by Rachel Ganz
In 2009, Taylor Mitchell, a 19-year-old folk singer, was found dead beneath two growling coyotes at a campsite in Highlands National Park in Cape Breton. I first read her story in Dan Flores’ nature thriller Coyote America, a book I thought would help me fight my growing fear of being eaten alive in my front yard. After some research, I learned that Taylor and I are from the same small neighborhood in Toronto. At the time of her death, she was touring the Maritimes, taking a break between gigs for some fresh air and hiking. She was caught, unprepared and plagued by her urbanity.
This spring, I moved temporarily to an area just North of Toronto where large coyotes beset my neighborhood.
At first, I felt unprepared.
All of a sudden, beasts were at my front door. I started sighting coyotes more often than wasps and each time I saw one, I froze in a sweaty panic. It’s one coyote, but then it’s a herd, running at me, dragging a rabbit carcass and some garbage, pinning me to the ground and gnawing on my fat, attacking my dog while neighbors fondle their phones, waiting on hold with the city.
Coyotes are common in Toronto. The signs in our parks tell me that they are harmless unless provoked. On some of them, white silhouettes of leaping coyotes demonstrate the agility of these wolf-hybrid city-hijackers while others feature photographs of coyotes at peace, standing by a fence or peeking out from behind weeds. I don’t trust signs. And I know, even if most coyotes are leaping, peaceful animals, there is plenty to be feared.
Descriptions of coyotes aggravate my memory. I’ve been there. Not dead. But, prey.
From comparable experience, I can survive the coyote and I’m recording my strategy here in case you’re ever caught camping in the wild.
To survive the coyote, you must:
3 . WAIT
End of winter, March 2021, 8:30 AM
I walk my dog, Mordechai, first thing in the morning. I see a woman walking her dog. I smile at her, and when she doesn’t respond, I notice the coyote standing five feet from her, grazing under a hedge.
He’s the size of my dog, 85 lbs, wolf-like, grey and brown coat, unbothered.
I feel instantly sticky. The coyote is growing taller. He’s looking through me, saying, “let’s get closer, Rachel.”
Mordechai yanks me forward, tearing at my shoulder.
I turn away, and we drag ourselves up a side street.
Benny towers over me, red and black short textured hair, an impressive beard, freckles, and a rectangular head that screams, “I CHOP WOOD.”
He’s hushed, everywhere. Not likely to nod agreeably or chuckle. He can either be found sitting on the ground, solemnly dreaming or else he’s fucking random strangers in classrooms. I love his versatility.
Late into the fall, I’m having a cigarette outside my dorm. Benny sees me and sits with me. I start babbling about nothing, our acting classes, the weather, home.
He interrupts me, “My roommate is going home this weekend. I might have a party.”
“Do you want to have a party in my room with me?”
His eyes meet mine, and I feel trapped: Make a bold choice or die.
I choke on an embarrassed “maybe” and go inside.
From then on, Benny stays away from me.
Start of April 2021, 12:30 PM, my parent’s backyard
Mordechai starts hysterically bark-yelling and jumping at something beyond the wire fence.
It’s a coyote, small and mangled.
If not for the fence, Mordy and the coyote would be nose-to-nose.
I cannot tell whether or not the coyote is in our yard or beyond the fence. All I see is my dog jumping at a very still coyote.
I start shrieking, grab Mordy by the collar and pull him inside where we sit and pant at the backdoor until I decide it’s time to walk home.
Clarence is thin, tall, messy hair. He is one year ahead of me in the playwriting program at The National Theatre School of Canada. In my first months of school, he bullies me, openly ridiculing my writing and my looks.
In March, we’re at a party. Clarence has had a great day. He’s paying exquisite attention to me, which makes me a drunk “yessir” kind of woman for the evening. We have prickly flash-in-the-pan sex, and then I stay awake all night in the living room. In the morning, I drink coffee while sitting on the couch, away from him. He sits beside me and puts my coffee on the table. Kissing me, he says, “can I fuck you on this couch?” Even as we fuck, I regret it. His frail body begets an intimate horror as if I’m gripping a skeleton while it humps me just to conjure a pulse. For months, he pursues me. We have sex a few more times, but mostly I avoid him. Eventually, he discards me when he finds a new bunny rabbit.
End of April 2021, 7:30 PM
As I open the door to take Mordy for his walk, he starts violently barking. There is a coyote in the front yard, frozen, looking pounce-ready.
I yank Mordy into the house. I turn my back to him to shut off the house alarm, and he runs outside.
It’s dark, but I am legally blind, too blind to chase him. I can’t even see him and so my boyfriend runs after him, back and forth across the driveway while I stand in the dark, waiting to hear that everything is okay. Next thing I know, they’re standing in front of me, two exhausted heroes.
“Mordy ran right at him. What do we do now?”
To be brave, I say, “I think we can walk.”
As we leave the house, we hear a droning noise coming from behind us.
I’ve read that coyote packs whine when they’re hungry.
We walk for three minutes until Mordy pees, and then I herd everyone inside.
Elijah is my secret husband.
In person, we barely speak. In private, I send him videos, photos, poems, everything, and he always replies. My bipolar disorder is out of balance and in the past few weeks he’s become the object of my mania. I think I’m in control of our relationship, but I don’t realize that he’s manipulated me, because I am recklessly vulnerable. He has a girlfriend. She knows about me, but it’s ok because I’m just his creative project which I only realize once I’m properly medicated. I’m addicted to his correspondence even though eventually he only answers me every so often. Still, I cannot pull away from him. To really get rid of him, I have to wait until he leaves me.
When Elijah’s girlfriend breaks up with him, we start drinking together heavily. One night, we drink three beers each and annihilate 40 ounces of Jack Daniels and then we have sudden, long, directionless sex. In the morning, he smokes a cigarette, eats a bowl of ramen, checks his emails and fucks me again. Two weeks later, he calls to tell me that he’s upset with me because he believes we had sex without his consent. He stops talking to me forever.
The best strategy is one that I’ve been too nervous to try.
“I’ve done some research on coyotes, and I know how to protect myself,” I tell my mom on our morning walk. “Foghorns.”
She says, “I hear you’re supposed to do this,” and she raises her hands over her head. Her face contorts into anguish, and she yells, “AHHHHHHHHHRRAAHHH.”
I am amazed by my mother. She’s survived mental illness keenly aware of her life’s losses. She is only afraid of my father’s betrayal. Other than that, she’s a walking foghorn. Far better than being a walking target.
I’ve been practicing. Screaming at the sunrise.
I haven’t seen any coyotes in weeks.
*Fictional names have been used for all three love interests.
About the Author:
Rachel Ganz is a Toronto-based playwright and essayist. As a writer living with mental illness and blindness, she often writes stories to illuminate an alienated point of view. She is a graduate of University of Toronto’s Physical Anthropology program as well as a playwriting alumnus from the National Theatre School of Canada. She was the 2015 recipient of the Sybil Cooke Awardfor her play The Dumb War. Her work has been featured in Niv Magazine and Intermission.