Wile E. Coyote

You are now hightailing it out of Utah, alone. The car smells like Amber because you smell like Amber. You’re not going to cry. Take a deep breath. Time for reflection. Moab, the entrance to Arches National Park, is at long last dissolving in the rear-view mirror. You check over and over again only to see that, yes, still there, always about to disappear when you go over the next rise. You can still turn back, but you’re already gone. After more than a year in that dry, red, hot place inhospitable to the living, you’re leaving, only taking with you the hope that not too much time was wasted wandering in the desert. 

This time yesterday, all of your stuff was packed in boxes, the same boxes you used when you and Amber packed up the apartment in Chicago and swapped high rises, avenues and cafes for a dusty hell. Arches came to Amber through a book called Desert Solitaire, a profound meditation on nature, beauty and time, and she told you she was going to move there. You fell in love in part because she did what she said, so you followed. Two months after arriving with her, you left. You took your stuff in those same boxes and found your own place. Amber had found herself at home in an instant. All you found was the heat, the miserable marches she called hikes, nothing for your career in applied physics and no one you wanted to know. The two of you fought right up to the moment you both got too tired, and not a moment longer.

The morning of your departure, yesterday, you decided to take a hike, one last experiment to see if maybe you loved Moab the whole time. You saw its beauty, the sunrise warming the rocks, and the cool smell of earth in your nose gave you a little jolt you had never noticed before. But it still held nothing for you.

On rounding one of the bends where the trail hugged the wall of the red rock sloping sharply upward, you found an impossible sight. Fifty feet away, in the landscape of boulders, short shrubs, the trail and the shadow of the rock, stood a pure white borzoi. No one stood near it. Its narrow head was bowed, staring hard at something, a rabbit maybe, and following its path. In a flash of white and hair the dog bolted. In a flurry of feathers, its prey suddenly became visible, a roadrunner fleeing for its life. Not knowing why, you ran after. 

As soon as you gave chase, jumping shrubs and dodging cacti, sliding across the rocks, catching that dog seemed impossible. There one moment and gone the next. An animal had never moved so quickly. The roadrunner must have thought the same thing. At the bottom of the canyon, with its feet in a stream, you found the borzoi with the roadrunner hanging limp in its teeth, majestic head swinging from the cruel white mouth. You clicked and whistled with high pitched calls of “C’mere! It’s OK, come on!” The dog stared at you, its black eyes bulging like swollen grapes, wide with excitement, waiting for you to chase it again. For some reason you thought the dog should not eat the bird, even if it was too late. But there was nothing you could have offered or done to persuade the dog to let go of its quarry. The bird, which never stood a chance, was its most prized possession, the fruit of its labor, a testament to the truth of its speed and its agility. Then, suddenly, you heard, “Drop it! Bad dog!” and the sound of sliding rocks. Her head backlit by the sun, Amber came sliding down the slope towards you. 

The dog set the bird on the ground and trotted over to Amber’s side. You stood there, mouth hanging open. She said, “Oh. Hey! It’s you,” then turned to the dog. “Yeah, good boy. Don’t do that. Or no more hikes.” 

Without thinking, you said, “Hey! That’s your dog I almost chased off a cliff?” Your stomach growled. “Do you want to go get chicken and waffles?” you asked, blushing. 

Amber shrugged, calling down, “Tia Lupita’s at ten?” You nodded. With a turn, she said, “See you then.” Amber and the dog disappeared over a hill. You turned to inspect the roadrunner carcass, but it must have only been playing dead because it had fled. 

Tia Lupita’s Wafflería looked as though it was once a home. Aside from sitting in a residential neighborhood, the main dining area was clearly once a living room. There was a low adobe fireplace in one corner. One wall held a wide, contained window that faced the street. The dust-imprint of where a TV once stood lay on the wall next to you where someone’s kid once sat transfixed by Saturday morning cartoons while they made breakfast and worried nearby. 

Amber walked in wearing hiking books, shorts, a tank top and a sweat-stained trucker hat. A polite smile appeared on her face, or was already there, when she saw you. She sat down. You two talked about what you were going to eat, both getting the classic chicken and waffles which remain your favorite, and then you looked in each other’s eyes for a series of uncertain seconds before the questions started. 

“So, Neil. This is it?”

“This is it. Heading out of dodge. Getting el fuck out of aqui.” 

Raising an eyebrow, she said, “So, you read Pynchon.” She gave you a book called Inherent Vice, which you said, with love, sounded self-indulgent and pointless. She gave you a look that said, in every conceivable way, I told you, so, you moron. “Anyway, good for you. You hated it here.” 

“I shouldn’t have said hated.”

“No, no. Don’t apologize. You always told me the truth. Don’t spoil that now.”

Shifting in your seat, you said, “I don’t know if it was the truth, I guess is what I mean. I think now maybe I could have grown to like it. It is beautiful… It was a big change.” 

She searched your face and shrugged. “Not much use wondering that now, though. Where’s next?” 


“Good for you. I’m sure you’ll love it there.” The food came. She took her hat off and set it on the table before she buttered her waffles and put syrup over everything. 

“I’m sure I will, too. But that’s not really why I’m going.” You wanted her to at least feign interest, to wonder about your life as you had wondered about hers, to care. 

“Oh?” she said without looking up from the plate.

Not really asking, but close enough. “I finally got a job. It’s not much, a scribe position. But it’s in a lab doing some cool stuff.” 

“Good,” she said and looked you in the eyes. “There’s nothing like that going on around here… So, that’s why you’re leaving.” 

“That’s why I’m leaving,” you said. 

She chewed and looked up at you. You took small bites, a little butter, a little syrup. 

“And because there’s nothing keeping me here,” you continued. “This position… this is going to sound sad, alright? But it’s not… I mean, I’m not.” For a year, you never felt the need to explain yourself. Now that you met someone who knew you, suddenly you did. 

“OK.” She laughed. “What is it?” 

“It’s the first real career step I’ve taken. And… that makes it… mine. All that’s mine, really. I don’t have any friends, not close ones. Not even really any personal interests. As far as becoming a human being goes, this job is the farthest I’ve gotten.” You had a hard time telling her this because, secretly, you blamed her. Not her, but the security she gave you. You dated throughout college. Sure, you made some friends, but she was your best friend. You had some of your own interests, but not really, not anything that could support you or comfort you. With her by your side, with the happiness that she gave you, you never noticed how poor you were without her. 

Smirking not without insult, she said, “If you were hoping to seduce me into one last go on your way out of town, you should know you’re not doing great.” 

That stung some. You smiled anyway. “No, no. I saw you and it all came rushing back. I had thought about you a lot but I never called. I figured it was better just to let it be. But then as soon as I saw you I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye.”

Amber stabbed a piece of chicken and a piece of waffle and chewed thoughtfully. “I’m glad,” she said, staring out the window into the garden where people ate in the summer heat. “I think about you sometimes. With you in town I think how good we were together when we were good together. So, I’m glad to know you won’t hang around anymore.” She finished talking and glanced at you and looked down into her plate and put the food in her mouth. 

To hear that she thought about you put a little flutter in your chest and stomach. You sat up straighter, cutting your food with a little more intent. “Yeah, before all the fighting over nothing we were good together when we were good together. I thought I heard you had a boyfriend, though?” 

Amber rolled her eyes in a way that conveyed appreciation and disdain in equal parts. “I did. But we broke up a little while ago. I thought it was just what I needed but it turns out it was just a fling. Live and learn… That’s how I got the dog. He left me with a borzoi in the desert. What a guy.” She looked out the window again and said, “I’ve heard you’re quite popular at the Headwaters.” She heard about where you were tending bar, then. She avoided you. 

A promising physics major with a girlfriend turned into a bartender courting one-night stands. Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair. Your face got hot, you crossed your legs and shrugged. “I’m a good listener. Turns out people like that sort of thing.” 

Amber laughed and made gestures with her fork in the air while she talked. “To recap, you read, work, get laid. Sounds truly awful. I can see how you’d want to get out of here.” 

You said, “It sounds nice but the whole totally free thing has gotten old. My only responsibility outside of work is a cactus and keeping the kitchen clean. I don’t even have a dog. And everyone here has a dog…” Then, taking a long deep breath you said, “All I had here was however much I loved you. Now, it’s time to let that go, too. And move on.” You were gazing into the last bites of chicken and waffle and when you looked up she was staring at you, thinking about something with intent.  

She said, “Do you want a dog?” 

You shrugged. “I meant more just… the companionship, the responsibility might be nice. That’s all.” But looking in her eyes you also thought about how hollow and incomplete it had all been. A friend, work you cared about, hobbies that made you feel good. Any of these things might have brought people into your life who saw you differently from the way you saw yourself, drifting and lacking. But not one friend, and no hobby could look at you the way she did then, like you were loved. 

“I only ask because Seattle might be a far better place for Wiley, the dog you met this morning, if you wanted to take him.” She was speaking quickly, leaning forward and looking at you. “If you’re not leaving right this second, you could come by, take a look at him. I’d hate to say goodbye but maybe parting ways after something sudden and unexpected would be easier than a massive buildup… What do you think?” You considered it. The dog sounded nice. True. But when you considered the look in her brilliant, black, shining eyes, the person you had been before, and the person you had been since, leaving looked less and less appealing and, perhaps, less necessary. From nothing, a route suddenly formed. If you were charming and relaxed, if she wanted what you wanted, or even better, if you let her know that you wanted what she wanted, then maybe you could end up in bed together. And maybe if you spent the afternoon in bed together, as so many of your summer days had been spent, it wouldn’t be over. It would be like nothing had happened. Maybe no move needed to happen. You could paint a hole on the wall of time and slip, absurdly, through it into the perfect past and return to live in blissful, safe memory just on the other side. 

The first step was to say something. You went with, “I love you.” No. Wait… That wasn’t it. You said, “I’d love to.” 

After finishing breakfast around noon, you followed Amber back to her apartment. 

When Amber let you in, Wiley was lying on the couch, resting his head on one arm and staring out the window with a Victorian longing. A different sight completely from the apparition that morning. He raised his head and looked at you without recognition and in bewildered indifference, then turned away. 

Amber sat down on the couch next to Wiley and stroked his head. “I think he’s depressed,” she said. “He wants to run and chase little animals that flee before him.” 

“And sometimes catch them,” you laughed.

Amber smiled at the dog. “Sometimes,” she said. “But that’s the thing. Too late in the day and it’s too hot for him to come with me. And if I let him off the leash, I can’t catch him until he stops, he’s just too fast… Too hot, too lonely… I think he’d be happier some place else.” 

Looking at him, you agreed that he looked melancholic, mournful, ghostly. 

“So,” she said after a little while. “What do you think? You’ll take him?” 

How could you make her know neither one of you, not you nor the dog, needed to leave? How could you tell her? Not just come out and say it but be artful. You needed more time. With all the cleverness in the world, you said, “Oh! Now? Already?” 

She shrugged and said, “Why not? This is more or less how he is… Unless you want to stay and hang out for a bit?” 

“Oh! God, I hadn’t thought about it…” Well played. “I don’t have to leave now…” You said, checking your watch. “Or today, even. I still have a day to grab the boxes and stuff from the house, so I’m not in a rush.” If you weren’t in a rush, why were your palms sweating? “We could play a little. What kind of games does he like?” 

“You’ll have to figure something out in here,” she said, standing up. “It’s too hot for him.” Then, giving you a look, she said, “Here, come sit.”

You sat down on the couch, which, facing a television, was more like a loveseat and sort of forest green with a texture like corduroy, as well as suddenly your favorite couch. Wiley took up most of the room, so Amber had to come around and, getting very close to you, enough that the sweet coconut scent of her sunblock filled your nose, making you blush, lifted his legs and draped them over you. Wiley barely seemed to notice. Maybe she was right, maybe he was depressed. 

“There,” she said, standing in front of you, hands on her hips. “What do you think?” 

You reached over, scratched his head. Suddenly, you could feel something wrong. His breathing was rapid and short. Despite just lying there, you could feel his heart pounding away through his body. You suddenly worried about him. For the first time since he had appeared in your path, he meant more than something symbolic. “Yeah… I’ll take him.” 

“You sure? Sometimes you want something then talk yourself out of it and drop it. No one wants to see a stray borzoi mangled by a car.”

Why didn’t she just say, “If you hadn’t wanted to move here you should have just said so.” You returned with, “I’m learning to take my time. Not be quite so… impulsive.” 

Shooting you a dubious glance, she said, “Impulsivity has never been your problem.”

And you smirked, saying, “Fine. I’m learning to be less indecisive, then.” 

After looking at you for a long time, she said, “We’ll see.” 

Hard as you tried, Wiley would barely budge. Chew toys. Your own shoes. Not even Amber’s hiking boots could interest him when put an inch from his nose. At one point, he gently clamped down on a tennis ball, but then looked at you as if to say, “OK, now what?” and spat it out. Soon after, he labored up, slithered off the couch and sat in front of Amber’s front door. He turned and looked at you expectantly, his tongue hanging out of his gaping mouth. When you made no movement, he lay himself down in front of the door, and fell into a visibly unrestful sleep.

Determined to at least try to stay, you asked Amber if she felt like watching a movie. The Princess Bride, your favorite movie when you were together. Before long you were leaning not quite on each other but at least a little into each other, feeling the heat and gravity from one another’s bodies. And at the pressure of her arm against yours your breath quickened and your heart beat faster and less regularly. 

Towards the end of the movie, she stood up and said she was getting a glass of wine. It was her day off, and she liked having a drink on her days off. You said that you’d love a glass as well. 

You sat there, silently sipping wine in Amber’s air-conditioned home in the afternoon while the movie described the meaning of the phrase, “To the pain.” Before the part of the speech where he says, “Oh god, what is that thing?” Amber turned to you and said, “That’s what I wanted to do to you. Cut out your eyes, cut off your nose.”

“So that no one else would want me?” Were you trying to sound sexy? Or what?

“I don’t know why. I was mad.” She took larger sips. 

“You seemed fine.” She had when it ended. You had blubbered and wept while packing up your stuff. The cardboard boxes you stored in the closet were covered in little water stains. She barely said a thing. She just kept moving, pacing and darting around the apartment without looking at you until you finally left and she slammed the door behind you. 

She looked at you and suddenly her whole face, her dark eyes, crooked nose, freckles, lips and ears flashed. “I wasn’t…” 

Clearly, if there was a moment, it was this. Looking at her sideways, you pressed your lips against hers, as if stealing something too beautiful and precious to simply pass by. Then, she kissed you back like whatever beautiful thing you spotted, she’d spotted too. And wanted it for herself. 

An hour later you were lying motionless in bed next to each other. The air smelled like ozone and your palms were sweating so much that you felt the same as when you held them under the sink to bask in the cold water running over your palm. Your nakedness felt soft, vulnerable, boneless. Like an enormous pineapple cake.

“What can I do?” she asked.

“Nothing… It’s…” What? What did you feel? Can you admit, even now, what exactly you wanted? Embarrassment flooded the apartment. The smell of sweat in the air accused you of dishonesty. The sound of the air conditioner puttered along, echoing the mechanical panic in your head as you replayed the scene. You kissed. You tore at each other’s clothes, at each other’s bodies. Both of you fumbled slightly, retracing the long untouched path of what it was like to touch each other. The intimacy, which was there, was rigid and unyielding. When you started, it more closely resembled a wrestling match than making out. Then she put her hand on your cheek in the way that she had, and then it felt like before, only new. But then, holding your cheeks in her hand, she drew back, studying every line and every movement of your lips and eyes and cheeks, as if double checking the undulations of your soul. Something in all that caution meant she knew you. The real you. And you, feeling the power of everything that it meant, went soft as a rotten strawberry. The pretty thing turned sour, at some barely perceptible much less describable disappointment, and lay too far gone to recapture. 

“Are you sure? We don’t have to… do anything. I mean, I’m good just… laying here…” she sighed. “Wine? More TV? I could sing why don’t you do right? That always…” 

You let out a groan and gave in to self-pity. In months of one-or-maybe-two-night-stands this hadn’t happened. With strangers you played a role you wrote about a city boy who traded cafes and avenues for sunrise hikes so that they’d want you. Everyone had fun and felt fine. This did not feel fine. It felt terrifying. 

“Hey,” she said, sitting up and placing her palms on your shoulders, staring down into your frightened face, studying you with an almost canine interest, warm and intimate but not entirely safe. “Talk to me.” 

Just before you could speak, a scratching sound came from the door. Amber rolled off the bed and crossed the room, her head bowed as she walked, staring down at her toes. She looked deeply disappointed. At the time you thought she felt irritated because she was spending her day off coddling her impotent ex, and not getting laid. But looking at her open the door for Wiley, she wanted more than getting laid for a day. She wanted someone to spend her days with, and the solitude you admired her ability to bear weighed on her heavily. She found her place and what she wanted to do there. She wanted someone to come home to and bring with her when she left. All of which made what you said next pretty damned inconsiderate. 

Amber opened the door and walked back to the bed. Wiley followed, stepping onto the bed and curling his long body up at Amber’s feet. She rested her head on her knee and stroked his fur thoughtfully. No plan, no way forward and no way back. At last, you thought that perhaps the best thing was just to say what you were thinking. 

“I think I don’t want to leave.” You expected the words to echo the first time you told Amber you loved her. Liberating. Affirming. Clarifying. Nope. Questions and accusations from the shadows of your mind broke the ground apart, leaving you scrambling for something, anything, to hang on to. You sat up. “I know, I know… Maybe you’re mad at me. Or maybe it’s a bad time. … I just think whatever we had isn’t necessarily over. And what we had was so much fun. I miss laughing the way I laughed with you… Do you miss it? Or are you mad at me?” You felt helpless and stupid, sitting naked in the bed of your first love. 

“I was mad. You said you’d stay. And then you left. You didn’t even leave town. You just left me.” She didn’t say anything for a while after that. She just rubbed the dog’s head while he took short, quick breaths and blinked. Then, “Yes, I miss laughing with you, too. So, if you want to stay, then stay. Just… don’t tell me it’s what you want, wait a year, then tell me it’s not enough. Young as we are, I’m already too tired to make old mistakes, alright?” 

You nodded. You felt very close to her. But you were also suddenly, inexplicably, raring to go. But you could see in her eyes the tiredness she must have been feeling, which was mainly the exhaustion of a good but solitary life. So, at six in the afternoon, you asked her if she wanted to take a nap. Then, with Wiley wrapped up around her legs, and her pressed against your body, you fell asleep. 

While sleeping, you dreamed of the desert. You were waiting, standing before a vast expanse underneath a narrow awning for a train set to arrive any minute. The air blew hot and dry, like an open oven. From somewhere behind you came the sound of laughter. Turning, you saw a small mountain. Following the noise, you encountered a massive boulder blocking your sight. Rounding the corner, you heard the laughter again, warm, uninhibited. It was the howling, jovial laughter of life well lived. But no one was there. Just more desert. And in the hot air you heard the sound of the train. As you turned to go back to the station, the boulder gave way. It rolled on top of you, trapping you, slowly crushing your chest so that you couldn’t breathe or cry out, pinning you to a silence perfect enough to hear the train come and go. 

Opening your eyes, you saw that Amber had rolled away, and you were covered in sweat with the feeling of a fever breaking. Digging into your chest, mouth hanging open, eyes bulging with madness, Wiley was staring down at you with his paws on your shoulders. The rapid heartbeat and breathing no longer signified pitiable and treatable signs of unwellness, but something threatening, wild. 

In his swollen eyes you could see the look he must have had when he spotted the roadrunner that morning. He could see in you the flight you already wanted to take, despite what you said about wanting to stay. Not the bed. Not the relationship. The look, the weight, the waiting all felt like a rabbit had been spotted, and as soon as it made a break for it, he would chase it down and tear it to shreds. So, you thought, time to leave, then run. 

Slowly, you put a hand up on Wiley’s ribs, scratching his belly. The look on his face changed, and he sat down on his haunches, letting you scratch his chin and cheeks, satisfied you weren’t about to run away. Then, you sat up. 

“Hey,” you said, touching Amber’s shoulder. “I have to tell you something.” 

She touched your hand and shifted on the bed. 

“I… I love you, Amber.” The words tasted as true as the first time you said them. 

A twitch ran through her body to let you know that she could hear you.

“And I can’t stay. I want to…” Why talk this way? What could she say? Why hadn’t you just left town a year ago, the moment you knew it was over? “I want stuff that just isn’t here. I want to continue my career. I want friends who aren’t tourists… or drunks. I love you so much. I laugh with you. But the laughter won’t keep me from… Amber?” 

“I heard you,” she sighed. “Get after it, then. The door will lock behind you.”

“OK…” You wished that she would look at you and say a final farewell before you rode off into the sunset, but she didn’t. Nothing changed. Not you and not her.

As you put your hand on the door, you remembered Wiley, and Amber’s offer. “Hey, do you still want me to take the dog?” 

“No. I’ll find someone else.” The words had an unmissable finality. And that was it.

You slept on a bare mattress. A couple tears of mourning fell as you finally let the life you wouldn’t have fade. And now, now you’ve said goodbye and the town is gone and you’ll pull into Seattle soon enough, you’re already thinking about trying to find a pair of eyes who might see you the way I do. 




Image: photo by , licensed under CC 2.0.

Ben Linder
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