Flash Fiction: What to do About by Gillian Leichtling

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

I have a squirrel who chewed through the back-porch soffit and had two babies in my bedroom wall. She goes out through her soffit door and brings back acorns, blueberries, the soft tips of plants, bits of ketchuped hot dog bun, uprooted crocus bulbs my wife once planted that now carpet the backyard.

There’s a hole in my bedroom wall that I covered with the plastic dome of a rotisserie chicken container. I stand on an old aluminum step stool and peer in through the sphere. Sometimes the babies skitter across a beam, their needle claws clutching the wood, breath pulsing in their bellies, tail fringes like question marks.

I search for “what to do about squirrels” and my browser offers:

…in attic

…in garden

…eating tomatoes

…digging up pots

…digging up lawn

I buy tomatoes and put them on the rafter by the hole in the soffit. The mother disappears through the hole with a tomato and the babies chirp behind the wall. Everything nested inside my head retreats for a moment:

…the extinction of the blue whale (their quiet wasting, the photos of the last beached calf)

…the refugee expulsions (that video with the purple backpack, the nightstick descending on narrow shoulders)

…the expanding gulf between galaxies (the moon in my backyard, so far and drifting away)

…the fragility of vital organs (my wife’s good luck charms boxed up in the closet behind her robe still hanging there).

I search “what to do about” and am offered:

…mold

…constipation

…heart failure

…dark energy

…people in yard

I stand on the porch next to an empty pot where my wife would plant dill or mint, always something fragrant and homely. A row of tents lines the grass that separates the houses from the freeway wall. My garden hose stretches across the yard so people can fill the jugs lined up in rows. An old man comes out of a tent and leans into a single crutch like a gale-blown tree. I lift my hand to wave and he looks at me like I am a person on a movie screen, like he is wondering what this movie is all about.

I rustle through drawers and collect things in a paper bag: bottles of Ensure, cheese, mildly expired ear drops, batteries, cloth napkins, two floral scarves— one blue, one green. I put the bag out by the corner but no one is there. The grass is dried to dirt and we are months away from rainy season.

A slow drip sprouted in my bathroom ceiling during last year’s rains. The roof is softening, opening to the sky, to its undoing. The squirrel babies will be grown before the rains soak the attic. The roof will cave in after I’m gone, I am hoping.

I wonder where the squirrels will nest when the house falls.

I wonder where the people will go when this town falls to flood or quake or fire.

I wonder what it’s all been about: the trips we took to antique stores for pillow fabric and silverware, the cold frame I built from old windows for her tomato starts, the patching of sweater elbows and plaster walls, the choir practice and beadwork for holiday bazaars, the anniversary trips to Hawaii, the many chicken bakes and chemo drips, her hand squeezed in mine over years and days and then hours while all the effort in her face softened and the rattle of her breath said the end, the end, the end.

Gillian Leichtling lives with her partner and dog in Portland, OR. She appreciates plants, works in social/health research, and tries to see and describe knotty things.

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