Sunday, April 18, 2010

The squirrel on Malcolm’s deck

Malcolm stared down his enemy – steely eyed versus beady eyed. Squirrel remained the essence of defiance. He held his six inch long body (not including tail) in the stance of an ancient warrior. Proud. Defiant. Victorious.

Malcolm’s quest for the last six weeks: rid his garden, his haven of peace, of this vermin. Not only was his presence a constant irritant, but this creature had managed to eat every ounce of premium bird food that was supposed to attract rare and unusual species to the feeder. Now only the starlings and mourning doves were willing to co-exist with the squirrel. Even the cat was annoyed but she wasn’t willing to get involved.

His main opposition in this task was his five year old daughter, Beth, who inexplicably loved the beast. Instead she insisted on calling him Mr. Fuzzers and was ready to adopt him as a little brother. “Oh! Mr. Fuzzers. I love him. He’s funny. He hangs upside down.” She looked at Malcolm. “Are you going to build a home for Mr. Fuzzers?”

Given her affection, Beth’s reaction was not good when Malcolm answered, “No honey, that animal is just a rat with a good haircut and better PR.” She hadn’t understood what he meant, but she was deeply offended.

To date Malcolm’s attempts at extermination were less than successful. The cayenne pepper recommended by his mother simply seemed to serve as seasoning. The bonemeal invited the neighbour dogs to roll around on the ground under the feeder. The slingshot only managed to anger his wife, Maureen, and injure his crusty old neighbour. After that particular incident Maureen had ordered him to “Make peace with the damn squirrel.” That directive fell on deaf ears. Maureen had resigned herself to the fact she was married to an idiot and hoped he wouldn’t cause any permanent damage or be arrested.

Malcolm’s battle scars included 27 distinct mosquito bites (earned while stalking Mr. Fuzzers with the sling shot) and a wasp sting on each ankle. Squirrel was not going anywhere. Malcolm felt mocked but was not willing to give up either.

Something drastic was needed. Poison was illegal – and he wasn’t willing sacrifice Beth in the name of squirrel eradication. Malcolm turned to the internet for advice. It was during a late night of research online when Malcolm was convinced he had discovered the ultimate defense. The “Deluxe Squirrel Guard” would protect the feeder. No food and Squirrel would move out.

One tiny engineering issue stood in Malcolm’s way. The guard was actually designed to attach to the bottom of a feeder mounted on a pole. Malcolm’s feeder hung from the tree. Logic was not going to stand in Malcolm’s way. There had to be work around. He placed the order.

In the week that followed the arrival of the “Deluxe Squirrel Guard”, Malcolm spent hours tinkering in his garage forcing his jerry-rigged contraption to balance. In the end it still teetered like a drunken freshman, but Malcolm was satisfied.

He carefully hung the feeder with the guard on the tree. It looked like a pagoda shaded by a crooked Frisbee. Malcolm decided his hammock with a glass of ice tea would be the perfect place to take in his expected mass arrival of song birds.

No sooner had Malcolm departed the yard and Squirrel arrived for his afternoon feast. Squirrel contemplated the situation for just a moment and immediately scrambled up the tree, positioned himself upside down from a nearby branch and swung himself forward with the stealth and grace of a season trapeze artist. On his first try he grabbed the feeder by the “Deluxe Squirrel Guard” and brought the entire thing closer to his hungry mouth.

Squirrel was in this position of pure gastronomical delight when Malcolm re-entered the yard. Malcolm let out a high pitch shriek a little in the way Beth did each time she saw a spider. Malcolm’s reaction was swift and stupid. He dropped his perfectly chilled glass of ice tea and lunged towards Squirrel, arms extended. He fully intended to grab Squirrel by the neck and strangle every last breath out of him.

Thankfully for Mr. Fuzzers – and probably Malcolm as well – squirrels are faster than humans (unless humans are in cars). Sensing the end of his days, Squirrel made a jump for it. He let go of the feeder and twisted his body in mid air to safely escape up the tree.

The bird feeder, with the circular “Deluxe Squirrel Guard”, also twisted in air and was catapulted forward at maximum speed in the opposite direction from Squirrel. It took the exact trajectory necessary to smack Malcolm square in the forehead.

The force knocked Malcolm backwards, lifted him slightly in the air and landed him firmly on his ass. With the wind completely knocked out of him, he didn’t immediately feel the pain or the trickle of blood down his face. It was his dazed state and not a conscious attempt to terrify his family that led him inside in his current condition.

Unfortunately, Beth was the first one to see Malcolm, and it was her blood curdling scream that alerted Malcolm that something was wrong. Maureen immediately came running and stopped dead in her tracks.

“Good God, what happened?”
Malcolm finally noticed the blood all over his hands and gingerly touched the cut on his forehead from whence a steady stream was causing blood to streak down his face.

“That squirrel literally tried to kill me,” he calmly answered.

After assuring Beth that her father was not going to die, Maureen gently led Malcolm to sit down and allow her to clean him up. Once she was able to determine that he would neither bleed to death nor need stitches, she moved on to trying to mend his spirit.

Maureen turned to Beth. “Sweetie, it’s time to give daddy his surprise.”

Beth ran out of the room and when she returned she approached her father cautiously, still wary of his previous appearance. She dropped a large shopping bag marked “Julian’s Garden’s” at Malcolm’s feet.

Malcolm was afraid to look in the bag but he reached in and pulled out a large rectangular wooden box and a bag of peanuts. Confused covered his face.

“It’s a feeder for Mr. Fuzzers,” Beth explained before Malcolm could ask.

The confusion left Malcolm’s face. This was just cruel.

“If we feed the squirrel on the ground, he won’t bother with the bird feeder,” Maureen explained. “I found it on the internet on the same site where you found that stupid squirrel guard.”

Malcolm was about to protest, but he we too tired to fight it. Too defeated. “Ok,” he turned to Beth. “Ok, you pick the spot for it.”

It was 2 weeks later when Malcolm was enjoying the peace of lying in his hammock. Beth was cuddled in to him. Together they watched for their visitors and recorded them. Three sparrows were picking their way in the feeder. The occasional gold finch stopped by for a feed. Squirrel was reluctantly sharing his peanuts with a chipmunk. Malcolm had no idea chipmunks even lived in his neighbourhood.

Monday, April 12, 2010

2gether, 4ever

Marvin knew how to plead with his big brown eyes. Christine couldn't ignore him. She didn’t want to. Everyone else in the house in the house did a spectacular job of that.

When she had agreed to the dog, Christine had foolishly believed the children would keep their word and "love him and walk him and pick up his poo." She had romanticized the idea of taking him for long walks and brisk hikes. Most days it was all she had in her to walk him along the trails behind her house.

Christine choked down the resentment and put on her coat to brace herself against the March evening’s chill. The cat gave her a sarcastic look as if to say “I warned you against that mutt.”

Christine kept a strong hand on Marvin’s leash as they set out. After 6 years the big black lab still liked to push Christine’s limits – and her buttons. Despite his best attempts, she was able to get him to heel. After a few minutes of battling over who was in charge, Marvin surrendered until he found the tree on which he wished to pee. Christine was just thankful she wouldn’t need the plastic bag in her pocket – yet.

She rolled her neck to ease some tension and ward of exhaustion. She caught sight of a carving on Marvin’s tree. Her own initials connected “4ever” to two other letters she didn’t recognize.

It brought back to her a tree in a park 600 miles away that linked her initials with those of Tommy Devon.

She hadn’t thought of him in years. The memory made her sigh out loud. He was 16, she was 15. He was dreamy in man boy way. Deep brown eyes. Long dark eyelashes. Football player handsome and 6’ tall at 16. She had loved the way he had towered over her 5’3’ frame.

It had started as a flirty walk home from school and bloomed into glorious summer love. So much hand holding. So much kissing. They spent the summer in a park full of trees with wonderful crooks made for kissing and perfect for carving romantic vandalism. She didn’t think she had ever been kissed as much as she had that summer.

But when they returned to school Leslie Cuch quickly caught Tommy’s eye and he drifted off in her direction. Christine mourned the loss hard for at least a week. Until John Lambert sat next to her in history class. John, she remembered, had the most fabulous….

Marvin tugged impatiently on his leash. They exchanged looks of “hurry up” and “I’m sorry” before carrying on. Christine loosened the grip on her leash and let Marvin take her the long way home.