Listen to Brianna read this piece.
When you see the flickering shimmer of headlight eyes careening out across your windshield, tell yourself at first, that you didn’t. You couldn’t. Reflexively fall back onto the lectures your aunties and your grandmother would tell you: If you saw something, no you didn’t. If you heard something, no you didn’t. Try not to freeze and, when you do, forgive yourself. Remember how to come back to yourself long after those headlight eyes have made frost form in your lungs.
Only when those eyes flash from yards away, a sickly yellow, there is no time to breathe, to think. Floor the brakes, white-knuckle the steering wheel, and drift slowly across the parking lot until you’ve hit the curb.
You’ve seen those eyes before. In the memory haze of cedar clippings burning fresh on gas-stoves in the rez, remember what they cautioned. Whatever you do, don’t look into their eyes. Don’t give them pieces of yourself. Instead, witness it only through glimpses, of shadows fractured by hazard yellow headlights. Don’t see its eyes flowering into bright poppies in the dark. Don’t see its bruised skull banging flush against a halved chest. Don’t imagine its limping coyote-trot, how it must’ve narrowly missed the brush of a truck. Don’t recall its human teeth, smiling at you across the hood, or the way it had no lips at all in its gnarled grin, or the way it latched you in.
Instead, try to remember why it would cross your path now, in an empty parking lot, in the dead center of Albuquerque at midnight, there, as you drive alongside Jayce. A bright, yellow caution sign. A U-turn sign in the middle of a road signaling: turn back now, you’ve gone too far. Try to look in an entirely different set of eyes, into Jayce’s, who might be the cause of this sudden roadblock, yet whose stare once made you feel safe anyway.
When you’ve pulled back from its coyote-teeth and tried to meet Jayce’s gaze realize, too late, that he was never watching you all along. His stare met those flashing headlight eyes, bounded with it across the asphalt, climbed beyond the fence, and flickered faintly across the field.
Did you see that? he asks. Deftly nod, catching snippets of his recollection that somehow mirrored yours: a dog… a human skull… We should get out and…
No, you want to say, to tether his fist to yours. I know you weren’t taught things like this, you begin, his blue eyes lingering in the yellow. But don’t look, please, stop. As he unlatches his seatbelt, he reassures you, it’s fine, probably a coyote that got hit, I’ll try to track it, he says shakily. As he leaves, watch the headlights play through the gold ringlets of his hair before the light loses him altogether.
By the time he drifts back, a dark shadow flicking across the glow, he has already lost pieces of himself out there, in the black. You just didn’t know it yet.
Brianna G. Reed is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.