Morning. I am absorbing my coffee at the dining table and thinking about the day’s work–another fifty pages of revisions is my short-term goal. I swear to all the gods I intended a hundred a day, but this book is…crunchy. And complex.
ANYWAY, all of a sudden, there is a noise.
Not your average noise, no. Not even a regular morning noise, like Odd Trundles’s back end terrifying him with a sudden trumpet blast, Miss B chewing on one of her paws while she looks blankly at me and wonders when the hell we’re getting out the door, car doors slamming as neighbors set out for work, or (when the wind is from the east) a train whistle or (when the wind is from the west) chimes and playground noise from the local elementary school.
No, this was more like…a gong. And claws.
Me: What the fuck? Miss B: I HEAR SOMETHING! ALERT! BORK! Odd Trundles: *startled out of a sound sleep* HUHWHUH? DANGER! ALERT! *snortwhistle* BORK BORK BORK! Me: *cannot hear anything*
I made it to my feet, temporarily deafened but still possessing enough mental horsepower to triangulate the sound. Peering out the door to the deck, I can’t see anything amiss, so I made a terrible decision.
That’s right. I opened the door.
In my defense, I was only partially caffeinated and Miss B was producing a lot of noise. Odd, still ensconced on my bed, began to get a little worked up. He is used to following Miss B’s lead, and of course, if she’s barking he has to, but he was All Alone and I did not immediately come into the room to soothe him. Plus, I think he’d gotten turtled on his side or back, sprawled amid my pillows.
Miss B was out the door like a shot, and I belatedly realized that was not my smartest move. I checked to make sure I had footwear and shuffled out onto the deck, cradling my coffee protectively. Miss B scrabbled down the stairs and set off for the far back corner of the yard. I couldn’t see much, because the fir was in the way. I weighed the advisability of just going back inside and waiting for Miss B to…
Oh, hell no, I couldn’t. I just could. not. She’s a lovely dog, my companion and buddy, but she does not make good choices.
I still couldn’t see from the landing, but I began to get a sinking sensation, because the claws-on-metal sound had returned, and the only thing in that quarter was…
I peered around the fir, and my worst fear was realized.
It was Canary!Squirl, and she was atop the sheet metal roof. Perhaps she’d fallen from the overhanging cedars, or just wanted to explore. In any case, now she was there, and stood with squirrel-arms akimbo, and two things occurred to me at once.
First, Miss B was going to flatten the lavender, and already Emphysema Joe was cussing.
And second, I could see how Canary!Squirl had dropped onto the shed, but I could not, for the life of me, see how she could possibly get down.
Well, I’m awake. Or at least, vertical. And about to start revisions.
This book is having a…difficult…birth, to say the least. I’m almost at the point of crying with sheer frustration, but not quite. I mean, why bother revising when the publisher has told you they don’t even want the damn book? Because I’m a professional, that’s why. *fumes a little*
The squirrels in the cedars are at war with those in the firs. There is much chittering and throwing of pinecones, and already this morning a dead branch carrying a tree-rodent plummeted to earth. Slightly stunned, the rodent–oh, let’s call her Canary–rolled out into the yard, and lay there for a few moments.
Drawn by the noise, I stood in my office window, and nervously checked to make sure I was wearing shoes. Miss B was also very interested, doing her best to get her paws on the windowsill. Unfortunately, it’s too high for her, but she chose the next best thing, bracing her paws on my hip and DEMANDING to be told what in the many canine hells was happening.
Miss B: WHAT IS IT MUM WHAT IS IT OH TELL ME TELL ME PLEASE Me: It’s, uh, a squirrel. Ow. Stop it. Miss B: OOOOOH I CAN HEEEEERD IT PLEASE PLEASE… Me: I think it’s dead? Miss B: I’LL STILL HEEEEEERD IT! Me: No. Get down. Canary!Squirl: MOTHERFUUUUUUUUUUCKERS! Miss B: *drops to all fours, looks up at me with her head cocked* …WHAT WAS THAT? Me: *taking a sip of my coffee, glad I’m not outside* Oh dear. Canary!Squirl: IMMA COME BACK UP THERE AND YOU’LL BE SORRY!
The squirrels in the firs went silent. The ones in the cedars, however, did not quite get the memo. Canary staggered to her feet, shaking her wee rodent head, and I was heartened that she was at least moving. Maybe I wouldn’t have to bury YET ANOTHER SMALL ANIMAL in the rose garden.
She bolted for the back fence, and twenty minutes of screaming, shaking, claws on bark, and a very interested Australian shepherd still trying to reach my office window later, the battle is still ongoing. Girl has stamina. But the squirrels in the firs are deadly quiet.
I think they’re waiting to see how this all pans out…
Up a little late, nosed out of bed by an Australian shepherd who was extremely sure I was supposed to be ambulatory before I was quite ready for such an event. She also “helped” me all the way through yoga, hip-checking me when I almost fell asleep in Child’s Pose. Her nose was on my knee all during French and Spanish at breakfast, and she snored all through the sit-down Latin lesson. When I begin my pacing and reading Caesar, no doubt she’ll herd me around my office.
She’s very excited at the prospect of a run today, can you tell? Yesterday I took her along for 5K, very soft and easy, and she was so thrilled she dragged me half the time and tried to slow me the other half, especially when Other Dogs showed up.
She’s neutral on humans (except her own) but she cannot resist other dogs. Odd Trundles is just the opposite–he will schnorgle a new human until the cows come home, and has only met one or two he doesn’t care for, but other dogs fill him with slow, wheezing rage. Except Miss B. I’m not sure why he’s so upset by other canines, since he was socialized to a fare-thee-well, but there it is. He even likes squirrels better than other dogs.
Speaking of which, there were two juvenile Rodentia Arborea doing their level best to tear down the cedars along the back fence yesterday afternoon, which filled both dogs with excitement. I checked to make sure I was wearing shoes and watched, openmouthed, from the deck as they scurried back and forth, shaking branches and sending a cascade of detritus down upon a barking Odd and a leaping, extremely athletic Miss B, who wanted to get her ass up into the branches to herd those small, silly sheep. She landed on Odd twice before he got the bright idea to retreat to the upper garden boxes, where he began to run in circles and bark loudly. Miss B kept going, back and forth along the fence, stopping only to throw herself to whatever altitude her haunches could catapult her weight to.
Needless to say, when they both calmed down, they were filthy. Just a single day after I washed Trundles, too. *sigh* There was a quick brushing to rid them of cedar bits before I dragged them inside. Of course Miss B viewed the brushing as a reward for her doughty performance, and trotted around the rest of the day with her skirts swishing and her ears held high.
The upshot of all this is that they’re both moving relatively slowly this morning, and Odd is exceedingly cranky. He may need a muscle relaxer, the little idiot. Miss B is in a particular stage of almost-elderly-irritation that will no doubt reach epic levels once I leave the house for a run alone.
They’re both getting older, these sweet, silly dogs. Odd doesn’t mind so much, being a creature of sedentary habits, but Miss B doesn’t understand why she can’t run like she used to, or why she gets so tired after a quarter-hour of attempting to scale cedars in pursuit of a herd of juvenile tree-rats. The inevitable codicil to this is that their lives are short, but will be comfortable and full of interesting things.
And with that sobering thought, I’m out the door for a run. Caesar can wait until I come back.
Nobody threw anything. Nobody yelled. Nobody told me I should have been aborted or that I ruin everything for everyone. Nobody twisted my arm behind my back, slapped me, pinched me, throttled me or used a belt on me.
Instead, my phone was full of happy texts and my inbox was full of emails from people who, despite everything, apparently like me. My children are both healthy (well, they both have a cold, but that’s small potatoes) and affectionate, and they deliberately spent the after-dinner food coma time in the living room with me. The dogs were ecstatic at the advent of ham in their dinner bowls. There was enough food, it was quiet and calm, the roof kept the rain out, and when I went to bed, shaky from residual holiday stress, I knew I’d survived another one.
Not only survived, but actually had a pleasant time. Each holiday season that passes, the stress is a little less.
If you’re in recovery from toxic family, you’re not alone. It’s okay to protect yourself, and arrange your life so the toxicity won’t overwhelm you. You’re not required to give your attention and emotional energy to people who behave badly.
I’m approaching burnout quickly. Going straight from Harmony into Afterwar was perhaps not my best choice, but I don’t want to slow down, either. Part of me thinks that if I just work hard enough, I can stave off disaster of any stripe. Also, if I’m writing instead of filing stuff or cleaning my office, I can eventually be barricaded behind piles of papers and books, and end up mummified.
I’m not saying it’s rational, I’m just saying it’s a coping mechanism, and not a very good one at that. Certainly it vexes Odd Trundles, whose turning radius is such that he can’t schnorgle my feet without knocking something over. He is, I have to admit, the only reason my office gets cleaned at all.
The espresso machine is making funny groaning noises, but on the bright side, the Princess brought home some Pop Tarts. As far as I am concerned, there is only one kind of Pop Tart that counts, and that’s the brown sugar cinnamon kind. She’s partial to the frosted fudge, which sends me into paroxysms of ugh, to which she gleefully remarks that it means they are hers, all hers. The Little Prince is neutral on the subject of Pop Tarts, but he is gaga for shrimp chips, which neither the Princess or I would touch if you paid us.
This convinces me the secret to domestic harmony is different tastes in junk food. That, and uniting against a common enemy. Like, say, squirrels.
The tree rats have grown exceeding fat during this warm autumn and uncharacteristically mild November. As in, so rotund I’ve seen a few dragging their bellies as they hop across the road. Beauregard has returned, but he seems to have forgotten his chivalry in favor of reeling from one nut cache to the next. He’s become that most hideous of beings, an arboreal frat boy.
…I should explain, right?
So the Princess and I were at the table, sharing a lunch before she had to leave for work. (The Prince was at school, begrudgingly–his fondest wish now is to graduate and get a job like his sister, who can BUY HER OWN POKEMON GAMES.) As is the habit with lunches, we each had something to occupy us while eating, enjoying the time together in silence. I think I had a book on Reconstruction, and she had a walkthrough of a particular dungeon playing softly on her phone. I caught a flicker of motion in my peripheral vision just before the Princess glanced up and said, in the mildest of tones, “Squirrel.”
My head snapped to the side, my heart giving a terrified leap rivaled only by the time I almost got hit with a pool cue during a barfight (but that’s, say it with me, another blog post) and I saw Beauregard, almost as round as Napoleon!Squirl but considerably taller, hopping around on the table. “Jesus Christ don’t do that!” I snapped, shoving my chair back while the Princess laughed.
She has no mercy, this daughter of mine. If I hadn’t been conscious when she was born, I STILL wouldn’t doubt she is completely, genetically, absolutely the product of my womb.
“I’m wearing shoes,” she informed me, as I peered under the table to verify we were both shod. Now, there was a closed patio door between us and the erstwhile Knight of the Nut Table, but it pays to be certain.
Go ahead, laugh. You’ll sing a different tune if the filthy little nut-munchers ever take a liking to your yard, I’ll tell you that.
Anyway. Beauregard did a complete circuit of the table, which rocked under his squirrely weight. The two flowerpots I haven’t cleaned out yet stand sentinel there too, and he stood on tiptoe to look in the smaller one. I know someone–I suspect Josephine!Squirl–buried an unshelled peanut there. That may or may not be why I haven’t moved it yet.
Look, I’ve got a kind heart, okay? Well, mostly.
Anyway, Beauregard circled the much larger flowerpot. It’s a sizable one, and I haven’t emptied it because it’s heavy ceramic and I thought well, there might be a cache in there too, how would I feel if someone moved my to-be-read pile? Although that’s not really a fair comparison, it’s the closest I could get, not being in the habit of burying comestibles in my backyard, even in the rose garden. (There’s no room between the roadkill corpses among the roses, anyway.)
“Mom…” The Princess looked puzzled. “Is that normal?”
“It’s a squirrel. Nothing about it is normal.” But I knew what she meant. Beauregard was…well, kind of dancing. You know, like when you’re are the airport and your bladder is full but there’s a line in the loo and you’re going to miss your flight but you don’t care because when Mother Nature calls, you can’t put that bitch on hold for too long?
Yeah. Like that.
So Beauregard, who once was a lithe and doughty knight, hefted himself up onto the rim of the flowerpot. He hopped down into the pot itself, and…
“OH HELL NO,” I yelled, startling Miss B, who was under the table hoping to catch a bit of dropped human lunch. “OH, HELL NOOOOOOO.”
“Mom…” The Princess stared. “Did he…just…”
“DID HE JUST PISS IN MY FLOWERPOT?” I rocketed to my feet, hitting my hip on the table and almost spilling my coffee and her orange juice. “OH HELL NO HE DID!”
Beauregard, so fat he can barely climb a tree, defecated in my flowerpot.
The Princess began to laugh, helplessly, and I almost ran into the patio door before realizing discretion was probably the better part of valor and opening said door was, as Vizzini might have said, a Classic Blunder. It took a good five minutes of cursing before I recollected myself, during which Miss B began dancing on the rug before the door, hoping that this meant a ramble outside. (I believe the term “nutsucking son of a flying donkey” may have had a starring role.) The Princess was damn near purple with merriment, and Sir Frat Boy Beauregard twitched his tail, wallowed over the edge of the flowerpot, and minced off up the fir right next to the deck.
Yes, friends and neighbors, he came down out of the treetops to shit in my flowerpot. Now I’m going to have to wear gloves and a hazmat mask to empty that fucker out.
“Put out some water for them,” a kind commenter said. “They’ll love you forever.”
While the latter half of that advice is extremely questionable, the former just seemed like a decent thing to do. After all, if I was thirsty all day, the little rodent fucks probably were too. My compassion thus appealed to and my good sense suppressed by the broiling, I set out some water for the squirrels.
Who ended up having an orgy in their new swimming pool. No, I won’t describe it fully. Just know that whatever you’re imagining, it was a hundred times more uncomfortable to witness. Apparently, what the commenter meant was, with access to a swimming hole, they’ll love each other forever.
I still haven’t drained the damn thing. I just don’t want to touch it.
I’m pretty sure the squirrel didn’t mean it, but it happened just the same.
I tumbled down the deck stairs, empty watering can in hand, and ran along the concrete path. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to catch Miss B or Kowalski!Squirl the Recently Beshat, but I had to do something, right? Miss B, glad to finally have a clear-cut problem with what she deemed a simple solution before her, achieved warp speed just before Kowalski!Squirl found himself faced with a bit of a dilemma.
Kowalski!Squirl: STELLLLLLLLAAAAAAAUGH! Miss B: HEEEEERD IT!
A word or two is necessary here so you understand what I’m about to relate. The south end of my yard contains, from left to right:
* The shed, full of gardening implements and a tarp just in case;
* A small built-it-yourself greenhouse, set alongside the shed;
* Emphysema Joe‘s home among the lush lavender greens, tucked behind said greenhouse;
* The vegetable garden, which is bisected by a railroad tie;
* The compost heap;
* Open space in before the fence and the apple tree.
The vagaries of pursuit meant Miss B was coming in from the left, arcing out a bit to come at Kowalski!Squirl from the side. If you’ve seen a dog herd sheep, you’ll know what I mean. Kowalski!Squirl, heat-drunk, smeared with dog droppings, and more than a little crazed, consequently veered right.
Yes. Straight into the vegetable garden. Right up the middle, right up the railroad tie that serves to separate the garden rectangle into two almost-squares.
The railroad tie that comes to an abrupt stop. With a post. A post at the end.
The post Norbert, our cranky gargoyle watchdog, leans against since his resin base is cracked. Was cracked. I mean, it’s still cracked, but…
Kowalski!Squirl: STELLAAAAAAAAAA! Miss B: HEEEEEEEEEEEERD– Me: –ohnogodpleaseno– Norbert: WHAAAAAAAAA–AUUUUUUUUGH!
The shitty-assed squirrel plowed right into Norbert, maybe thinking to climb the post behind him. But what Kowalski!Squirl did not know was that Norbert, hollow and made of resin, was a bit more…erm, friable, I suppose is the word? More friable than he looks.
That’s right. The goddamn squirrel shattered my gargoyle. He clambered up the thin pole and leapt for the fence, almost getting caught in the lilac hedge. Thankfully, he avoided the bush Stanky Thing Squirrel got tangled in. Further thanks are probably in order to the fact that Miss B didn’t hit the lilacs. No, she just dug up the left half of the vegetable garden on her way through, all but uprooting a poor tomato plant, sailed over the potato box (now there’s a story for another time) to land neatly on the walkway next to the hedge and began barking, furiously, at the fence as Kowalski!Squirl, in an ecstasy of fear-laden relief, screamed down at her.
Miss B: OHPLEASEOHPLEEEEASE COMEDOWNCOMEDOWN IMMAHEEEEEEEERDYOU! Kowalski!Squirl: %$#&! $#@*&! #@$%*&^%$#%#@*! Norbert: AUUUUUUUUGH! Emphysema Joe: *peering through the greens* OH, MAN. OH, MAAAAAN. Me: FOR FUCKSAKE!
While all this transpired, Odd Trundles was barking at the north end of the yard, excited but without a clear idea of why, since his short flight in that direction had knocked every other consideration clean out of his huge, wrinkled, very hard head.
Odd Trundles: *snortwhistle* MOM! MOOOOM! I’M ALL ALONE! MOOOOOOM! WHAT HAPPENED? MOOOOM WHERE ARE YOOOOOOOOOU?
Miss B leapt at the fence and its cargo of ordure-smeared rodent. Kowalski!Squirl decided discretion was the better part of valor and took off, numbly hopping along the top of the chain-link, leaving brown smears. He made it to the back fence and vanished into the cedars, while Miss B tracked him along the fence and, losing her prey, decided to show her athletic prowess by running a few laps of the yard at high speed, barking all the while.
Odd Trundles: *trotting vigorously in her wake* WHERE ARE YOU GOOOOOOOOING? Miss B: *pouncing on her favorite digging hole* HEEEEEERD GONE, MUST DIG MUST DIG. Me: *clutching empty watering can to my chest* OhmyGod, Norbert… Emphysema Joe: OH, MAAAAAAAAAAAN. THAT’S NOT GROOVY. Norbert: *coughchoke* WHAT THE FUUUUUUCK?
Yeah. The squirrel. The goddamn shit-smeared squirrel broke Norbert.
I dropped the watering can, scrambled into the garden, and went to my knees. The heat was amazing, Biblical, and I was sweating freely.
Me: Jesus Christ. Oh, Norbert. I’m so sorry. Norbert: THIS IS…UNDIGNIFIED. OUCH. Me: Yeah, well…squirrels. Norbert: I SAW HIM COMING. I JUST…OUCH. MY BACK. UGH. Emphysema Joe: *clears throat* PSST. HEY, BOSSLADY. CAN YOU…CAN WE TALK FOR A SECOND? Me: I’m kind of busy– Norbert: NO, GO AHEAD. I NEED A MOMENT.
There followed a whispered conference in the lavender, while Miss B dug and Trundles, feeling extremely lightened in the back end but with a certain pressure in his bladder, burp-barked his way across the yard, trying to find a place to pee and reach me at the same time. As usual, when presented with two options, his brain froze, so he would stagger a few steps, squat, decide to raise his leg, almost fall over, look up to see me crouched by the lavender, and stagger another few steps towards me.
Emphysema Joe: YOU’RE NOT GONNA DO IT, RIGHT? PLEASE TELL ME YOU’RE NOT GONNA. Me: Do what? Joe: *significantly* YOU KNOW. Me: *holding onto my temper, hand over my pounding heart* No, I don’t, or I wouldn’t have asked, dammit! Joe: SHHH! LOOK, OKAY, WE ALL KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU BREAK. Me: When I– Joe: NO, WHEN WE BREAK, BOSSLADY. NORBERT’S BEEN THINKING ABOUT IT A LOT LATELY. BECAUSE, WELL, HE’S FALLING APART. Me: *finally catching on* Oh. OH. Jesus, Joe. Joe: HE CAN COME LIVE WITH ME– Norbert: I CAN HEAR YOU, FOR GOD’S SAKE. IT’S FINE. I’M READY.
I shook my head and went back to the garden, crouching in front of Norbert and attempting to get him, as it were, all in one place. It was hard–each time I picked up a piece, it would crack and fall apart.
Me: Look, Norbert– Norbert: I UNDERSTAND. DO IT QUICKLY. Me: For Chrissake, shut up a minute. I am not throwing you away. Norbert: … Me: I am not throwing you in the rubbish bin while you’re still alive. That’s not how I roll. Norbert: … Me: Who’ll look after the garden if I do that? Norbert: I CAN’T SCARE THE BIRDS LIKE THIS, MA’AM. Me: Norbert, for God’s sake, you can scare anyone you want. I am not throwing you out, and that’s final. Norbert: I APPRECIATE THE THOUGHT, BUT…I CAN’T LIVE LIKE THIS. Me: …fine. Emphysema Joe: NO, MAN, YOU CAN’T– Me: Shut up, Joe. Norbert, I am not throwing you away. *wincing a bit, rubbing sweat from my forehead, suddenly noticing I’m probably kneeling in squirrel-spread dogshit* It’s really simple. Norbert and Emphysema Joe, in unison: IT IS? Miss B: *finally stopping her digging* MOM? MOM WHERE ARE YOU? *trots over, self-importantly, and decides to stick her nose into Norbert. WHAT’S THIS? Me: It’s super simple, guys. Get out of there, B. Odd Trundles: *tripping over kale, finishing the destruction of a tomato plant, and landing on the empty watering can* WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
I arranged Norbert’s, erm, pieces, as best I could, carried the watering can back up to the deck, checked Odd’s hind end and my knees for any, um, effluvia, and dragged both dogs inside. The kids wanted to know what happened, but I could only shake my head and whisper “…squirrel.” At least I had shoes on, right? Inside, there was air conditioning. I also poured myself a glass of wine, because by God, I felt like I’d earned one. The dogs both flopped down on the tiled kitchen floor and congratulated themselves.
So that’s the tale of how a heat-drunk squirrel rode a bulldog, fell in poop, almost killed my gargoyle, and oh God, GOD HAVE MERCY, I’m going to have to go to the craft store.
Because Norbert, my friends, needs a new body.
Which–oh, come on, say it with me–is another story.
HERE ENDETH SQUIRL!OVERHEAT. (For now…)
 Note: picture taken the morning after the Event.