Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Vermin Who Came in from the Cold

The high today is supposed to be forty-eight. And you know what that means. Out in the woods about a mile away, a raccoon will wake up this evening in its hollow log, shivering, and thinking about how the hell it's going to chew through another withered, jerky-like corncob, with the skeletons of the stalks all around mocking it for living such a crappy life.

Or! this raccoon might think, Or, I can go to town! And as it weighs the pros and cons, reluctant to leave the relative warmth of its loamy bedroom, the idea will become more and more appealing. The fears--angry dogs, cars, bright flashlights and the shouts of bathrobe-clad homeowners--will fade away as the raccoon convinces itself. Instead, visions of driveways covered with flimsy, thin plastic kitchen garbage bags, so tender, so vulnerable, will begin to form in its head. And just visible through the pale plastic, Good Things to Eat. Parts of bagels. Crinkly little packages with plenty of leftover food. Whole rinds of tasty melons. Fish parts!

Stomach growling, the raccoon will gather its keys and cellphone and head down the hill toward the lights, muttering to itself despite its excitement I've got to get this place set up for winter or I'm gonna freeze. Passing bushes whose berries have long been gathered, walking over the rocks where salamanders hid in warmer days, the raccoon will wonder if Earl's likely to be out tonight, or whether those skunks from the park will show. They're always good for a laugh, as long as they don't get too excited, the raccoon will think.

And about a hundred yards outside of town, the merest whiff of garbage and compost on the air, the raccoon will come around a curve in the game trail to find a couple of woodchucks, the possum twins from the Big Oak Tree, his cousin Earl and his girlfriend Arlene, and a whole tribe of skunks jamming the path, milling around and muttering. A coyote will slink back through the crowd toward the woods, snarling "This is freaking ridiculous, I come here all the time."

And standing up on its hind legs, craning its neck, the raccoon will see a bear and a velvet rope blocking the trail. The bear will explain reasonably and implacably to a couple of demanding, agitated weasels--"But if you'd just check the list!" "There is no list. I am the list."--that it doesn't make the rules and that if they would just join everyone else on the line, that would be best.

And of course the bear will step aside for two does who bat their long lashes and will unclip the rope with a little smile as their scent wafts over him, then turn back to the assembled masses and shake its head and shrug at their sarcastic jeers.

The raccoon will sidle up next to Earl and Arlene and roll its eyes. "Man," it'll say, "this place has really gone to hell." They'll all nod their heads. But they'll be patient. Because it's chilly, and there's garbage in there.

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