Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 558
The unnamed narrator’s girlfriend, Marge, has recently left him, so he goes from Montana to east Texas to fish with his friend Kirby and Kirby’s friend Jack. As they drive through downtown Houston in the early morning rain, the narrator sees the buildings as “like tall jails . . . the shutdown of a life.” Depressed, he feels unable to measure up to the Texas myth that “the world can be tamed—it’s a bull that can be wrestled, and with strength and courage and energy you can lift that bull over your head and spin it around and throw it to the ground.” Moreover, because he is unready to take on the responsibilities of being a husband and father, he feels like an imposter, trying to live a “strong” life, “fast and free, scorning weakness.” Both Jack and Kirby are married and have children, and the narrator envies them.
As they drive, they hear animal noises in a box in the back of Jack’s jeep. When Jack tells them it is a coyote, the others assume that he is joking. Later, they launch a boat in Galveston Bay and notice a billboard showing a beautiful, smiling woman named Renee Jackson who is missing; the narrator finds himself on the verge of tears, presumably because he associates her with his own missing girlfriend. This time Marge has left him not for the usual reasons, but because she was tired; the narrator admits to himself that he does sometimes get really wild. Jack tells the narrator it is all right to cry over the missing woman and recalls how Kirby cried over a large pregnant redfish that they caught the previous year that died despite their efforts to release it alive. The narrator thinks that he will be ready to settle down someday and be a good husband and father, and “the wait will make it nicer,” as he thinks about the missing Renee, who he hopes will return and make her parents all the happier after they have long waited for her.
The men’s fishing is successful and even the stormy weather, which charges the sky all around them, never hits them. The only threats to their pleasure are the “popdicks,” other fishermen who crowd them when they find a good spot. The narrator himself never catches a fish; when his friends fail in their efforts to help him, he concludes that “like most things, it’s just something that I am going to have to work out by myself.”
As the men drift back toward shore, they discuss sex, but the narrator feels uneasy about it. When Jack describes his wife as a “hellcat in bed,” the narrator is relieved that Kirby does not talk about his own wife. As they near the billboard again, Jack says that he thinks they found Renee’s skeleton the previous spring. This observation and the lateness of the hour make the narrator feel overwhelmingly lonely and tired.
The story ends when Jack stops the jeep and releases a coyote, which he caught in his backyard. Despite being cooped up for hours, the coyote heads north (the direction from which the narrator has come); it runs “without looking back, as if it knows exactly where it is going.” The narrator sees the freed animal as “the most beautiful thing.”
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