An Epitaph for Coyote
An Epitaph for a Writer
A self-deluded corporate loser encounters an eccentric woman from the desert, who shows him another way of looking at life and at himself.
Here lies Henry Pluck -- corporate cubicle rat and frequenter of nursing homes. A perfectionist at work and an eater of sandwiches, he drove an import, lived alone in a box, and was virtually indistinguishable from any other office drone in Las Vegas, Nevada.
So might have read the inscription on his gravestone.
But when he encounters Rosa Santana, an unconventional and perplexing young woman from the desert, he learns what a defunct building feels like before a wrecking ball.
This is a portrait of a lonely man coming to terms with his flawed interpretation of perfection.
For the world is not what Henry thinks it is, and as he’ll soon discover, neither is Rosa. This is the wild, mysterious world of 4,000 year old movies, cosmic irony, predators, and prey.
This is the American Dream, just before its pants fell down.
“Cockroaches are so ubiquitous in the valley that everyone sanitizes them by calling them water bugs.” She squinted against the sun. “Don’t you find that amusing?”
“I thought there were both cockroaches and water bugs.”
“Nope. Just cockroaches and bigger cockroaches.”
“Good to know.”
She spoke in succinct English, enunciating each word as if savoring a piece of gourmet chocolate. In fact, if not for the loud, smacking manner in which she chewed her gum, he might have likened her to a university professor.
She began her lecture. “I won’t spray inside your house. The ones you see in there actually live outside. By spraying outside where they live, we prevent them from coming inside where you live.” The nozzle clogged. She unscrewed it, tapped it and screwed it back on. “I sound like an infomercial don’t I?”
“No, that’s pretty interesting. Keep up the good work.” He made a fist. “Fight the good fight.”
Rosa smiled, squinting again. When she squinted, she did it with only one side of her face, her lip curling up at the corner. “You’re funny.”
He was used to being called things like prompt, reliable, sometimes quiet, but funny was not the typical depiction. If people ever laughed at him at parties, they waited until after he left the room.
“How long before the poison sends them back to Washington?” he joked.
She didn’t laugh.
“About a week, but eventually it wears off. You might want to call us back in a month. Sometimes the poison doesn’t work. ”
“Why is that?”
“Cockroaches are resilient little creatures. They’ve been around for four hundred million years. They’ve adapted, in fact benefited, from mankind’s proliferation. Ironic don’t you think?”
“That of all the animals in the world, the kind man hates most happens to be one of the most abundant.”
By far the strangest bug person he’d ever met in his life.
“You’ve got one on you,” she said, offhandedly.
“Hm?” He glanced down at his leg. A large brown monster, with hideous wings and antennae, clung to the side of his pants leg. By the looks of it, it was either gnawing at him or fornicating with the pants fabric in an attempt to spawn half-cotton, half-demon offspring.
He shrieked -- a humiliating note, something more apt to come from a schoolgirl with a ferret caught in her hair than from a grown man – and after sweeping the insect off with the back of his hand, he leapt back to clear a safe distance.
Apparently, he was funny again, as Rosa struggled to catch her breath from laughter.
“That’s an American cockroach,” she said between gasps. “They fly.”
The cockroach didn’t fly away but instead retreated with ungodly swiftness into the oleanders.
Rosa took a deep breath and fanned her face, waiting for him to regain his composure. “So. What do you do?”
He held his hand up to shield his face from the sun. “I work for a title and real estate company. I work on HUDs and closings and stuff like that.” His gaze darted around his legs and ankles.
“What else do you do?”
He shrugged. “That’s about it, I guess.”
She chewed her gum and waited with that strange expression, the one that expected him to finish his joke. After perhaps realizing no punch line ensued, she nodded. “So when you die, the epitaph on your grave marker will read: Here Lies Henry Pluck. He Worked for a Title and Real Estate Company on HUDs and Closings and Stuff Like That.”
“Something like that, right?” she asked.
He blinked at her with the surreal notion that he was watching himself blink at her. He stood apart from himself, witnessing with shame the other man named Henry, who, like an imbecile, stood opposite Rosa in stupefied silence. Don’t just stand there blinking, he shouted at his other self. He was a boxing coach in a corner of a ring whispering urgent instructions to his fighter. Protect your left! Watch the jab!
“Yes, something like that.” He had the sudden feeling of an old deflating balloon.
“Alright then. What’s going to be on your epitaph?”
An imaginary crowd applauded. The tables turned. Now the challenger was against the ropes.
Rosa’s face beamed with delight and she squinted at the sky, selecting her answer as if she had one already prepared for this very occasion.
“I won’t have a grave marker when I die. Therefore my epitaph will be scattered throughout the desert. You’ll see it in the rocks burned red in the setting sun. You’ll hear it on the wings of the migrating raptors. You’ll smell it on the evening primrose and honey mesquite. Most of all,” she paused with a sentimental sigh. “Most of all, you’ll feel it upon the velvet-soft pelt of the lonesome coyote.”
Henry collapsed to the canvas. The crowd gasped and the referee began the countdown. Stay down kid, someone shouted (in a voice uncannily like Burgess Meredith’s). Don’t get up.
Instead his mouth said, “That’s beautiful. Did you make it up?”
“Yes, I did. Thank you.”
She continued her work, and a moment later, Henry signed the invoice on his patio table. Rosa tore off a yellow copy for him to keep. She reminded him, once again, that should the cockroach problem persist after one week’s time, he could call her office for another treatment, no extra charge. Folding the pink copy of the invoice in half, she tucked a pen into the breast pocket beneath her jacket. She hefted the spray can. Rather than exiting through the house, she used the side gate at the backyard, turning before leaving to extend her hand. He took it: a strong hand, the flesh warm and slightly calloused.
“It was a pleasure meeting you today, Henry. Thank God it’s Friday, right?”
From that moment on, he loved the phrase.
He said goodbye and felt the sadness a graduating college senior feels when parting with an old study partner. Though unable to rationalize why, he felt the handshake as inadequate. He said thanks and watched her load her equipment into the back of the pickup truck. And he stayed outside in that same spot, long after her truck had disappeared around the corner.