The first days were hardest. This, Alex thought, was no great insight. Grateful Dead lyrics, if he remembered correctly. “Come see Uncle John’s band…” and so forth. The heat during the middle of the day cooked him, and trying to find anywhere to take shelter was a big challenge. It wasn’t the Kalahari, but it was rough country. He was just glad he knew it. Knowing, however, didn’t buy you that much. Landmarks, distances, what to expect at various times of the year. Knowing, from a human’s perspective, wasn’t quite enough.
A lot to get used to. The quiet. The fact that there was no television to watch in the still of the evening. There were no paychecks to look forward to, and no beers to drink at the end of the day. Then there was the food. He remembered the first time he’d caught something, cracking the struggling lizard’s back between his back teeth and dropping it. He’d watched it try to claw itself forward across the slick rock, only its front legs still animate, a blood trail stretching from its pierced side. This had gone on for some time before the lizard had, at last, gone still.
The hunger in his stomach had finally decided it. He’d scooped it up and, chewing as little as he could, swallowed the dead creature down whole. The blood had tasted salty and disgusting on his tongue, and he’d skipped away, down to the shores of the shallow lake to drink the aftermath away. Since then, there’d been lizards, mice, a few snakes, countless insects, and one quail he’d surprised next to the split rail fence bordering the dusty road. He hoped for litter now. Sometimes there’d be part of a burger or a few stale French fries in the bottom of a wadded Burger King bag at the side of the road. Of course, things didn’t taste the same now, but he took what he could take. Coyotes always did.
Alex sat by the road, far enough back that the rooster tails of dust didn’t get him when a truck came barreling along, and looked up at the moon. That night, he’d eaten well enough, and it was comfortably warm that night. He rested his chin on his paws and listened to the sound of a Chevy small block recede, then an old Ford straight six come closer. At first, he’d come closer to town, desperate to see and hear and smell all that he’d been and known. The kids had thrown rocks at him from the patchy grass next to the cinderblock Community Center. One had hit him right on the hip, stinging like crazy.
He’d wondered if he could survive like this. He’d wondered if he wanted to. He couldn’t see a way back, not to walking upright and being what he’d been. His job at the power station was far behind now, and his little trailer probably given to one of the relatives he didn’t like much. If he wanted to end it, it would be easy enough to dart in front of a vehicle at twilight. If the tire him square-on, it would be quick. Just a sharp pain, then nothing. Someone would come by with a shovel or a stick and pitch him off the side of the road. The big ravens that lived by the lake and ate the marina scraps would come down on him when he started to stink, and the bugs would finish up after that. No remark, no remorse, no evidence of his ever having existed. Just like before. The world moves on, and taking one person out of it, even a person whose importance is lauded, means very little in the end. If he wanted to, he could just fade away.
But he found he didn’t want that. It was hard at first, and life was a progression of fears and hopes and hungers, but he guessed that was just the same as it had ever been. Things were just simpler now. A little owl fluttered overhead, lighting on the top rail of the fence. It had a mouse in its claws, and it ripped it up, swallowing each piece with a twitch of its head and a click of its beak. It turned its big, lamp-like yellow eyes to him and stared, like owls do. He wondered if they were wise, or if it was only the way they were shaped that gave that impression. His chin came up just a little. Alex wondered if he could move and leap quickly enough to catch it. Chances were slim. He didn’t try. There was always something. If it came down to it, he could always steal food from the cans on the verge of town. Maybe catch someone’s overfed house cat. For tonight, it was good enough to watch the road, and think of things that had happened to him back when he lived there.
These things I have been
roads walked, houses owned, people
I once cared about
The town once contained
me, I always looked outward
now I gaze back in
What was once a man
is now clad in fur and tooth
watching from the dust
Is there belonging
for any of us in life
should we expect it?
The violence of
blood on the tongue calls down peace
stomach once more filled
Moon above the sand
an owl upon the fencepost
the truck’s dust settles