People Like Him

by | Oct 6, 2020 | Fiction, Issue Seventeen

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Only runners and cyclists out early spot the first coyote in the middle of the street. Startled, they keep moving along the lakeside road, later not sure what they saw. Coyotes haven’t been reported around here for several years. It must have been a rangy stray, scavenging for food.

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“So he did all right?” I catch up with the instructor outside the Friendly Driving School door. “He passed?”

Wilting under an August sun, the woman nods, my son’s file pressed to her side. He waits by the car, texting his friends. She fumbles with her keys before finding the right one. “He did fine. But he still needs to work on a few things. Twice he forgot his turn signals. Keep working on him.”

As if he’s heard her, he looks up, ready to go. We’re celebrating with bubble tea from Oasis City, just across the parking lot. I wave in relief.

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People who live by the park report waking to the yaps and whines of coyote pups in the middle of the night. Missing cats. For days, a heated debate about setting traps rages on the neighborhood facebook page. Two camps emerge – those who argue the neighborhood is the coyotes’ habitat and those threatened by their unexpected presence.

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“Keep on him,” she repeats, eyes meeting mine for the first time. “People like him have to be careful,” lowering her voice as she opens the door.

People like him? Funny? Handsome? There’s nothing wrong with my son. I thank the woman and turn. Of course. I want to follow this tiny white woman into the Friendly Driving School and demand she say it out loud. He has now entered the Land of Driving While Black, a country he can never leave. How many times has he been warned not to drive over or under the speed limit? To keep his hands visible at all times?

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Braver now, the coyotes explore the streets with the confidence of raccoons. The neighborhood Facebook page fills with images of lone coyotes ambling in front of restaurants and cafes. One man is removed from the group for encouraging people to shoot any coyote on sight.  A week later, a coyote is run over while crossing a residential street. His body left in the road for days before Animal Control comes to collect it.

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I hesitate outside the Friendly Driving School office, peering in through the big plate windows. The woman is already at the computer, entering my son’s information for the DMV, strands of  thin hair plastered to her temple. Five o’clock on a Friday. Bet she can’t wait to get home, slip off her shoes, pour a cold drink.

“Mom,” my son calls from the door of Oasis City. Stepping into the cool cafe, I join him in line, put my hand on his shoulder, as if my touch alone can keep him safe.

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