Different Animals

      She had seen him several times before, usually in the front yard across the street; he was big and strong with a good coat. It was late Spring and she was in heat, the two-year old fox squirrel. They met for the first time that afternoon and mated in the lilac bushes that lined the side of the house. It lasted less than a minute. When it was over he left and she went back to the attic of the large old house across the street where she’d prepared her nest. There was a gap in the siding that let into the attic, and there was a space in the wall where she curled up in the insulation and slept. 

      She was tired and it was several hours before she awoke. When she did it was dark and quiet. Stirring and stretching, she immediately detected something foreign—a strange yet familiar scent of some sustenance somewhere nearby. After a few moments she pinpointed the source of the attractive aroma and cautiously approached. Sniffing, she nibbled at the— 

      —Spring-loaded jaws of the trap snapped shut on her head as she tasted the peanut butter, the force failing to breaking her neck, her body flopped spasmodically for half a minute or so as she died of strangulation; then the flopping of her body and the scratching of her nails on the hardwood floor ceased and the attic was quiet again. 

      Just before bed that night, Jack went up and checked the trap. He’d set it after he’d gotten home from work that afternoon, using peanut butter as Gary down at the hardware store had suggested. Shining his flashlight around the dark, dusty space he spied the trap, turned over with the little brown body and tail of the fox squirrel protruding. 

      Satisfied, he turned off his light and went back downstairs. 

      His wife, Lisa, was already in bed reading when he came in, and he told her about the success of the trap as he undressed. When he’d finished she said she was glad it was dead, that the noise first thing in the morning had been terrible. Then she went back to her book. After a while she turned off the light and they went to bed.

      They slept through the night and early morning until the alarm went off at six-thirty. Flushing the used condom after he’d gone to bathroom, Jack got dressed for work and went downstairs. He had a cup of coffee along with his bacon and eggs as he glanced over the paper from the day before.

      He was just putting on his boots when he remembered the dead squirrel in the attic. It got hot during the day and he worried that it might start to stink that afternoon if he didn’t take care of it. Hurrying upstairs, he used an old paper grocery bag to collect the carcass and took it out back to bury it. 

      Grabbing a spade from the garage, he quickly dug a hole back by the fence. Dumping animal and grocery bag in together, he hurriedly refilled the hole, pressing down on the spot once with his foot when it was done. He put the spade back in the garage and waved to Lisa through the kitchen window as he got in his truck and headed to work.

      Gone, the neighbor’s dog went down to the fence line to investigate. It’d watched Jack bury the bag and scented the dead squirrel from the back patio where it was laying. Digging furiously, the dog was able to break through beneath the fence and reach the other side, to where the squirrel had been unceremoniously interred; scratching and biting, it ripped the bag open and dragged out the dead animal. Happily the dog licked and chewed the small carcass all morning. Eventually growing tired, the dog trotted off to the side of the house to bury what was left in the soft dirt of the flowerbeds before taking a midmorning nap.

       When he got home later that afternoon, Jack could see as he pulled in the driveway that the spot by the fence had been dug up. Lisa, working on her adult learning computer course in the living room, said she’d seen the neighbor’s dog sniffing around the place earlier. Muttering angrily, Jack went out and refilled the hole before going back inside, taking the pieces of the torn up paper bag with him. 

       The dog waited until he was gone before coming down to the fence and digging everything back up. Satisfied nothing new had been deposited, the dog went and checked the place in the flowerbeds before lying back down on the patio, lazily stretching out on the warm cement.

       The next morning was Sunday, and when he came downstairs Jack could see through the kitchen window that the area up against the fence had been dug up yet again. Annoyed, he went over to his neighbor’s house and explained the situation. His friend and neighbor, Denny Sanderson, completely understood, and watched through his sliding glass door as Jack went back and refilled the hole; finished, Jack left, and as the dog started back toward the fence line, Denny came out and scolded it, chaining it up as a lesson—from that time on the dog didn’t bother with the place down by the fence. 

       Two weeks later, weeding his flowerbeds, Denny came upon the decomposing pieces of what was left of the squirrel, some bits of fur and guts buried in dirt and rocks and bugs and worms with bones sticking out at funny angles and missing both eyes. Cursing the dog, he picked up the remains with a shovel and threw them in the trash to be collected the next day.

       Chained up again, the dog lay gloomily on the patio by the house while Denny went back to his flowerbeds, humming a little as he worked.

       That night, back next door, the condom broke, and Jack and Lisa were worried.  

       They probably weren’t, he said, finally; but even if they were it’d be all right; he could easily pick up some overtime at the foundry if it came down to it.

       It would be fine, his wife agreed, just the matter of the money.

       When she did miss her time they went to see the doctor, and when he gave them the news Lisa broke down in tears. 

       Tightly gripping her shoulders, Jack hugged her while she cried.