When I was in high school, I was friends with a girl who worked for the furrier in the mall. Thursday afternoons and Saturdays the owner would buzz her through the front doors and she would become a part of another, more grown-up world for a few hours. The doors were glass, and on those days that I was hanging out at the mall I would pause in front of them, trying to see if my friend was working. The shop was tiny and the coats lining the walls made it look like some spoiled princess’s closet. I was desperate to go inside. I say desperate–it was a kind of sickness, really, that desire. It made me feel wicked. It made me wonder if I really liked my friend, or if I just wanted to be close to her because of those hundreds of lush pelts.
I never asked her if I could come inside when the owner was away. But my friend seemed to know it was what I wanted, and one Saturday afternoon she called to ask me to come to the store right away.
When I stepped inside, I was no longer a sixteen year-old looking to play in someone’s extravagant wardrobe. It felt dangerous to be there–but dangerous in a good way. My friend took down coats, one by one: fox and mink and coyote and ermine and lamb and rabbit. She explained about the different shades and types of mink, which was still fashionable then. She showed me the ones that were suitable for me–nothing with a red cast because my skin has too much yellow in it. And I learned that one should always make sure a fur compliments one’s hair. (Makes sense, I suppose. I’ve heard the same about hair and briefcases.)
Despite all the mink and fox around me, it was the coyote coat that I fell in love with. There was something about the pelts’ thickness and the variations of gray and brown in the coat that I found mesmerizing. I looked completely ridiculous in it–but that was beside the point. I couldn’t believe it had come from a reviled animal like the coyote.
We are surrounded by coyotes where we live. They breed deep in the woods along with the (surely) hundreds of deer who feed in the nearby pastures and orchards. The coyotes rarely come close to the house, preferring to stay away from us and our dogs. But just a few days ago, I was sitting on the front porch early in the morning and I chanced to see one up on the hill, near the deer trail.
I had seen pictures of coyotes, of course, but never a live one. And I confess that I didn’t get a very close look. But it was a silvery gray-brown shape against the tall green and gold grass, and it moved silently, headed for the still-cool woods. It was larger than I expected, and there was a kind of grace in its movement that I’ve never seen in a dog.
We’d been gone from the house for almost two weeks, and I suppose the coyote was emboldened, wanting to be closer to the deer. (Many of the does have fawns trailing after them these days; this evening I saw a single doe with two fawns crossing the road.) And in the coyote’s presence–his stealthy run along the deer trail–I saw hunger, and I recalled that long-ago hunger in myself, that sly, desperate need to be close to the objects of my desire, that hunger that can’t ever be truly satisfied.