by Beth Konkoski
A woman I once worked with came to visit when I moved back east and stole my car after my husband and I went to bed. To be fair, it had been a rough day with her own vehicle dead in our driveway, her bank account empty and three bottles of wine gone between us when we should have been eating the lasagna I made.
She called me at 3 a.m. from the police station a county away. I couldn’t imagine, fumbling in the dark for my phone, what could be wrong. In fact, when I recognized her voice, I wondered why she was calling from our guest room downstairs.
“It’s the fucking coyote moon,” she said. “Makes me do crazy shit.”
Ten minutes later, in the cab of Rich’s pick-up, I tried to explain what might have happened.
“Tell me again why I’m driving to the Massena jail in the middle of the night?”
The clouds were thin layers of bone dust, letting through the yellow light. I pointed.
“A coyote moon.”
“That’s her shit, not yours.”
“Aren’t you glad though?”
We didn’t speak again as the miles rolled beneath his tires and frogs jumped in the road, their mighty back legs carrying them into the circle of a headlight as if they leapt in the center ring of a circus. Sometimes there was a thud as the bumper ended the performance. A few miles outside of town, swampy farmland shifted to forest and we continued through a tunnel of dark, the moon now only slatted light. Busy with the speed of pine trees out the window, I didn’t see why Rich swerved and hit the brakes, his arm thrown across my chest as I slammed forward in my seat belt. One kick of a back hoof knocked against the hood as the deer somehow cleared the front of the truck.
I took his hand as he guided us off the road’s shoulder and kissed each finger before placing it in my lap where I wanted its warmth to remain.
“Fucking safari out here,” he said, his laugh shaky.
In the parking lot of the town hall and jail, I hopped out of the truck and noticed how many spaces were taken up by police cars. It didn’t seem possible a town the size of Massena could have a dozen vehicles set to round up lawbreakers, but there they sat, white and empty beneath the parking lot lights. My Camry, the only other car I could see, sat alone and dark in its own row furthest from the entrance.
Rich lit a cigarette and walked around the front of the truck, checking for deer damage. Fluorescent light beamed at me from the glass front doors as I pulled one open. A woman in uniform sat behind the counter, her eyes on a computer screen. Somewhere in front of me, echoing off walls and the tile hallway, a voice full of fury and cursing violence reached my ears. I pointed, and the police woman rolled her eyes and nodded. I imagined the shrapnel sound of Kate’s cries had been unceasing.
“You fucking dyke. You think you rule this hick shit town. What a fucking joke.” And the sound of metal crashing into metal. As I turned the corner, two uniformed men stood staring into a cell, their arms across their chests. It was her voice for sure, but who was she yelling at?
Beside the officers, their view becoming mine, I looked into the cell where Kate stood with her fists clenched at her side, her whole body like a small dog straining at the end of a leash. On the other side of the cell stood a woman in a dark robe, like a choir robe was my first thought, but then I realized, she was the judge. Tall and thin, her gray hair cut close to her head with a slight wave, her feet in flip flops and peeking out beneath the robe, a strip of white lace, she too stood with her arms crossed, a surprising sense of patience about her as she leaned against the wall. At her feet lay a metal tray surrounded by spilled food and what looked to be an upturned coffee cup. Kate was not wrong about the fucking coyote moon; something bad had happened and seemed to be still happening. I pointed in her direction, one of the officers shrugged, and I tried to remember if I had ever spoken directly to a judge. “Your highness,” was all that came to my tired mind, but she turned toward me before I spoke.
“Are you responsible for our guest?” Her voice was not unfriendly, but like certain teachers I remembered from high school, a tone that made me want to avoid making her angry.
“I am your honor,” gratitude for my mouth’s ability to recall those words, even as I wondered if I would regret claiming Kate. Still standing in her fighting dog stance, she didn’t even blink. The judge turned away from her and stepped to the door, pushed and was beside me with the cell closed in one smooth motion. There was a click as the door locked in place.
“I am Judge Dinova. And I would very much like this woman out of my town.”
“I’ll bet you would, you Nazi tyrant. Your town my ass.” Kate’s voice attacked the air. My jaw dropped, but I kept my eyes on Judge Dinova.
“You can see why I got out of bed? They cannot simply let her go,” here she gestured toward the officers. “But I can if I am satisfied she will disappear.”
“What did she do?” As soon as the words were out of my mouth I regretted them. I didn’t actually want to know or want this woman so clearly dragged from her bed in the middle of the night to think I was going to defend Kate. Rich was waiting in the truck, how I longed to back out of the hallway and pretend I didn’t even know the raving woman behind the bars. How much did I owe her, this guest turned thief?
“The officers picked her up after she smashed into six mailboxes along Constant Boulevard and damaged lawns in the process. She refused a breathalyzer, but as you can see…” We turned together to look through the bars. Kate didn’t appear to be listening; now she stared at the floor, all the tension in her body gone, like she had deflated.
“Does she have a history of mental illness?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“How well do you know her?”
“We worked together in California. She just came to visit.” On our back porch Kate had told me about getting fired, the recent fight with her daughter who had married a Naval Officer and moved to North Carolina, but wouldn’t tell Kate her address, and the latest boyfriend who walked out of a Chinese restaurant before the egg rolls showed up. The thing about Kate was how funny she made all this sound. Tears had rolled down my cheeks laughing as she imitated the waiter’s reaction when she threw the white dishes and stormed out, leaving the wonton soup to drip down the wall. The mess never really touched her, at least it had never seemed to. In the three years we had worked together, such tales were fairly common, the world always a difficult place for her to navigate, but always surprise on her part when it tumbled down, some frustration and anger too. My co-workers all called her Crazy Kate, their voices like children on a playground when she wasn’t there to defend herself. To her face, they were quieter, avoiding her tongue. I did not speak any of this to the judge.
“I should charge her.” Judge Dinova’s voice reached my ears in a stage whisper. “But then she would have to stay here.” I nodded. If they didn’t want her here in jail, what was I supposed to do with her?
“Is it your car with the New York plates? I nodded, again wondering if I should admit to so much. Would Rich say I should have asked for a lawyer? Was I somehow part of this crime through my car?
“Can you promise she will not cause any more trouble?”
“Some things have happened I think?” I was stalling, not sure I could take her out to the truck, take her home, take her anywhere at all.
“But can you promise?”
“She’s supposed to stay a week.” I waited to let that many nights of Kate create a clear image for us both. “I can try and convince her to cut it short.”
“That would be ideal. Maybe by this afternoon?”
Five minutes later we were walking down the antiseptically bright hallway. The judge handed me my keyring, heavy with the good luck turtle Rich had brought me from South Carolina; it had been in Kate’s hand when they cuffed her. She stared at the floor and walked, my hand on her arm like she was an invalid or very old. I nodded at the officer behind the desk and held the door as Kate stepped into the dark. The door closed behind us, and she shook my arm away.
“This fucking place is incredible. Who could live in such a shithole, backwater, bullshit town? What the fuck are you doing here?”
I was still walking toward Rich’s truck as she screamed at me; the sight of him like spring water as he eased himself off the bumper, ready, attentive, mine. We had only been married for eight months, but his eyes, tracking me as I came toward him, made we want to propose to him, marry him all over again.
“Let’s get something straight,” I said to Kate, ready now to handle her with Rich beside me. “You did a really fucked up thing. I don’t know why, but you’re lucky you aren’t still sitting in there. So shut up and get in my car, cause I’ll leave you here if you don’t.”
I pointed toward the far side of the parking lot and glared straight into her eyes. It was entirely possible she would ignore me, keep raving, and I wasn’t sure if I would really leave her, but I put every bit of anger I felt into my stare.
“The coyote moon does crazy shit to me too, so move it.” And the funny thing was, she did. I worried the entire drive home that she would reach over and grab the wheel or try to jump out the door. Following the red glow of Rich’s taillights, the miles ticked off.
“They tried to lock me up out there too.”
“Maybe you need a chance to rest.”
She didn’t answer or even seem to hear me. Waves of energy, like a sunburn or radioactivity came off her as she perched on the passenger side of my car, her silence bigger than the sky I tried not to look at. The moon hung in its place, made of plaster it seemed in all its stillness. Kate never glanced at the light it spilled around us.
Kendall’s Garage showed up and towed her car in the morning, replaced the belts that were making the engine overheat, and by lunchtime she was on the highway, pointed south, out of town, away from the small roots of a family I was tending. Rich and I sat on the porch at sunset; he pushed the metal swing with a steady foot as we let the quiet, the fireflies, and the first shadows of bats emerge around us. By the time the moon rose over the full night sky, I could imagine Kate in another state, and we were inside watching TV.
Beth Konkoski is a writer and high school English teacher living in Northern Virginia. Her work has been published in numerous literary journals including: Story, Mid-American Review, The Potomac Review, and Smokelong Quarterly. She has been a featured reader in a number of poetry readings around the Washington D.C. area and is currently helping to organize the long-running Miller Cabin Reading Series held each summer in Rock Creek Park.