Trickster Laughs by Staci Mercado

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looking up into a starry night, bright blue sky in Montana, pine trees in background

Coyote jumped in front of my fiancé and me on our way to the Missoula courthouse—rattled up underneath the hood like a bag of stones and cracked the engine block. Trickster, sister, brother, mister—shit. Twelve miles from the Montana border, the car quit. We coasted in that dark expanse of night and plucked off the road.

We had opted for a judge over a priest, and though we had never been to Montana before, it seemed like an adventurous place to get married. Better a distant peacemaker than a town full of expectations. We packed flannel shirts and hiking boots and set off to sign the treaty we had agreed to when stuck in post-college ennui.

Robbed of the Catholic wedding he had imagined, my father’s reluctant blessing came in the form of the rental car Coyote rendered useless—the same car my father insisted he get insurance for, though we assured him it wouldn’t be necessary.

Stars provided the only light, for this was long before cell phones, and we had no flashlights in the trunk. At twenty-four, bad things never happened to us; we were invincible and therefore, unprepared.

Where’s the next town? Do we hitchhike? When was the last time we saw another car? As winter walked with tails whipping, we pulled bags from the trunk and set them beside the road. Shrouded by the chasm of space, we searched for incoming lights.

Coyote’s laugh echoed from the Iowa we’d come from, from the Montana we were going toward, ricocheting off the Bighorn Mountains in waves of bitter medicine. We stood on the edge of our marriage and assured each other we would be okay.

The Medicine Cards book was tucked in my bag, and I wished I had a light so I could read what it said about Coyote. He had sent us a message, and I had yet to decipher it.

Hours later, a couple in cowboy hats offered us a ride. “You hit that coyote back there? Biggest one I’ve ever seen,” the man said. We slung our bags into the truck bed and climbed into the dually, sitting four abreast with room to spare. The woman chain-smoked cigarettes and offered us one. Through watery eyes, we watched for tricks cloaked in the ditch.

We were safe—for the moment—from wandering Coyote spirit, from the sight of his fur stuck in the grill, from the smell of his blood smearing the undercarriage. They dropped us off at the nearest motel, a faded and lonely place, and we wondered how we’d follow through with our plan now that we had lost our way.

I opened my Medicine Cards book to page eighty-nine—lucky chapter thirteen. There Coyote says, “You may not be conscious of your own pathway of foolishness. You may have conned yourself, your family, your friends, or even the public at large into believing that you know what you are doing.”

But then again, on the same page, there is this: “If you can’t laugh at yourself and your crazy antics, then you have lost the game.”

Many winters later, Coyote’s lessons have helped us raise four sons. His page is dog-eared and worn, for we had many mishaps along the way. These days we hear him surviving in the hills around our home, but his howling no longer fills us with dread. When he knocks on the door, we invite him in, lick each other’s wounds, and remind ourselves that laughter is medicine.

Meet the Contributor

Staci MercadoStaci Mercado won a Midwest Book Award for her historical fiction novel, Seeking Signs. She has published work in Broad Street, Barely South Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Fiction Southeast, Canary, and Litro.

Staci is a professor for Southern New Hampshire University’s MFA in creative writing program. She also teaches writing for her local high school. Staci was awarded the 2017 Outstanding Literary Arts Educator Award from the Midwest Writing Center and was a top-five finalist for The Iowa Department of Education’s Iowa Teacher of the Year in 2022.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Bureau of Land Management

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