moves up close to him to keep him warm. “The Old One will come looking for me if he doesn’t find me at home. He always does.” “God’s dog?” “Yeah, that’s what they call us, so long as we don’t eat their pets.”
Long-time contributor Alan Stark owns and operates Boulder Bookworks. His last story for the Gazette was “Naked Streets,” which appeared in #173.