Michael Benz | February 15, 2017
Driving back at dusk along Los Osos Valley Road, I dwelled on the just-vanished sunset, deepening below the California horizon. It had stained the low-lying clouds pink and scarlet. Its light glimmered in the crashing waves. I was a glimmer, too, on that coastline, vanishing as soon as I appeared. Earlier, walking back to the car, I had admired the darkening mountain ridges and the lavender sky above them, so heartbreakingly pure.
I drove back to San Luis Obispo as the dusk deepened. Foothills loomed on either side of me, and a line of red taillights next to yellow headlights stretched before me — a procession of gliding ghosts. The line was a thread through space, unerring, taut with speed, with force, with inevitability.
But then, through this line, I saw a silhouette break: a black ridge rising from the road, two ears pricked against the night’s darkness, and two eyes flashing in my headlights’ beams. My heart stopped, plunged like an anchor. Those were canine eyes; those were canine ears. Its whole body, lying across the yellow median line, had flashed by me in an instant.
“Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.” It had been hit by a car. Worse. It had been hit by a car but was still alive. My chest seemed to cave into itself. It was lying in the middle of the road, bleeding, bones crushed, lungs heaving, straining for life, wasn’t it? It was looking into the oncoming headlights, in uncomprehending fear, without hope. Already accepting its fate.
That poor creature, suffering alone, for no reason. I hated this fate. It was still alive, wasn’t it?
The feeling gripped me in an instant. I couldn’t accept that fate. I didn’t know what I would do. But the outcome didn’t matter. I only wanted to get to it, touch its fur, let it hear my voice. I wouldn’t let it die alone, uncomforted, unmourned.
I pulled over onto the shoulder.
Turning around, parking to the side, I fixed its body in my headlights’ beams and trotted out to where it lay. His back was turned to me, and his head was now resting on the ground. I peered over; his eyes were closed. Was I too late? I saw its long, straight snout and its feathery fur, mottled gray, black, dun and auburn. It was a coyote.