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About the author:
Paula Margulies is the owner of Paula Margulies Communications, a public relations firm for authors and artists. A graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Margulies holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Language Arts & Literature and Marketing Communications, and single subject and community college teaching credentials. Margulies has received numerous awards for her short stories and novels, including her debut novel, Coyote Heart, and her essays have been published in a number of professional journals and magazines. She has been awarded artist residencies at Caldera, Red Cinder Artist Colony, Centrum, and the Vermont Studio Center. Margulies resides with her husband in San Diego, California.
What inspired you to write your book?
I had the idea for a short story about a married woman who falls in love with a Native American man. I don’t know where this idea came from, but I kept seeing the image of the husband, who I imagined had been in an accident of some sort, sitting in a chair with a rifle in his hands and his arms raised up in an Indian victory gesture. This image haunted me so much that I began a story about it, and that evolved into the novel, Coyote Heart.
Here is a short sample from the book:
The coyote was in the yard again. Carolyn Weedman watched as it nosed around the flowerbed and the trees by the back fence. It stepped lightly, as if the earth was hot to the touch, its mottled brown fur ruffling in the breeze whenever it lifted its head.
The animal stopped and stared through the kitchen window.
Carolyn thought it made eye contact, but before she could be certain, it darted through the fence. Twice before it had appeared, like a warning sign or a premonition, and both times the creature had vanished into the canyon preserve. She felt as if she’d conjured it, a ghostly figure from her subconscious. After the last sighting, it had lingered in the back of her mind all day. Today, the coyote had seen her, and that bothered Carolyn more than its sudden appearances, leaving her feeling naked and exposed, as if she was being watched.
Carolyn turned and wiped her hands on her apron. At the breakfast table, Everett mopped up the last of his fried eggs with the edge of his toast. When he finished, Carolyn gathered his plate and silverware and then stood, fingering the checkered tablecloth.
“There was a coyote in the yard.”
“Oh?” Everett sat back in his wheelchair. He put down his napkin and rolled the chair over to the sliding glass door. “Was it a big one?”
“No, not too big. It’s been here before.”
“They’re getting desperate when they come into the neighborhood in broad daylight.”
The peal of the doorbell signaled the arrival of Ben Miller, the sweet-faced college kid who helped Everett take his morning bath. Although Carolyn was strong for her small frame, the awkwardness of wrapping her arms around her 180-pound husband to lift him over the edge of the tub had become too much. They had hired Ben six months after the accident, and the three of them had settled into a regular morning routine.
Carolyn listened to the rumble of Everett’s voice and the gentle laughter of Ben’s responses in the bathroom down the hall while she fried eggs for herself and looked through the grocery ads. The two men could be father and son, so easy was the banter between them. When Ben wheeled Everett back to the kitchen, his white hair quickly drying in the early summer heat, Carolyn raised the frying pan in Ben’s direction.
“Love to, but I’ve got a final to study for. Thanks anyway.”
Carolyn watched as Ben settled a blanket across Everett’s lap. Her gaze lingered on his kind hands, the way his hair flipped into a double cowlick at the back of his head.
Once Ben left, Carolyn did the dishes while Everett read the paper. The silence between them used to be easy, but now, with Everett home all the time, it had grown palpable, like a stranger at the table. Carolyn felt as if her marriage stalked her, the dependencies closing in on her until, at times, she could hardly breathe.
She and Everett had lived in this house on the edge of the Penasquitos canyon preserve their entire twenty-five years together. They could have moved when they got the settlement from the car accident three years ago. Instead, they remodeled the house to make it wheelchair-friendly and bought a dark blue Toyota van with a hand-operated gas pedal and brake.
“What are your plans today?” she asked, running the dishes under lukewarm water. Everett had retired from his engineering job soon after coming home from the hospital.
“Thought I’d try to fix the back gate hinge. Maybe work on the Toyota a bit.”
Carolyn knew that Everett would spend most of his time constructing his model airplanes. He had a number of them laid out in various stages of assembly in his study. Some days, he played blackjack at the Indian casino down the road, and occasionally, Carolyn would find him asleep in front of a soap opera when she came home in the afternoon. Other days, she was greeted with the sound of little pops coming from the backyard, where Everett used his rifle to take potshots at the empty soup and juice cans he lined up on the fence.
“Well, don’t work too hard.” She placed a hand, briefly, on his shoulder.
On the way to the library, where she worked part-time, Carolyn noticed that the shopping center, the fire station, everything she passed was the same as it had been for a decade since the last remodeling phase. So much had changed for her in the past three years, and yet the world remained indifferent to her circumstances and the dull structure of her life.
She didn’t see the dog until after she hit it.
Just outside the library entrance, as she turned into the driveway, Carolyn felt a quick thud. The wheel jerked in her hand. Hands shaking, she pulled into the first space and looked back to see a medium-sized dog stretched out on the concrete. She ran to its side. It was a female collie mix, still breathing. The animal raised her head an inch and squinted at Carolyn out of wet, brown eyes. Carolyn felt around the fur on its neck for some sign of ownership.
“Here, let me help you.” The tall, dark-skinned man reached down and lifted the dog in his arms. Carolyn hadn’t noticed him until he spoke. “If you open my door, I’ll take her to the vet in the shopping center.”
Carolyn, unable to talk, followed him to a scraped and dented white pickup truck, where she pulled open the driver’s side door and pushed the seat forward. The man placed the dog in the section behind the driver’s seat on top of a worn gray blanket. As he got behind the wheel, Carolyn walked around the truck and reached for the passenger door handle. Should she let him take the dog alone? It didn’t seem right to do so; the responsibility for injuring the dog was hers. She pulled the door open.
“Can I ride with you?”
The man nodded and Carolyn studied him a moment. Was this a safe thing to do? She glanced behind the seat at the dog lying on its side. It lifted its head and whimpered when it caught sight of her. She decided there was no time to waste and climbed inside.
As they slowly drove toward the shopping center, Carolyn removed her phone from her purse and dialed her supervisor’s number. After explaining what had happened, she reached behind the seat.
“I’m Carolyn Weedman.”
The dog pushed its wet nose into her hand, reassuring her that it was still alive.
“Roy Washburn.” He spoke without taking his eyes off the road. “How’s she doing?”
“Okay, I think.” Carolyn smoothed her hand over the dog’s head. “I don’t know what happened. I was turning into the library lot and the next thing I knew… ”
“Dogs will do that,” Roy said. “They’re like spirits. Fly right out into the street before you even see them.”
Carolyn took a moment to study him as he steered the truck into the shopping center. He had shoulder-length dark hair and skin barely wrinkled by the Southern California sun. His aquiline nose jutted from his face, prominent and full; his lips, by contrast, seemed thin and tight. Carolyn caught a faint leather scent from his rawhide jacket and noticed that his jeans were worn and faded. Without thinking, she pushed her thick curly hair behind her ears and straightened her blouse.
The veterinary office was warm and had the moist, almond smell of vitamins and wet fur. Carolyn talked to the receptionist, a young girl with a nose ring, while Roy took the dog into the trauma room. He and Carolyn sat together in the cramped waiting room while the vet assistant took x-rays. Then the vet, a stooped, gray-haired man with wire-rimmed specs, called them back.
“She’s a lucky one. She’s got two broken ribs but, otherwise, she’ll be fine. We’ll keep her overnight to make sure she’s stable. That okay with you?” He looked first at Roy and then at Carolyn.
“Oh, she’s not ours,” Carolyn answered. “I looked for a collar, but she didn’t have one.”
“Well, she’s in good shape. Healthy coat, standard weight. My guess is that someone will be looking for her. We can call the animal shelter tomorrow.”
“What happens if no one claims her?” Carolyn asked.
“They’ll adopt her out, unless you want to keep her.”
“I’ll take her.” Roy spoke before Carolyn could say anything.
Carolyn paid the bill and they went outside. They stood for a moment, awkward and silent.
“They’ll take good care of our dog,” Roy said.
“Your dog,” Carolyn emphasized. She pulled her purse tighter over her shoulder.
“Right,” Roy said. He waved toward the truck. “Ready to head back to the library?”
“I guess I should.”
Carolyn climbed into the passenger’s seat, then turned to Roy as he revved the engine. “Actually,” she said, “can I buy you a cup of coffee? It seems the least I can do.”
They went to the Starbucks at the other end of the shopping center. Sitting in the cushioned tub chairs at a table by the window, Carolyn twisted her mocha in front of her. Roy sat quietly, the steam from his tea sending smoke signals in the air between them.
“You seem nervous,” he finally said.
“Oh, I’m not, really.” Carolyn stopped moving her cup and put her hands in her lap. “I’m just a little thrown by what happened, I guess.” She decided to change the subject. “Do you live near here?”
“I live on the Pala Reservation,” he replied. “Up off Highway 76.” He took a sip of tea. “I teach history at Mira Costa College. You?”
“I work at the library. Just part-time.” Carolyn stared down at her coffee. “I used to go to Mira Costa. I wanted to be a teacher, but never finished. When I was twenty, I met my husband and thought being married was more important.” She stopped and gazed out the window. “I never went back.”
“Marriage always seems important at twenty,” Roy said. “I thought it was. My marriage lasted fifteen years. Even though we had no money, those were good years.”
“What happened?” Carolyn asked.
“Sonia died of cancer six years ago. Fought it hard, but it finally got her.”
On the way back to the library, they sat without speaking. Roy navigated toward the entrance and parked the truck in front of the drop-off box.
“Well, I can’t thank you enough,” Carolyn began.
Roy raised a hand to stop her. “No thanks necessary.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a worn leather wallet. “Here’s my number at the college. Call me if they can’t find the dog’s owner.”
Carolyn watched as Roy pulled out of the lot. She waved briefly, the white card like a bandage across the palm of her hand.