By Gail Wallace Bozzano
She doesn’t belong here, in this neighborhood, in this town, where hers is the only yard grown wild. Lured by good schools and green space, she and her husband moved from the city. Six months later, she’s half sorry. Suburban mothers are beautiful and fierce. Her friend-not-friend Roz, with the fox eyes and knife-sharp smile, pretends not to see her at school plays, at the second-grade curriculum night. Roz tosses her straightened hair, turns her back, chats with the chosen ones. Calls Iris a rebel but seeks her out when no one else is watching. Seeks out Iris’s daughter, shy Lily, as a playmate for her Peyton.
But Iris is also half grateful for the move. Her city friends don’t believe the way nature takes this town by storm. River otters tumble in the creek behind the hardware store. When rain drenches the streets, crawfish stalk the sidewalks, flashing pinchers when she gets too close. Red-tailed hawks snatch squirrels out of trees, disembowel baby rabbits on her patio. The world warms. The north side of Iris’s house is furred with moss. Bees drone in clover patches, in constellations of dandelions that spread across her grass. Iris grows her hair long and wild and walks barefoot when she can.
Roz drops hints that the girls should hang out at her house, in her dry basement rec room. Peyton likes to play school, to teach. Or, once the park dries out, they can take the poodle-doodle for a walk. Roz speaks of Zika, of Lyme, sings the praises of her landscapers. Maybe Iris would like to give them a call? Then she gets busy with her tennis games, her committees, her part-time job. Can Iris pick up Peyton after school? Iris says yes.
That morning, Iris drops off Lily, dries the dishes, gazes out the kitchen window. The patch of bluestem grass that marks the border between her backyard and the ballfields rustles. Trembles. A coyote steps into her yard, just like that. Wind ruffles its red-gold fur. Pricked ears swivel. It stares through the window, right at Iris, with ancient amber eyes. As if it owns the whole damp world.
Iris sets down the cereal bowl and wipes her hands with the dish towel. She taps the glass. The coyote pivots, pushes through the prairie grass, and lopes across the ballfield in a stride so smooth its back stays level with the ground.
She should warn the neighborhood, post on the online group that has replaced gossip over backyard fences. She glances at her laptop sitting closed on the kitchen counter. Again, she sees those eyes. That creature crossing property lines that, in its world, don’t exist. By the time she gets online, the coyote could be miles away. Anyhow, it lives here, too. Dozens do. People should know by now to watch their cats, their kids, their designer dogs.
She steps out into the yard. Breathes in the heavy scent of lilacs. Listens to the peepers trill. They are spawning in the puddle under the playset. Turkey vultures carve slow paths in the sky. She looks at the place where the coyote’s feet pressed down the dandelions and wonders if human bare feet feel the earth in the same way paw pads do.
That afternoon, Iris picks up the girls, brings them back to her house, feeds them grapes and tangerines. Tries to chat with Peyton, whose braids hang tight and straight, who raises her chin as if she knows the answer to every question ever asked. Iris gives up, sends the girls out to play. She picks up the broom and sweeps around the spider that has spun a web under the kitchen table.
The back door slams. Here is Lily, crying. “Peyton pinched me!” Iris kneels, hugs, soothes, strokes the reddening welt on Lily’s soft skin.
“She hogged the swing. I told her it was my turn and she pinched. Called me ugly. When I go to her house, she won’t let me play with her stuff. Her mom says I’m too touchy.”
Iris puts a hand on Lily’s head, on her daughter’s damp, curling hair. The sound of her sobs fill Iris with a rage that rises like a raptor spiraling on thermals. She moves to the window, raises a finger. She should tap the glass, call Peyton inside, and check her for ticks, for a bullseye rash. She should speak to her about kindness, about keeping her fingers to herself. She remembers the times Lily came home from Roz’s house silent, moody. She thinks of how coyotes will bring live prey to their dens to teach their young to hunt. The bluestem grass rustles as she watches Peyton playing in the wild yard.
Maybe the coyote is miles away. Maybe.