The Thing With Teeth

What is it that’s biting into you?

Covid, Covid is the thing that’s sunk its jaws into my flank, that’s shaking me like a rag doll and refusing to let go.

The thing I want to bite into: new short stories to be written.

On the edge of the Sahara Desert, where the sand dunes delivered the sun two mornings in a row before my very eyes, I could feel the stories waiting to be written beneath my skin, sliding into my periphery like the sand dunes snaking their way across the desert. The people I met: the American geriatric doctor, the exuberant Moroccan who showed me how to kill a theoretical scorpion with the twist of his sandaled heel (“See, like this. POP.”) and the young Palo-alto tech couple—all of them, become in my mind’s eye potential characters.

The desert as a landscape, where the wind whispers her sands of time, and 400-million-year-old spiraled fossils, ammonites, erode into dust. I could have spent months looking out at those waves…water, waves! Waves is what I’m calling the pattern in the sands, because an ocean is what the desert used to be, an ocean is what I hear and feel when I close my eyes. The water remains, you can sense it, holding up the dunes, aquifers keeping the mountains of sand in place deep below the ground. The way the sand insulates sound is remarkable; a roaring wind and a deathly quiet. The exact same as a blanket of snow, without the cold. The perfect setting for a mystery or a murder. I drew a heart in the sand that contained our names and by the next morning, my artwork was erased. One could theoretically conceal all kinds of weapons and deeds in the desert.

The sand comes alive with the rise of the moon; the only trace of activity during the daytime are the early morning tracks that haven’t yet been blown away. Small round circles for the fennec fox. A sort of punctuated sweeping drag from sand beetles and innumerable other unidentifiable (to me) designs and patterns.

Alongside the quiet—and here we dabble in plot and conflict—there was a howl, long high-pitched and sustained. On repeat. This fervent call, on the morn of our departure. It didn’t take me long to identify the site of the sound and its inhabitant. A lone desert wolf, howling, howling with the rise of the sun on the far off duney rocky edge. He howled as if greeting the fiery sky, and forlorn, and warning us about loneliness and the desert dangers simultaneously.

His howl had nothing to do with us—that’s just me inserting myself into the story. The howl was about the wolf being a wolf in the desert; howling at the sunrise being one of the things wolves do, I suppose. Nevertheless, I wish I could have answered him. I wish more still that I could have caught the sound on my Iphone, but listening back to the footage later, the only howl caught on camera is the whine of the wicked wind that pulled at our clothing and hair and tried to pry the phone from my fingers with its sand-laden ferocity. And so, without recorded sound, the wolf becomes a ghost of itself, a distant howl in the desert of my mind, the sun invading my senses, invading every square inch of sky, colouring the sand red, causing me to squint in defeat. But in real life, I heard the call many times, the wind, while tearing, carried the sound of the wolf’s haunting howl to my ears. The sound—right now—that I’m recording, that has carried me back to the page and my stories.

I won’t forget.