When a Child Disappears

Coyote—a gem of a novella—begins with this unsettling sentence: “We were on the porch most of the night before she vanished.” And then the rest of the paragraph: “Just grilling and eating things like hot dogs and potatoes. Her Dad grilled buns so they got all sweet and burnt-tasting on the edges. We drank beers and watched her pick at the heads of nails sticking up out of the splintering blue wood. Her Dad played a guitar a little, songs I didn’t know other than when he played them.”

The girl (their daughter) was two-and-a-half years old. They put her to bed, “and when we woke up she as gone.” Just like that, that quickly. She was playing on the porch the night before, her parents (presumably unmarried because her Dad is never referred to as the narrator’s husband) put her to bed, and by morning she had vanished. Police are all over the place, questioning them and searching for her. Her parents appear on a number of talk shows, pleading with whoever took her to return her. Although coyotes are mentioned, it seems unlikely that they ate her, since there is no evidence of that. Still, they have to be considered. The house is on the edge of a town. “One time [a coyote] came right up onto the porch and her Dad got him with a shovel while I watched from the kitchen.” He buried him in the yard where other animals (two cats and a dog and one hamster) had been buried earlier.

The relationship between the missing girl’s parents quickly deteriorates. The two of them fight and then make up, giving into violent sex. coyotenovelSleepless nights and bitter arguments. The narrator wonders what she ever saw in the man who fathered her child, describing him as an ugly man. She constantly reassesses their relationship: “He loses his temper. He’s an asshole, plain and simple. But he’s also naively sweet. He’s an idiot is what he is, for the most part. He’s this weak idiot that I could love more than anything in the entire world.”

“Then she arrived and I loved her that way instead. There was less of him because there had to be. It’s the odd thing about a child, you’ll sacrifice anything for them, even the person you once loved more than anything else in the world. A person you would have given your own life for, suddenly you’d strike them down to protect something that can’t even speak. That just rolls around and makes little sounds and touches your face and fingers and keys indiscriminately.”

The talk shows lose interest in the case because nothing has changed. On the verge of madness, the narrator sets the house on fire. She’s momentarily hopeful about discovery of their child because other parents who had a missing child are reunited with that child. Can she go
back on one of the talk shows and make her plea again? She constantly asks herself “What was she like?” worried that her memories of her child are receding into the past. Will she forget her child entirely? Is that what happens in incidents as horrendous as this one?

The narrator’s pain and suffering become coiled like a spring. She searches for the house of the family whose child was returned, wandering in and out of houses if their doors are open. She’s crazed, increasingly irrational, bitter about everyone and everything. When she can’t discover the house she’s looking for, her anger extends to everyone around her. She observes, “Our town is not a great place to live for anyone, especially anyone who is particularly happy. Our town is filled with people who want to reach in and take your happiness from you. They want to stamp it out with their shitty heal.”

Coyote is wrenched from the heart—a powerful study of pain, madness, and peace. That final word may surprise you because there are revelations in Winnette’s tight narrative that will unsettle you, just as the narrator is shocked by her discovery of what happened to her missing child and then driven further into madness. Even the dedication at the beginning of the text (“For any always elsewhere”) leaves one in a state of limbo, suggesting that the author has also experienced the unspeakable (a missing child) or been very close to someone who did.

Coyote is a small miracle.

Colin Winnette: Coyote

Les Figues Press, 96 pp., $17

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. Email: clarson@american.edu.




More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

March 22, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Italy, Germany and the EU’s Future
David Rosen
The Further Adventures of the President and the Porn Star
Gary Leupp
Trump, the Crown Prince and the Whole Ugly Big Picture
The Hudson Report
Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons and Debt in Antiquity
Steve Martinot
The Properties of Property
Binoy Kampmark
Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Surveillance Capitalism
Jeff Berg
Russian to Judgment
Gregory Barrett
POSSESSED! Europe’s American Demon Must Be Exorcised
Robby Sherwin
What Do We Do About Facebook?
Trump Spokesperson Commemorates Invading Iraq by Claiming U.S. Doesn’t Dictate to Other Countries; State Dept. Defends Invasion
Rob Okun
Students: Time is Ripe to Add Gender to Gun Debate
Michael Barker
Tory Profiteering in Russia and Putin’s Debt of Gratitude
March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am a Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us