three men and one dead animal
BY BARRETT WARNER
I’d been thinking about Maine. Foolish thoughts. Heartbreak thoughts. Then I refused to think about Maine anymore. Instead, I drove to John Lory’s farm. He held a pitchfork. He said, “I just killed a damn coyote.”
I’d seen one or two in the past thirty years. “Did you use the pitchfork?” I said. I’d once killed a raccoon that way. Stabbed its lungs, then drowned it in a water tub.
He said, “Shotgun. Used the double buckshot. If I’d have known it was so close I’d have used the single buck.” I gave him the four hundred dollars I owed him for hay and corn. He said, “Thanks,” and limped towards the barn. “You want to see it?”
John’s brother who lived next door rode up on his chopper. “Sure enough,” Hank said. “You kill a coyote and someone from Texas shows up.” He was referring to me. It was the first time I’d heard him speak in 21 years. I’d seen him enough times, but he was mostly a head shaker, grinned when he shook no; frowned over his yes.
Hank begun pulling loose boards away and we peered closer. The coyote was small. Too small to be a coyote. And it was masculine. Even without its face we could see what it was. “It’s a damn fox,” John said. “I was sure it was a coyote.”
He apologized for the face. The shot had knocked its face off its head. Its head was like a bloody pulpy grapefruit halve. None of us wanted to grab it out of the dim stanchion.
“You want the pelt?” John said.
Next week my wife would turn sixty. “Happy birthday,” I imagined myself saying. “Sorry about the face.”
“Ought to carry that thing into that hollow over there,” Hank said. “Something will drag it off tonight.” Hank left and it was just John and me. Other than the obvious—the color of his hair and the shape of his body—I only knew two things about him. The first was that fifty years ago he was crossing a street to board a school bus and a car hit him and broke his legs. Never caught the guy. Second was that his father had once made him a push-pull—a moveable draw bar that turns the back of a wagon into the front of a wagon.
“My father made that push-pull,” he’d say, when he brought a wagon of hay.
I got in my car, but stopped at the edge of his corn to grab four ears. I turned to wave at him so it would seem more like borrowing than stealing, but his back was to me. He carried the fox on the tines like he was setting off to bury a cat.
Here’s the thing about Maine: I remember it mostly for the sex I almost had, the cabin I almost built, the strawberries I almost ate, the lake I almost swam, the loons I almost heard.