Slanted shadows from the fence made a striped pattern across the pages Eva was reading. She looked up. The skyline faintly gleamed in the pallor of the lowering sun. She could see much of city center from her spot under the magnolia tree, and for a moment the view provoked the familiar ache in her chest. There were hospitable places down there, filling up with smartly dressed patrons leaving work, or women who had just gotten herbal-wrapped and manicured, or young men and their dates spending slim earnings on a perfect meal at an organic sushi spot.
Not Eva. Not now, maybe not ever again for all she knew. It’d be a book in the back yard and a night of t.v., or some soothing music and a long soak. Or, if she got lucky, maybe someone would return her call and she could meet up with a new friend in a church basement, where they would hear stories of addiction and recovery that made her own seem more bearable. But she wouldn’t be down there in the beautiful city, laughing and chatting at a crowded table, holding aloft another attractive drink before she downed it in a few long gulps. There might be sushi, but there wouldn’t be the beguiling warmth of vodka or rum wooing her until she fully surrendered and the world, as it was, disappeared.
Eva tossed the paperback and stretched her legs, toes flexing. She ran her tongue over her lips: salty. She had jogged for forty-five sweaty minutes after class, and had put off the obligatory shower. Tonight no one would notice if she showered or not. Some days it felt better to do less than more. It worried her. But as long as she didn’t get lazy, as long as she didn’t let her true priorities slip, didn’t succumb to that terrible desire for a drink, she would manage. She would stay sober and that meant she would be free to fully live each day, good, bad, indifferent. She would be conscious, not semi-conscious or unconscious as she had been for so much of her life already. So she was told, over and over.
The sun dropped lower and lingered there just long enough that a mirrored skyscraper and a rose-gold tower broadcast their dominance with a luxurious glow. Eva put her hand to her throat and took a breath that hurt on its way in and out. She so longed to go down there and join the gathering crowds. But she shrugged, leaned against the tree, counted each inhalation and exhalation slowly just as she had been taught. It didn’t really help.
There was a small movement to her left. Eva turned to see what it was. Nothing. She cocked her head and held her breath. It might be that runny-nosed kid from the second floor apartment again, trying to scare her. If it was, he’d go away if she ignored him. She had to learn to relax, that was all. Her AA sponsor had told her it might be like this for months, post acute withdrawal stretching and inflaming her nerves, making her both uneasy and lethargic, then injecting her with a surge of energy at three a.m. that set her reeling, afraid.
There it was again. A few feet away, the bushes swayed the slightest bit. Eva peered at them–she had seen a rabbit off and on, a gopher at work, even a rat once. She looked over her shoulder and checked the garbage; the lid was on tight. When she looked at the bushes again, her back tingled and she pressed her lips together to keep silent.
The coyote stepped out from the shadowy leaves as though from the darkened wing of a stage. He stood tall, large ears pricked and adjusted to all he heard. He glanced at her and then away. Eva was still, but not as still as the coyote as he rested on strong, lithe legs. His brown and black coat was thick and full, tail bushy and low. The coyote lowered his head, sniffed the grass and air, then loked up. He took a step toward her and halted. His almond, golden eyes sought hers. The fine head and bearing were dignified, calm, alert. Coyote held her gaze until she feared she would blink but if she did, she was certain he would leave, so she widened her eyes to better see his absolute beauty. Then his head bobbed slightly: a nod, a question, a signal.
He streaked across the yard, down the hill, and into the incipient dusk. Eva got up and tried to pursue him through the grass, long legs and bare feet flying, arms swinging. She wanted to call out despite the foolishness of it. She wanted to follow and see where this coyote was going–and why–more than she had wanted to know anything in weeks, months, maybe years.
At the bottom of the hill were blackberry brambles. Surely he didn’t race through those, she thought, but when she looked beyond them to the small water reservoir, she saw him loping around the fenced area. Eva watched him descend a second hill and a third, and from the trees and bushes, out of the air itself, was another coyote, then another and another until there were five trotting toward, then with, him. They gathered speed and as the sun covered itself with a now-electrified city, they vanished.
It was as though they were never there.
Eva stood and looked out over the glittering tableau and the mountain foothills behind it. They might live near her and be back. Or they might live in the hills and forest, forage miles away tomorrow. It was possible that her path might cross one of their’s. For now, this was it. Her meeting with coyotes on a June night. She had one other time seen coyotes in the desert, but never in her own back yard. She knew they were smart and wily and hearty. Monogamous and as at ease alone as in a pack. That they were great adapters. They endured in part because they cooperated intelligently with one another, and so they insured their survival. Coyotes, the Navajo said, are God’s dogs and have much to teach us.
Eva raised her arms to the sky, now gone soft with darkness, stitched with a few stars that still outshone the city. She had plenty of sky to observe tonight. Tomorrow she would scavenge for any curious things she could find–fanciful cloud formations, new blooms in the garden, a song, maybe a conversation with someone in the cafe down the street. Or maybe she would hang out in a used book store or go for a run in the woods. Make a call to a sober woman. But one way or another she would survive these times because she was stronger each day; she was discovering and creating new ways to live. Eva was just beginning to construct a real life, if she was honest.
It was, she told herself, a journey worth taking if she just kept on with it.