The Voids Underneath

by Maura Yzmore

It has been two weeks since my wife last laughed. At dinner, she shuffles her food around the plate, but doesn’t eat. She goes to bed early and wakes up late, barely in time for work. She moans in her sleep and burns hot, sweating through the sheets.

“I’m fine,” she says. “Don’t worry. Everything’s fine.” But doubt gnaws at me and I spend my evenings reading about hypothyroidism and anemia.

Night falls and I see an animal in our backyard. I can’t tell what it is; all I see are the eyes, round and motionless. They look like pearls in the glow from our window.


My wife takes a day off, then the whole week. “I need to quit my job,” she says. I ask why and she says, “I just do.” I remind her we need both incomes to pay the mortgage. “We can dip into my retirement,” she says.

I beg her to tell me what’s wrong; if someone has mistreated her at work; if she’s ill. “Everything’s fine. Leave me alone.” I say I will take her to the doctor, that she’s not acting like herself. Her voice is a razor across my chest as she says, “If you try to make me see a doctor, I will leave you for good.” But then she cups my cheek and whispers, “Don’t worry, baby. Everything will be fine, I promise,” and, for a second, I almost believe her.

The animal has been in our backyard every night for the past two weeks, always in the same spot by the northern fence. I sit by the kitchen window all afternoon and, at dusk, I see a shadow approaching. A coyote.


I love my wife with every muscle and bone and sinew in my body. I love her more than enough for us both.

I love my wife because that’s the only protection I have against all that I don’t know about her. She never talks about her family. She said once she’d grown up in a commune, away from the world; that breaking free had been hard; that she would never go back. She said she didn’t want children because her parents had messed her up, but when I asked her how, she wouldn’t say.

I love my wife enough to make up for all the love that others should have given her but didn’t; enough to fill all the voids underneath her skin where sweetness should have been sown, but where she is instead hard and porous like a dry coral reef.


My wife no longer eats with me. I thought she prepared meals for herself and washed all the dishes before I came home. One morning, I forgot my wallet and went back to find her ripping pork chops out of plastic freezer bags and biting off pieces, frozen and raw, so I just closed the door quietly and left. Now I purchase fresh meat every night after work, but no matter how much I buy, it’s all gone before I bring more the next day.

I tell my wife about the coyote, and a fleeting veil of emotion covers her face. That evening, I find her by the kitchen window. I stand next to her and together we look outside at the coyote’s eyes, glistening in the dark.


My wife now sleeps in the guest bedroom. She is quiet during the day and mostly stays inside, with her door locked. She no longer takes showers; her hair is greasy and limp. She has been in the same nightgown for weeks.

At dusk, I hear her get up and walk toward the north-facing window in the guest bedroom, waiting for our coyote to show up. The coyote is the only thing that doesn’t terrify me.


Screams from the guest bedroom wake me up. The door is locked; I yell that she has to let me in, has to let me know what’s going on. I hear her whimper, and I say that’s enough, this madness has to stop. I bring out my tools and unbolt the door.

The room reeks. My wife is on the floor, lying on her side in a puddle of blood and shit. Her jaw is long and her body is covered in gray hairs. The limbs are spindly, with hands and feet akin to paws, but the eyes are hers.

“It’s me,” she says.

Three coyote pups suckle on my wife.

“They are yours. Ours.”

I say I thought she didn’t want kids; I regret my words right away.

“I wasn’t sure that it could happen; that it should happen. Please don’t be mad.”

I’m not mad. I’m not anything.

“They’re our babies,” she says. “Having them like this is much easier.”

I don’t know what “easier” means. “Easier” hangs in the air between us like a cloud of noxious gas.

I ask about the coyote in the yard. “My mother,” she says. The commune? “The pack.”

I open the window and take a deep breath. I speak into the night: everyone’s fine; three young ones; congratulations. I talk to the coyote as I imagine people talk to their mothers-in-law who have come to attend their grandchildren’s birth. I feel stupid, but perhaps the coyote understands me. It’s all I’ve got, anyway.

I close the window and suddenly feel very weak. I grab a blanket from the closet and drop it on the floor, next to my wife and the pups. Then I lie on the unmade guest bed that smells like her and pass out.

In the morning, I find three naked babies asleep on the blanket, in the cradle of my wife’s arms.


There are no more voids underneath my wife’s skin, for sweetness has been sown within them.

She no longer looks through the window toward the north side of the fence, and neither do I.

Maura Yzmore teaches subjects with a lot of math to college students and writes short fiction so she’d have less time to be a pain in the neck. Her stories have recently appeared in Asymmetry, Ghost Parachute, Exoplanet, and elsewhere. Find out more at or come say ‘hi’ on Twitter @MauraYzmore.
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