Becca Spence Dobias

Neighborhood Alert

Cecily opens the browser on her phone as she peeks down at the shade of her baby’s umbrella stroller. It’s better now, she tells herself, while the baby can’t see her, and she deserves some connection to the outside world. Still, she feels guilty, not enjoying every moment, not being totally present on this walk with her little one.

She browses the neighborhood gossip site, where people who live nearby share requests for lawn care recommendations, complaints about noisy house parties, and warnings about upcoming traffic stops. It isn’t good for her, Cecily’s husband says, to spend as much time on the site as she does. It makes her paranoid, he says, more fearful of her neighbors than is reasonable.

These accusations aren’t really about the website, Cecily knows. Her husband thinks she is racist because she resisted moving to the city which neighboring places refer to as “Fontucky.” She was nervous about the high crime rate, though when she said this to her husband, he frowned and said, “You mean the brown people?”

“No,” she insisted. “I looked up the crime rate. It’s high.”

She agreed, finally, when she became pregnant, because in Fontana they could afford a large house, and, she said pointedly to her husband, “It will be good for our baby to be around diversity.”

She strolls past a hair salon with a shopping cart outside, past a pawn shop with spray painted windows, past a psychic reader and a barber shop, and a bar whose sign reads “El Portal” in neon script. As she walks, she scrolls through topics—“Strange Woman on Citrus,” “This man rang my doorbell at 2am,” “Mailbox break ins,” and clicks finally on “COYOTE.”

“Being concerned about coyotes isn’t racist,” Cecily thinks, and reads.

Across the street, a quarter of a mile south, the coyote tramps down Sierra. She has already passed the salon, the psychic, and the bar, and now she is hungry; the air smells like meat, though with the wind, she cannot determine the source of the scent. Each time one of the large rumbling animals screeches past, she crouches in a position of self-defense. She misses her pack. Her mate has not returned with the usual food for several days. Her pups, she knows, are at home, yipping in hunger.

The coyote passes a human, his smell as earthy and his grey hair as matted as her own. This human is carrying several full garbage bags on his back and though she poises herself to attack, the human bends over her kindly, says, “Good boy,” and pats her head.

Behind the glass window in the open-air restaurant, Jimena listens to the white woman’s order. The woman speaks more loudly than necessary, enunciating each word as if she is on a stage, ending each bit of her order with a question mark. She does not think Jimena speaks English, and Jimena plays along. She nods stupidly, makes the woman repeat herself several times. The girls behind her smirk. Beside her, the tortillas spin round and round. Jimena hands the woman her change and removes her apron, walking to the back for her break. She sinks low in the metal folding chair, props her feet on a splintered pallet, and takes out her phone. On the neighborhood site, people are complaining about a coyote.

“Leave her alone,” Jimena types. “If we didn’t destroy their habitat for our homes, they wouldn’t be a problem.”

Cecily eats her burrito with a fork, picking out the avocado to give to the baby, who gums it and burbles in appreciation. She feels pleased with herself—she is supporting local businesses. She leaves a large tip. She reads a new comment on the coyote thread and types, “Sure, let’s leave potentially rabid animals alone.”

Another thread advertises free flu vaccines. Cecily feels obligated to respond. “Do your research. Read the vaccine insert,” she types. “QUESTION BIG PHARMA.” Again, she feels pleased with herself. The baby kicks at her shins and she puts her phone away, resolving again not to look at it when her child can see.

“I’m sorry,” Cecily says. “Mommy’s here.”

Further south, the coyote smells a meal. She pokes her nose through a hole in a wooden fence and sees a small animal in the yard—its scent is overwhelming. The coyotes mouth waters and her tongue hangs. The small animal yelps and jumps. The coyote leaps the fence.

Cecily pushes the stroller south. A block ahead, a woman sits at a table with a sign that says “Gratis.” Seeing this, Cecily crosses the street, walks toward a residential area, and looks at her phone. A man named Luis has responded to the coyote thread. “Let him come near my property. I’ll shoot the bastard.”

Luis opens the glass sliding door to his backyard just as the coyote sinks her teeth into the neck of his terrier. He runs back inside, his arms tingling. It is as if he summoned the creature here, he thinks—as if she heard his dare. He spins the combination lock on his gun safe and retrieves the .22 from where it has rested since he returned from his last trip to the desert. He has only ever used it for shooting cans. Outside, he jumps, his fingers tight around the rifle, onto the top of his air conditioning unit, which hums in recognition. Luis aims down at the coyote, and takes his shot. His dog is dead, Luis sees there is no hope for him, but still he is filled with a feeling of animal triumph—adrenaline rushes his system, and he looks up from the bloody scene, hoping someone has seen his moment of sheer territorial manliness. He cannot suppress a guttural roar.

Cecily steps onto the block just as the gunshot sounds. Fear drips through her limbs like hot glass, and she runs back in the direction she came from, away from the man holding the gun, grinning manically at her, back to Sierra, back to the restaurant.

Jimena helps the woman call 911. Her pale manicured hands are shaking too hard to dial herself. The baby cries, sensing her mother’s fear. Jimena pats the woman on the arm as she speaks to the operator. “Hispanic,” the woman says. “Yes, definitely a gunshot … He was threatening me … Just now.”

The coyote hears the sirens approaching and attempts a weak howl. She can feel the bullet in her belly, feel the blood crusting around her matted fur at the wound. She closes her eyes. The sound gets closer—it is almost on top of her now, and the coyote whimpers. The sound fades and rises again—it is a sharp yip. She rubs her snout on the ground and nuzzles her pups.

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