Florida Brush Wolves
We climbed over the rusted bones of automobiles long dead. Fords. Lincolns. Cadillacs. American cars because that’s what my grandfather trafficked in. Still believing, as so many did back then—and who could blame them, we always buy what we’re being sold—in those kind of American dreams. His nickname was Big, my grandfather, and he was, big that is, even in death.
The sagging car frames littering our front yard had been brutalized from decades of Florida sun and salted Gulf winds. As kids Jori and I used amputated steering wheels for Frisbees, rearview mirrors to reflect sunlight off the segmented backs of fire ants. We were coyotes in the abandoned junkyard of our front lawn. Our paws roving truck frames speckled with iron oxide.
“Hop in, pal,” Jori would say from the driver’s seat of a gutted Impala. “Watch the springs.”
I’d climb over a shattered side view mirror, skirt the browned springs piercing the vinyl seat.
“Where to?” she’d asked.
“Anywhere but here,” I’d say, even that far back wanting escape.
“You got it.”
Our mother would yell from the kitchen window of the house to get our fingers away from engines splayed open on the back of the dirt lot. Our father told us we’d get tetanus. “Do you want lockjaw?” he’d demand.
But our wild limbs insisted we stretch over these American carcasses. Scour the wreckage for answers. Every lone hubcap a clue into the life we’d been born into. A coffee can of tarnished sparkplugs a relic of our redneck heritage. There was also the lore of Big’s treasure—money stashed away on the property in a manic rush or delivered by his spirit that roamed this barren plot after his death. Big descended from the poor white people lured here by the promise of fortunes never amassed to force the Orange Belt Railway through swamplands, the Tamiami Trail after that.
It wasn’t just automobiles littering the property outside the Old Pink House. Big held on to anything, it seemed, that once had an electric pulse. A washing machine from who knows when lazed on its back. A cluster of window unit air conditioners huddled in the corner of the lot, the Freon from its tarnished coils long ago poisoning the earth. A microwave with broken hinges. A toaster oven, maybe two.
Our father often claimed he was going to have the junk hauled away. There was a guy at work, I think his name was Cliff, who wanted the stuff. But Cliff never came. And my sister and I never stopped scavenging.
We were little then, Jori and I, close. We had a game where we’d den under the frame of a Ford dump truck. The tall cutthroat grass offering cover. We’d dig our fingers into the earth to expose cool soil. Jori said coyotes did this. On the hottest days we were delivered from the heat.
Jori would part the uncut grass around the wheel well. “This is what it feels like to be wild,” she’d say. The half-moon of her fingernails packed with dirt, her skin flecked orange from the rusted underbelly of the truck. “Try it.”
I remember inching to the edge of our den. Pushing the dried grass to the side. In the driveway, our father loaded his work truck with tools for a job in Tampa. He looked smaller from our burrow. It made me sad, seeing him like that, but strong too, fingertips trembling against the grass.
“Under here, the land is older,” Jori said. She released the grass from her grip. I did the same. The air cooled against my pores.
Our father slammed the tailgate in the driveway.
“Where are the kids?” my mother asked from the front steps. “Lost in the great Florida trash heap again?” She’s funny that way, my mother.
“Jori?” my father called. “Seth?”
In the soft glow under the truck, Jori pressed a finger against her lips. I held my breath to keep from laughing. Then Jori smiled and threw back her head; a high-pitched howl erupted from her lips. I joined in. Our out of tune cries circled each other in the damp air. We must have known it back then—that this was the closest we’d ever come to meeting the promise of this ancient landscape. We were Florida brush wolves. The two of us in our den built from the wreckage of our past.
Dave Patterson is the author of the novel, Soon the Light Will be Perfect (Hanover Square Press). The book was described by Nickolas Butler as "a pitch-perfect novel" and the New York Public Library declared it "devastating, beautiful, worth it." He holds an MA from the Bread Loaf School of English and an MFA from the University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast program. Patterson won the Bread Loaf Freeman Fiction Award, and his short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in Salon, Slice Magazine, and Blinders Literary Journal, among other publications. He lives in Cape Elizabeth, ME, with his wife and two small children.