Gyre Country

by Sarah MacKenzie

Sarah MacKenzie has nearly graduated from Concordia University, where she received the 2016 Irving Layton Award for Fiction. She has published stories in The Stoneslide Corrective, Bad Nudes, The Void Magazine, and Plasma Dolphin.

He stopped to ask directions but there were none.”— James Tate

In the dead centre of the valley, the neighbourhood inebriate thwacks his quarter-leg against an old, sunken bunker with the rude architecture of a tomb. No one knows how he lost the other three quarters of limb and he’s always too drunk to say. Dewey and I sit on a rock plateau eating burgers and watching him.

“Anemone?”

“Yes?”

“Do you want to marry a coyote?” Dewey asks.

“I don’t know,” I say.

“Then why would you?”

“Because my future is abstract, Dewey. This is an option, at least.”

Dewey Price has a terrible name and a corpulent head, so burdened by itself that sweat beads burst out at random. When we climax, we reach a state of entropic sameness—my ugly head, his ugly head. It’s great.

I’m not sure it would work with a different species and it seems too degrading to try. Lately, I’ve been contemplating things I never thought I would, but right now there’s a swell of coyotes circling the premise, and the other week one of them proposed to me. This is no common drollery; there is a coyote pandemic and everyone’s great at ignoring it.

Dewey looks at me (mayonnaise leaking from my mouth) and says, not for the first time, “I really appreciate the way you eat meat.”

“Ugh,” I say. Men get off on my only feral quality. So embarrassing to have all of my new sex appeal distilled into the common chew. I turned 19 this month.

A coyote with a cleft chin pelted a rock through my bedroom window last week, while I was sleeping. The rock struck me square in the head. I don’t think he meant to give me a concussion, just a bad case of slippery grip. In any event, there was a note elastic-wrapped around it that contained a poorly scripted wedding proposal—more of a demand, really (shameful spelling).

“I don’t think you should marry a coyote,” Dewey says.

“You have a bias in the matter,” I say.

“What if you’re pregnant?” Dewey asks.

“Why would I be pregnant?”

“I don’t know. I mean, if you were pregnant, would it still want to marry you? If your womb was already occupied?”

“I don’t know. He would probably just eat the baby. Besides, all the babies here are wack.”

“Maybe there’s a way to avoid the coyotes entirely,” Dewey says, “or to dupe them.”

“They’re everywhere. The whole place is dummied up about it, Dewey.”

Dewey rubs two thick pieces of mulch together till disintegration. “We should set the whole place on fire.”

The drunkard is bawling at the bunker doors to open up, but everyone knows they are soldered shut with age (familiar soot has cemented in the cracks).

“I don’t know that it deserves to burn,” I say.

“I have some money saved,” he says. “We could share it and leave.”

“You know I can’t go without my mom. As for arson, you’re being selfish. Think of all our neighbours who would burn. I don’t want to make my start in this world by preying on people.”

“Some world,” Dewey says. He picks at a scabbing tree in front of us and pries a wad of bark off. There are maggots underneath.

“Gross,” I say.

Dewey sighs. “Wood rots, you know?”

I already feel uncertain about these coyotes. They swallowed Dad’s urn—although, it wasn’t quite an urn (funds were limited and Dad loved canning so we opted for a mason jar). I’m still not sure why we left Dad outside that night, but Mom doesn’t like to talk about it and I don’t like to think about it. I had run into the yard and said, “Hey, I want that back,” because it was all I could think to say.

“It’s too late now,” the coyote said, belching out cinders.

“What did he taste like?” I asked.

“Who?” the coyote asked.

“My dad. You swallowed my dad.”

“Oh. He tasted like crap,” the coyote said and then swaggered to the shrubs and retched liquid black onto the grass. The air smelt horrid after that, so I went back inside and cried.


The lark that lives in our gutters scoffs as I walk through the front door and I scoff back—we are contemptuous friends. At home, the TV on the counter is recycling the same “Low-Cost Accidental Death Insurance” commercial coalesced with a soap opera and Mom continues to sob to Bach with a half-stuffed teddy bear in her arms. Classical music plays at all hours—there’s something for Mom’s every mood, but nothing for me.

“Our shopping malls are dying,” she says through sobs. There is a newspaper in front of her.

“But you barely go shopping,” I tell her.

“No one likes the feeling of degeneration, sweetie,” she says.

‘No one likes the feeling of degeneration, sweetie.’

I open the cupboards and the cupboards are empty. “Did you buy Bugles?”

“They weren’t on sale.” So embarrassing to have to budget for the Bugles.

Teddy bears and a mess of fake and real flowers are strewn throughout our home. Mom’s job exposes her to a variety of front lawns daily, and she always picks up the discarded furnishings and décor on driveways. She’s garnered an ever-growing number of old portraits, which always go in my room.

Mom works for the city. People carve their political woes into exhausted barn wood—I always wonder how much time is spent ornamenting this kind of dissent—and Mom circles the town, uprooting their stakes from soil. The job pays well for what it is, but we bear the brunt of all this sequestered hostility. Everyone knows she takes down their signs and their signs are important to them. Personally, I’ve never been one for whining because I know how the sound just catches and ricochets off the fencing; I loathe the motion of an echo.

Mom’s other job is to write weekly horoscopes for the local newspaper under the pseudonym Marta the Mistress Psychic. We like this bit of mischief: the same people who hate her for taking down their signs are the ones who internalize her predictions for their futures. She is so powerful in that way.

Today, there is a framed sailor in a red hat that wasn’t there before; he hangs on the back of my door because that’s the only space that’s left. The misfortune is that the second-hand things spout many more hands than you bargain for and they tug at the ceiling strings till the roof is ripe to flop. Oh, we are old—our architecture says so!

“Mom!” I call out. “The ceiling is breaking.” I hear her weeping so I fix duct tape into place, and, cracks resolved, I settle into the bum-divot of mattress where I sit every night for the same melodrama. Through my empty window frame, I have full view of the Werthers’ kitchen. In the perfect centre, beneath a suspended light bulb, the Werthers cut deep into each other in bantam, creative ways.

Mrs. Werthers is wrenching a screw into the drywall that Mr. Werthers erected two days ago. Mr. Werthers is dishevelling chicken potpie that Mrs. Werthers baked yesterday and eating none of it. It is a dangerous and wordless game. These bodies are liable to devote themselves to all sorts of fictions.

I, for one, have been lulling about a current with no knowledge of the larger (or god forbid, smaller) body of water the tide is inching towards. I know it is a lonely float and I know all I have are peripherals. I turn out the lights and Bach whimpers a dim symphony to me in my sleep. I have another dream in which I’m a farmed salmon, half-blind and cut-price.

I wake at 6 a.m. and there is a coyote staring at me from my empty window frame—precisely the coyote that pelted a rock through my windowpane last week. The dimple in his chin rests pronounced on my windowsill.

“Oh, it’s you,” I say.

“Have you considered my proposal?” he asks.

The trouble is, these are prodigious coyotes and our neighbourhood is without a spine. Once, there were straight lines, but they have since spiralized into a gyre of sorts. There was a lot of discourse surrounding the varying safety of certain shapes, but it seems to me that the discussion was a farce because the streets were spiraling of their own accord. Depending on what side of the street you were on, your yard either expanded or compressed. Ours compressed but this turned out to be not such a bad thing when the coyotes started digging up everyone’s backyards anyway.

People bury the things they hate and don’t want to see or know about and the coyotes come by at night, dig them up and swallow them whole.

People bury the things they hate and don’t want to see or know about and the coyotes come by at night, dig them up and swallow them whole. I’ve watched them; they don’t chew, just swallow. They stalk the streets at night and we ignore them, except for when they eat our cats—then we hate them. The more they swallow, the bigger they get. But up till now, they’ve mostly kept to themselves. Imagining them as the skimpy, halfway size they should be makes me squirm, and I suppose it was precisely because their size was so stifling that they had to do something about it.

“Everything comes to an ugly head,” Mom says, usually with tears rolling from her eyes.

“You gave me a concussion. Also, I can’t marry a coyote,” I say.

“You have a hearty shape,” he tells me.

“Okay,” I say. I assume it’s meant as a compliment, but I can’t say it’s one that I like.

“I’ve watched you eat cows,” he says in a way that makes me feel as if we’ve been quite intimate with one another.

“What?”

“Meat.”

“Oh.”

“It is great.”

“Ugh, okay.”

“What is your name?” he asks me.

“Anemone,” and I don’t pause because I know he will need an explanation. “It’s a genus of flowers and also a group of predatory marine animals.” When Mom named me she failed at being interesting, meaning that in 1998 there were few chances for originality, so she opted for something ugly. Everyone trips over the sound of me.

“Predatory?” he asks.

“Yes, with stinging polyps. Venom filled tentacles.”

“That doesn’t suit you,” he says.

“Okay. What’s your name?” I ask him.

“I don’t need one. I’m a coyote.”

I sigh and say, “You see, our conversations would be no good.”

“I ate your neighbour’s cat.”

“Pimms?”

“Yes. It was old and bad, but it walked right in front of me.”

“She was blind, so that makes sense,” I say. “I’m just wondering, if I were to refuse your proposal, would you eat me instead?”

“Probably,” he says. “I haven’t been watching you this long for nothing.”

“Hmm,” I say. “That really puts me between a rock and a hard place.”

“What?”

“Never mind. Could you leave?” I say.

No one has any idea what the coyote pit looks like and no one cares to find out. After all, they’ve been gobbling down our garbage for years now. Confronting that much corrosion could kill us.

It veers left and looks behind at me as it retreats into shrubbery. The coyotes have settled in the pit of this spiral. Everyone knows, so no one takes that final arc into the centre. I’m effectively a backdoor neighbour with the coyotes; I live one swirled street from the centre, but a barrier of pines at the threshold of my backyard has always blocked the view. No one has any idea what the coyote pit looks like and no one cares to find out. After all, they’ve been gobbling down our garbage for years now. Confronting that much corrosion could kill us.

I am marked. I’m going to get my death insured, for Mom. So embarrassing to have to deal with wedding proposals from feral animals.


Tuesday through Friday, I work at a second-hand store (naturally, I am always wearing old Nikes). After work, I pass by little Franny Coones sitting vacant and dazed on a wooden rocking horse in the middle of the driveway, her head lolling all over the place. I wave at her and she looks at me with suspicious and sidelong eyes. I’m told the coyotes ate the Coones’ dog this morning.

One time, I watched Mr. Coones bury a fat stack of papers in his front lawn’s garden bed. I walked by and said, “Sir, your hydrangeas are going to die,” because the soil was strewed everywhere.

“Mind your own business,” he scowled at me. “The backyard is already full.”

Later I came by and dug up the first page. It repeated things like, “I got caught in her arm. I got caught in the net. I got caught in the cracks. I got caught in the bed,” over and over and over again. I think it was a failed novel.

Once I’m seated at the insurance office, we dive straight into the death talk. The man behind the desk is mostly repulsive, just a slate of excess skin really, with a hole in his face for speaking. There is a pitcher of cornflowers on the right and a plate of dishevelled lemon curd on the left.

“I’m here for Low-Cost Accidental Death Insurance. Please.”

“Just taking some necessary precautions?”

“Yes,” I nod.

“Good girl,” he nods. “Guardians or dependents?”

“My mom.”

“And your father?”

“Dead.”

“Pity. Cause of death?”

“A bad case of botulism.”

“That strikes me as a rather anachronistic way to kick the can.”

“So I’m told.”

“Was his death insured?”

“No.”

“Pity. I’m afraid you’ll have to pick out a womb while you’re at it.”

“A womb?”

“No, I said a tomb.”

“I get a tomb?”

“Yes, it’s part of the package.” His smile is hysterical. I wish I could pin it into an appropriate place.

“What’s the cheapest option?”

“That would be stucco.”

“I’ll take it,” I say.

“It will look like a doghouse,” he says.

“It’s fine.”

His skin sags further down, perhaps a gesture of pity. We fill out the necessary documentation and I leave. I feel that I have a smart relationship to death. That is, I don’t want to die but I recognize that it would be a lot worse for Mom than it would be for me, and when I watch TV, I realize that the things I am living for are small things, and the coyotes in this neighbourhood are bigger than the people. Still, so embarrassing to have to commit your corpse to stucco.

I come home to a sloshed teenager, his knees sunken into my front lawn, puking. The lark and I hiss at each other before I walk through my front door. Mom is sitting at the kitchen table, weeping. Oh boy, these bodies are liable to expel all sorts of things when they’re squeezed tight enough.

“How was work?” she asks, the skin on her face heavy and lined.

“Fine.”

“I’ve been mulling things over,” she says, “and maybe it’s not such a bad thing for you to marry into the coyote ring.”

I stare at Mom’s oblique stomach, the rogue curvature. I have always been able to see the small sphere from which I entered this world. Her stomach has remained distended since my birth, womb in full sight. I think I like the idea of a womb in an almost sickly way. In my most ideal future that is where I go, that is what I grow into.

I think I like the idea of a womb in an almost sickly way. In my most ideal future that is where I go, that is what I grow into.

“It’s just . . . to be honest, I think it might be the best shot you’ve got. It could mean a lot of security for you. And you’ll always be around the corner,” Mom offers.

She starts sewing me a patchwork bridal gown. I don’t think I have anything to worry about though, because she has a thimble on every finger and the needles slip straight through till the dress is just a tight pile of pricks and worn scraps of fabric.

“It’ll be ready soon,” she says.

It’s all very bleak. I head straight for the pines. My whole hearty body leaks through the tree trunks like spilt curd till I’m on the other side—and my god! There’s a reason it’s been darkling: these coyotes are moiling away at the foot of a pagoda! It’s very impressive: immaculate shingling and 20 feet high already.

My fork-faced fiancé appears on my right.

“This is my home,” he says. “It turns out we have a knack for shingling.”

“But it’s a pagoda,” I say. “Are you religious?”

“No, just architecturally ambitious,” he says.

I nod.

“Are you here to marry me?” he asks.

“My options are getting increasingly limited, so maybe.”

I spot a teenager hopping around in the centre of the pit with his feet tied, bound to a bout of fisticuffs with a coyote cub. I’m beginning to think these coyotes have a grand plan—although, for all its largeness, I’m not sure it makes any sense.

“Look,” I say, “why do you want to marry me?”

He looks down at me kind of contemptuously, with eyes bored and bordering on human. “Because I can’t think of anything better to do.”

In my head, I’m writing my own dirge. In my hand, a coyote paw rests content with human flesh and the prospect of interspecies marriage. I go home for a good night’s sleep and my patchwork bridal gown.


In my dream, I am spiraling. I am tied to Mom, at a great distance, by an umbilical cord, so that it is easy for her to spool me in. I am coiling rapidly, until I snap into place—straight into the womb and my own spine feels like venom, so when I wake in the morning to the sound of—oh no, Tchaikovsky is the soundtrack to our putrefaction. Mom will hate that; better Beethoven or something terminal. Anyway, so when I wake in the morning to the sound of Tchaikovsky, I know I have to leave. You could pretend that it is for no reason in particular, except that it is the day little Franny Coones is whisked away in broad daylight in the company of coyotes, and it is the day the coyotes have swelled to towering proportions (we are navigating through the dusk of their mobile shadows), and except that I know the spiral is clicking into place to consummate a circle. People start running around, mewling, in their own private spirals, babies flip onto their backsides, clucking their tongues like hens pining to be preyed upon, stucco unspools from soil, as if to admit its fraudulence all along, the carping lark in our gutter chokes on its own contempt and falls into a pot of fake flowers, the bunker in the dell’s centre incinerates itself into a cadaverine smog.

My own home coagulates under the weight of Mom’s tears and the mildew that’s surging from wall cracks. I pull Mom out of there after her own skin has begun to curdle (skin will wallow if you let it). Dewey’s gone because he should be. He should not be waiting for me.

It’s possible that the coyotes will swallow all the people, but it’s also possible that being swallowed has governed the slow motion of our lives anyway. Our queasy citizenry has always valued what is easy. We’ve been colluding with the cracks and the cracks bore us an apathetic coyote sovereignty. In any event, Mom and I will forsake the whole place to its fatal devices. The fencing is unflinching, but there is a way to never get caught, and that way is to always know you are a fish (touchy flesh, fins floundering but moving nonetheless: we zoom out, we get away, we prey on no one).

 


Sarah MacKenzie has nearly graduated from Concordia University, where she received the 2016 Irving Layton Award for Fiction. She has published stories in The Stoneslide Corrective, Bad Nudes, The Void Magazine, and Plasma Dolphin.

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