This morning, bringing Darby and Mae for a walk we crossed the lawn. As we did, Mae lunged for something. It was a red squirrel and it was moving slowly enough that she almost got it. Then on the way back, same red squirrel, same almost capture of it in dog jaw.
WTF? Get outta here, Red Squirrel? Can’t you see this is not a good place for you?
Several hours later, coming around the corner from taking Mae for a pee and Red is there again, but this time he’s sort of lying on his side gasping for breath. Mae lunges before I can reign her in and gets the poor thing in her mouth. I command her to drop it but not before she gives it a few death shakes.
Then both dogs try to go for it.
The poor thing lies on its side breathing heavily. I get the dogs inside and Allen takes a closer look. Its little front paws are shaking.
I start to freak out about rabies. No, it didn’t bite anyone but what if it is rabid and then Mae had it in her mouth? She’s had her shot but can she infect us? What? I call animal control but there is no animal control. I call fish and wildlife but they are only available from 9-5 on weekdays. I am referred to a private company who will come and take away potentially rabid creatures. Allen talks me out of calling.
After more research, I learn that squirrels aren’t typically carriers of rabies. Instead, they spread things like Typhus. Great.
There are many squirrels and chipmunks around here–so many, in fact, that one starts to not see them. Even when they are squished on the road, after you see the first dozen or so, your heart sometimes turns cold. Sometimes. You can’t grieve for every dead squirrel. Can you?
I can but I try not to. It’s part of my conquer-my-fear-of-death campaign. I’ve stopped doing the sign of the cross four times every time I think of death. I’ve stopped doing it whenever I see a dead creature. I’ve stopped doing it at all.
But when I see something dead on the road, a flash of thin white teeth, eyes pecked out by birds, guts abuzz with flies, I often lose my breath. Same when I see lobsters in a tank in the grocery store. If it happens to be a certain type of day, I have to get myself out of there fast before I break down.
One time–a hot, gray skied June day—Allen and I were on the sidewalk outside of K-Mart. There were rows and rows of plants for sale–annuals, perennials–roasting in the sun. Many had not been watered, were pale and droopy, were brown and crispy, were dusty and dying. I had to get out of there. They were on a baking sidewalk in a crappy strip mall and they were dying and no one gave a shit.
I make lunch as the squirrel lies dying on my lawn. I look out the window now and then. Check for movement. Maybe it is playing possum and will get up and scurry back to the trees.
I think of an old roommate from Greece and how when she would see gray squirrels on the telephone wire, she’d stop and admire them. “Look! Look!” she’d say, “A squirrel!”
A few hours pass and a chorus of squirrels and chipmunks chitter on the fringes of the lawn. Allen goes out to check and its eyes are partly shut. It is dead.
It lies there now, pale belly exposed to the sun. Soon we’ll put on rubber gloves and find a place to bury it beneath the pine needles and moss.