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Coyote's laughter

A short story set in Mexico

Cat Gonzales

On a starry June night in San Martin Obispo, the myriad odors of the countryside float on the air. Slightly menacing is the smell of the fire on the rocky hillside above my house, where slash and burn agriculture is still practiced. Thorny huistache bushes proliferate, as persistent as jilted suitors.

With sandaled feet I tread the path through the flower garden we planted two months ago. White flags, the common iris, release their fruity perfume. A low growing mint between the flagstones smells invigorating as I crush the leaves. My neighbor, Natividad, who knows a little about everything, uses it for a pain-relieving tea. Blue-green rue with a bitter skunky odor, brushes me waist high. I hope the skunks don't dig in the compost pile tonight.

I retreat to the house reluctantly to make sauce for the fat fish that Raymundo is cooking over the coals. I bite into a mango and the fragrant juice runs down my chin and then I fill the kitchen with the acrid, nose-irritating odor of chilis roasting on the iron grill. Raymundo says my normal way of cooking has no taste, so now I use chilies more often than dill and basil.

The coals of the mesquite charcoal glow and my señor puts the whole red snapper on to cook. The fish is a fat oval of soft mottled red. It is almost too beautiful to eat. We admire it in the light of one single bulb, for we are chary of using electricity. Our system is 12 volts and it will run one cassette player and two light bulbs comfortably at night. Solar energy is a satisfying way to create electricity, but one car battery doesn't store much.

Through the open kitchen window the succulent scent of the sizzling huachinango entices me. It makes me think of what I've seen in the larders of many of my neighbors: a few beans and dry corm to grind into tortillas.

I hear the seeking bark of the brown bitch that lives with our deaf 93-year-old neighbor, in a dwelling the size of our bathroom. Now that his dog has pups, his jacal must be pretty crowded. It is made of corrugated cardboard coated with tar and fenced with old bedsprings. The Dalmatian and the mestizo dog beside me answer the barked question. Our lucky dogs get to go to Jocotepec in the jeep sometimes. The bitch has to walk patiently beside the man and the white mule he rides daily into the pueblo to wherever it is that they feed him. He always returns with two plastic jugs of water which burden the hinny. People in San Martin say that some youths dumped his water yesterday while he slept.

Natividad is his niece. She appears on a big sorrel mare, riding at a bouncing trot, her long hair flying out behind her. She wears the usual colorless pants and shirt that have seen the sun for many washings. She is a small woman whose force of character looms large. She has lived for 30 years next door to the man who slew her husband in a hunting accident. She makes no comment about this unless one asks. Her daughter, who was seven months old when her father was shot through the forehead, now has children of her own.

We share the fish with Nati and listen to the laughter of the coyotes.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2001 by Cat Gonzales © 2008
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