I left, I was hunted.
I clung to comfort, I was hunted.
I returned and was eaten.
“The coyotes got Minnie.” My stepfather was talking about one of the barn cats. He looked at my wet eyes and said, “They’re feral. Usually they can defend themselves.”
My mother added her usual universal-religious-philosophical-maternal explanation. But my stepfather kept track of the cats. Even had the females spayed. This was the second kill this week. “They’re not afraid of the dogs, anymore.” He was talking about his rowdy pack of hunting dogs, kept in basic kennels behind the house.
And I thought that’d be the end of it. Of the tiny matte-black kitty I’d played with almost every day since we moved here. But the next morning, my stepfather slipped out the door. He selected a rifle from the retired horse trailer he’d fashioned into a gun locker.
Before the sun. Before the turkeys in warehouses lined up for acres began shrieking from the heat of August and claustrophobia. Before their panic stretched for miles. In this slip of pre-dawn when it was cool and starless, my stepfather went looking for coyotes.
A single shot. And the field dawned with screams.
When he came back, he looked at me in the doorway. “She was pregnant.”
I shrugged, but I understood who.
Later, I worried I’d come upon a body. Trace a streak of blood to its last spill of life surrendered in some ditch, puddled thick. I knew I shouldn’t go walking in the field that day; I should wait for the buzzards to come first.
The afternoon was hot and stagnant. I laid on my back on the trampoline, my bikini top pulled taut across my flat chest. I squeezed my pelvic muscles so hard my body felt limitless. The sky never felt deeper. My eyes pushed past sparse clouds, pushed into everything. And saw none of it. Only the same blue.
I wondered if my stepfather had pointed the rifle up, instead—meat from my cat’s bones now digesting in the coyote’s gravid belly. But I hoped the coyote had enjoyed fullness before my stepfather shot her down. I pictured a raw, matted lump somewhere close by, sending signals to the buzzards.
And I heard the first soft cries.
Not far off in the open field.
Rhythmic notes. Familiar, though not human. My skin tingled from too much sun and curiosity. I swung over the side of the trampoline and entered the hip-high grass that tickled my bare legs. Hunger trickled through lean blades. Small, steady sounds. I followed deeper.
I didn’t care anymore if I found blood. Or a body.
Or a newborn.
I only cared that I found it alive. Before the hounds were set loose.