“Incomer” by Gloria Whelan

The following excerpt from the short story “Incomer” by Gloria Whelan is from the newly released book “Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula” (2015, Michigan State University Press), edited by Ronald Riekki and presented with permission of Michigan State University Press and Wayne State University Press. All rights reserved.
Coyote Accent by Odmark
Coyotes illustrations by Gary W. Odmark

By Gloria Whelan
Illustrations by Gary W. Odmark

In all of his imaginings Luke Klein had not imagined himself in jail. As in most things in his Detroit suburb, his cell, scrubbed clean, was upscale. There were even a few thumbed copies of Vanity Fair. Some preppy with time on his hands and little talent had painted a pink-and-green crocodile on one of the cell walls. After a drunken teenager had been returned, penitent and tearful to his parents, Luke was the jail’s only resident. His wife, Miranda, was with her father, who was posting bail and who was furious with Luke. Luke’s foolishness would reflect on his father-in-law and his father-in-law’s business. Luke’s own partners would not be happy. What was a doctor doing with a gun? He wondered if his rifle would be returned to him or confiscated. It was his dad’s and he wanted it back.

They were married at the beginning of the second year of his residency. He had hoped Miranda would want a wedding at Arcadia. He saw them exchanging vows on the shore of Superior. His relationship with the wild lake was religious, and the marriage needed its blessing. 

Miranda protested, “You mean a destination wedding? Arcadia isn’t the Bahamas. It’s not an attraction. Where would everyone stay? In one of those Upper Peninsula motels? They probably have bedbugs. And who would we get to cater it? The cooks at the club aren’t up to much more than fried chicken and apple pie. Anyhow, months ago when she saw where we were headed Mom snagged a Saturday afternoon date at our church and at the country club.” … The wedding was a big affair. The Raynarts had so many friends no one noticed that, apart from Luke’s fellow residents and their dates, his mother and aunt were his only guests. …

When his residency was ending and it was time to consider his future, Luke asked Miranda, “What would you think about my practicing up north? There’s a large hospital only a couple of hours from Arcadia. We could live in town, and summer weekends we’d stay at the club.”

“I could never live there. I don’t know a soul. What would I do? I was bored up there even in the summer, and it snows from September to June.”

“That’s an exaggeration.” Though he knew it wasn’t, having seen snow in both of those months. “Anyhow, it’s a college town, not the end of the world. You’d make friends, and in the winter we could snowshoe and cross-country ski in the woods.” 

Coyote Illustration
Coyotes illustrations by Gary W. Odmark

He was thinking of his own silent journeys when he had scared up a fox or sent a grouse exploding out of its snow bank cover. Once in a snowstorm he had come upon a rare white-coated moose. He could close his eyes and see it still, the great white moose walking through white snow, its appearance a convergence with another world.

When he brought up practicing in the Upper Peninsula for the second time, Miranda went to her father, and Mr. Raynart introduced Luke to a friend of his, the head of a local internal medicine group looking for an oncologist. 

Luke was offered a position. He took it, and Miranda and her mother began working with a realtor to find a larger home in the suburb. Around that time, the local paper published the first picture of a coyote.

“Spotted on Lake View Drive,” the headline said. That was only two blocks from their home.

The coyote entered Luke’s dreams, an elusive shape slinking into shadows and loping down darkened pathways. Luke considered writing a letter to the editor of the paper in support of the coyote. “We should be pleased,” he wanted to write, “that a wild creature has chosen to live among us.” … When he ran in the mornings he headed for the trails on the golf course where the Raynarts were members. The bare branches of the trees cut into gray skies. There were a few blue jays and some undecided robins, and once he had seen a red-shouldered hawk, but no coyote, and then on a Saturday morning he found tracks at the edge of a water hazard.

That night he left some of Sip’s dog food out on their patio. Later when he turned on the porch light he found the dish was empty, the coyote’s tracks still visible in the snow. Luke was thrilled. After that, without saying anything to Miranda, he put out food every night and then got up early in the mornings to remove the dish. Sometimes the coyote had been there; sometimes he hadn’t.

Luke was surprised at how happy the coyote’s appearance made him, how it transformed his day. He thought about trapping the animal and driving north with it. They would both escape.

The coyote was discussed during Thanksgiving dinner at Miranda’s parents’. Mrs. Raynart told what had happened to a friend of hers. “Jeanie’s miniature poodle was out playing in their yard and Jeanie heard these horrible squeals. She ran out and scared the creature off with a broom. The poor little poodle had to have stitches.”

“Coyotes are varmints,” Mr. Raynart said. “The police ought to hunt the animal down and shoot it.”

Miranda gave Luke a satisfied, superior look, but didn’t betray him. The evening before she had discovered the dish of dog food Luke was leaving out for the coyote. … There was talk at the Thanksgiving table of summer plans. Mr. Raynart had retired, and the Raynarts now spent the entire season at Arcadia. “I suppose you won’t have too much vacation your first year,” Mr. Raynart said to Luke, “but I hope you’ll manage a week or two with us.”

Before Luke could give his eager assent, Miranda said, “Dad, I’ve spent half my life up there. I want to see a little of the rest of the world. Mary Lee and John bought a place in the Dordogne. They want us to visit.”

Luke hadn’t heard a word of the Dordogne, wasn’t even sure where it was. … He felt betrayed, and when they returned home after the dinner he made a point of letting her see him empty another can of dog food into an aluminum dish and put it outside. Miranda marched upstairs, gathered her down pillow, and slept in the guest room with Sip.

Luke felt the emptiness in the bed. He regretted what he had done. His dream of returning to the woods was slipping away. … Even if they made occasional visits to Arcadia, Miranda’s reluctance would be everywhere, in the woods, along the shore of the lake, spoiling it for him. Minders, not he, would be the ones to teach the lake and the woods to his children. He had to win Miranda over.

Coyote Gary W. Odmark
Coyotes illustrations by Gary W. Odmark

Luke hurriedly dressed and went downstairs. It had started to snow. By now there would be twelve-foot high drifts up north. The eerie ice volcanoes would be building out on Lake Superior. His father’s hunting rifle was in the basement. Like some Neanderthal huntsman, he would kill the wild animal and bring it like a trophy to his woman, who would praise his prowess. She would love him again. She would forgo this Dordogne place.

Neighbors reported the sound of the gunshots. A squad car pulled into their driveway. … The policeman appeared pleased. “I should thank you for doing our job for us, but laws are laws, and we’re the ones who can use a gun, not you.”

All his life Luke had been scrupulous in his relationship with his prey. It was catch and release with trout, deer were taken in the proper season, he had never treed a bear with a dog. He was overcome by the enormity of his betrayal. 

Miranda, who had thrown on a coat and hurried out to see what was happening, had been disgusted, and embarrassed for Luke. … When the local paper came out there were quotes from the police and the judge. It was against the law to discharge a firearm in the suburb. A rifle shot could travel a couple of miles and might ricochet into someone’s home.

In the article, a professor of animal behavior was quoted, “You get rid of one coyote, and another one moves right in.” It was reassuring to Luke that in this place he would not be alone.

Gloria Whelan is an award-winning children’s author. “Incomer” is from her book “Living Together” (Wayne State University Press, 2013) and also included in “Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.” 

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