Robert Joe Stout grew up amid coyotes, jack rabbits and muskrats in desolate eastern Wyoming. He served in the Air Force and graduated from Mexico City College. He’s published books of fiction and nonfiction. Here’s an excerpt from an essay he wrote “Laughing at the Moon,” that Passager published in 2017 in its Issue 62.
I met Lizzie late one sultry summer afternoon beside a fallen cottonwood whose roots had given way when the river undercut a section of overhanging bank — an ideal place, my 12-year-old wisdom told me, from which to fish.
Indeed it was. Until Lizzie appeared. Immediately we had an argument.
The argument involved a stringer of chubs and perch that I’d staked to the bank.
Lizzie had it between her teeth.
“Git!” I shouted, scrambling over the fallen cottonwood.
Lizzie didn’t “git.” Nor was Lizzie, as I’d first imagined, a dog.
Living in southeastern Wyoming I’d seen lots of coyotes but never one with my fish in its teeth.
“Git!” I shouted again and waved my arms.
Lizzie cocked her head as though enjoying my performance. She was much smaller than I’d imagined an adult coyote to be: comically oversized ears, a thin tapering nose and skinny legs. Country boys know not to mess with wild animals but I was too precocious to give in to a thief stealing my fish. I glared at her and Lizzie glared back. She winked (I swear she winked!) and my stringer of fish still between her teeth, she laughed (I’m sure she laughed!), then chewed the biggest perch off the stringer and retreated at a leisurely gait along the riverbank.
Damned coyote! I remember cursing to myself.
Nevertheless I was amused and imagined telling parents and friends about the encounter — embroidering slightly, of course: Charged right at ‘er, man! Turned tail she did! Turned tail and ran!
Unfortunately parents and friends often didn’t believe my stories — even those that were true. Older boys mocked me, girls scowled and made poo! sounds, my mom smiled absentmindedly and my dad winked. As I hiked home I said to myself that Lizzie seemed like a nice enough coyote and telling people about her might prompt someone to go after her with a hunting rifle.
I’d more or less forgotten about her until she appeared just as I was leaving the fallen cottonwood a week or two later. She eyed the five or six fish I had on my stringer and I backed away, “charged right at ‘er man” the farthest thing from my mind. If I retreated, I realized, she might follow me and I’d wind up further from home; if I tried to slip past her she might attack. In chauvinist Wyoming, females of all species were considered irrational, unpredictable and prone to outbursts of violence and Lizzie obviously was a female. I had no way of gauging what she might do.
But scruffy though she was she didn’t seem vicious. I hesitated then pulled the largest of the fish off the stringer and tossed it towards her. She bounded towards it, stopped, whirled in tight little circles as though trying to bite her tail, flung herself into an awkward somersault and snapped her jaws as though chomping an invisible fish but she wouldn’t come close until I retreated to a much safer distance. She sniffed at the fish, slapped it with one paw, jumped straight backward and pounded the ground in front of her with her forepaws as though battling dangerous prey. Finally she shook herself and loped away, the fish between her teeth. She turned once to look at me before disappearing along the cattle path that bordered the pasture.
That Lizzie didn’t make regular appearances somewhat puzzled me. A dog, a squirrel, a raccoon given food will return to the same place at the same time expecting more food (even a female dog, squirrel or raccoon) but not Lizzie. I’d go a week or two without seeing her; then she’d appear, usually without warning, as though having materialized out of nowhere. Once, detecting her as she approached, I realized how she did it. Despite her gawky physique she could zigzag through brush and grass very close to the ground and hardly cause a ripple — then pop erect when she wanted to see or be seen.
An excerpt from “Laughing at the Moon” by Robert Joe Stout, published in Passager’s Issue 62.
After careers as a journalist, government accountant and theater director and actor, Stout currently lives in Oaxaca in southern Mexico.
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