The ketchup-and-mustard roses (planted for the Princess’s best friend) are aglow, but most of them have their heads bowed from recent rain, hail, and wind. Battered but still beautiful, their finery damp but still incandescent.
I haven’t had much time in the garden this year. There’s always next spring, though.
I thought it was the squirrels burying peanuts all over the backyard. I find them in the unlikeliest places, and often I can’t figure out how the bloody tree-rodents managed to drive them into packed earth without disturbing anything around.
This morning, however, I was trimming my hair on the back deck 1 and a plump, extremely iridescent bluejay swooped into the yard carrying a peanut from the squirrel-feeders next door.
What? Yes, some people actually feed the little arboreal assholes. Case in point: our curmudgeonly neighbor, who is bitter as gall but also takes care of all the stray cats in the neighborhood as well as keeping feeders supplied with corncobs, pressed squirrel loaf, and peanuts.
Many are the strange things in suburbia.
Anyway, the thing that caught my attention was not the bluejay’s bright plumage. It was his silence. Of course, he had a beak full of peanut2 and was casting nervous glances at every corner of the yard.
I kept going, and he obviously judged me little threat. He flew down, set the peanut carefully aside, and pecked among the violets. I thought he was probably looking for a good place to wedge the peanut so he could peck it open, but no. He pecked out a shallow hole, dropped the peanut in…and began ramming it with his beak, driving it deeper.
All in complete silence. Now, bluejays are extremely vocal, but this fine feathered fellow is excessive even among his type, and the quiet was a bit unnerving.3
I was glad the dogs weren’t out to see this. The last thing I need is Sir Boxnoggin discovering the joy of chasing yelling featherballs.
Anyway, BattleJay–so I have named him for his constant sonic assaults upon the backyard–was finally satisfied as I finished trimming my fringe.4 He flew away, and I heard him screaming something that sounded suspiciously like The British are coming, hide your fokkin pewter! in another neighbor’s yard while shaking ripe apples down from their tree.
And then, my friends, Batgirl the gymnastic pole-dancing squirrel scampered from one of the surviving cedars along the back fence. She had been watching with a great deal of beady-eyed interest, I guess, because she went straight for the buried peanut and got to work. She dug it out like a pair of rabid tweezers digging for a tick, and once she had her ill-gotten gains it was back into the cedars with her head held high–because the peanut was almost bigger than her head, too.
I almost admire the thieving little dumbass. Almost.
BattleJay has not returned. But when he does, I suspect there will be hell to pay…
I almost, almost bought one of these. The only thing that stopped me was the thought of what Phil would say, seeing one of his brethren dangling so. (And Willard, of course, cannot be trusted.) Emphysema Joe wouldn’t mind so much, since he’s a live-and-let-live sort, but the rest of the gnome population would take this addition very hard indeed.
Instead, I’m going to save up and get a new body for Norbert the gargoyle. He’s been patient, but living in a jar is beginning to wear upon him.
The smoke has somewhat cleared, we’re supposed to get a break from the heat today, and I need to grease that damn bird feeder again. Yes, it’s become a weekly necessity.
…maybe I should back up.
When last we spoke, I’d had a bit of a brainwave. I slathered Crisco on that damn metal pole like I was expecting to fry chicken on it. (It’s been warm enough we probably could, but that’s beside the point.)
Anyway, the next day dawned just as nasty-hot and I all but forgot about the damn squirrels–a pleasant state of affairs, but one which hardly ever lasts, around here. I was poking at Robin Hood in Space, figuring out how I was going to get Alan-a-dale out of trouble this time, when the Little Prince yelled “MUM!” from the dining room.
When your kid bellows like that, all of a sudden you’re years younger and trying out for a track meet. I dropped everything and all but flew, my chair hitting the desk and making everything upon it dance. Miss B, startled out of a nap, scrabbled to keep up.
“What? Are you okay? What is it?”
He pointed at the French door, and I saw he wasn’t crying, his face was just contorting like that because he was unsuccessfully holding back a deluge of laughter.
“Out…there…” he wheezed, and I stared. So did Miss B, her head cocked at exactly the same angle mine was.
It was Olsen Twins, perhaps thinking he’d be able to get some better nuggets of birdseed if he snuck back when Batgirl and Preggers were otherwise occupied.
I have to hand it to that little furry bastard with his ragged, skinny tail and nervous twitches. He’s certainly motivated, and just as certainly dumb enough not to give up in an impossible situation. I’d call it bravery, but I’ve seen this same squirrel take off running when the wind ruffles his hindquarters.1
His leap to the first level–a horizontal loop meant to hold a potted plant, but the damn squirrels kept tearing up whatever I planted in there–was a marvel of ballet-like authority. His leap to the second loop, which holds a windchime, was even better.2 The next leap was to the central pole, whereupon he planned to shimmy upward…
…but the Crisco did its duty, and Olsen Twins scrabbled mightily, scritch-scratch, before falling, ker-thump, to the deck.
“Holy shit,” I breathed, and the Little Prince was cackling so hard tears stood out in his eyes. Miss B watched this, her head still cocked at the same do-I-believe-this-shit angle.
Scrabble-skritch-scrabble-THUMP. Again and again, he flung himself at the pole. I had to admire his stubbornness, having no little share of that quality myself.
Finally, though, his sides heaving, Olsen Twins had to take a moment on the deck. It was a very hot day, and he panted, glaring up at the bird feeders as if they had personally offended him. They were full, they were swaying gently, they were ripe, and they were utterly inaccessible.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Oh no. Not the end at all.
Because, you see, the Mad Tortie had padded silently in to see what the ruckus was. She had crept under the table, weaving her way through the chair legs, and watched a few minutes of the debacle with interest. But when Olsen Twins paused, no doubt to cogitate upon his next plan of attack (which would, no doubt, be the same as his previous plan of attack, since squirrels are not known for their creativity) she struck.
I should mention, at this point, that we’ve switched to keeping the Mad Tortie inside, both because it’s safer for her and because she is a mass murderer. She was treating all the bird feeders in the neighborhood as her own personal buffet, and she was damn good at the business of killing. Anyway, she’s furious at not being let out to slaughter at will, and I suppose that frustration lent speed and strength to her spring–another marvel of authority, since she is at least as athletic as a squirrel.
However, her frustration had caused her to overlook one tiny detail.
That’s right. The door.
The glass door.
SPLAT went the cat.
BONG went the glass door.
“SHITNUGGETS!” screeched the squirrel.
“OH FUCK!” the Little Prince and I chorused in unison.
“WHAT THE BLOODY HELL?” yelled Miss B, startled enough to lunge. Not for the squirrel, since she had not forgotten the sorcery humans use to keep the outside, well, outside.
No, she lunged for the Mad Tortie, who staggered away from the door, then noticed in a split second there was something large and furry coming her way. The Tortie took off the way she’d come, back under the table, and Miss B hip-checked the door as she turned on herself–that dog has an incredibly flexible spine, let me tell you–and followed suit.
“LOOK OUT,” the Little Prince yelled, whether at the squirrel, the cat, Miss B, or me, I could not tell.
“OH FOR GOD’S SAKE,” I added, at roughly the same time.
Chairs flew. The table rattled and groaned. The Mad Tortie streaked through the living room on her mission of escape, with Miss B in hot pursuit, every circuit in both animals’ tiny little brains fused. They knocked over two potted plants and moved the couch a grand total of two inches southward.
Olsen Twins, meanwhile, had decided discretion was the better part of valor and ran for the fir tree near the deck. Unfortunately, his paws were still laced with Crisco.
You know those cartoons where there’s a blur of legs, a critter scrabbling as fast as they can, but for some reason they aren’t going anywhere? Yeah. Like that. The Crisco also interfered with his cornering ability.
So, while the Mad Tortie and Miss B were moving furniture, Olsen Twins, fast and furious…
…ran right into one of the verticals of the deck railing and staggered backward, shaking his head.
“DID YOU SEE THAT?” I bellowed, but the Little Prince had turned to gape openmouthed at the trail of quivering air left by the Cat and Dog Show.
It took a while to calm things down. The Mad Tortie escaped downstairs with a headache, Miss B trotted back to grouse that she had almost, almost caught a cat3, the glass door stopped shivering, we cleaned up the table, and the bird feeder pole stood, smug and glistening, in afternoon sunshine.
And that, my friends, is how I finally–FINALLY–won one against those fuzzy little arboreal menaces.
I’m sure it’ll be the only time, but damn, victory is sweet.
Last week got away from me. There was school to prepare for, a train trip to get a certain young fellow ready for, Sir Boxnoggin to finish settling into the household, and and and. I think I’ve finally recovered from Afterwar and a long, almost fruitless wait for a publisher to get their kittens and ducks in a row. So the epic fantasy is a go now, I can continue working on revisions, and the portal fantasy’s going to have to wait.
But I was telling you about the bird feeder pole, wasn’t I.
When last we spoke, Preggers McGee had whomped Batgirl and stuffed herself with birdseed. The remaining contents of both feeders was scattered all over the deck, and I was a trifle peeved.1 But I’d come across a strange idea on the internet many moons previously, and that brainwave can be described in one word.
That’s right. Vegetable lard. The baseform of Twinkie cream. One of the less ideal but still workable ways to get your mohawk to stand up in cold weather. Good old fry-your-chicken-in-vegetarian-grease.
“Mum?” The Princess knows that when I begin to look determined, something epic or hilarious (or both) is afoot. “What are you thinking?”
“Crisco,” I said, grimly. “I hear if you grease the pole, squirrels may not be able to climb it.”
“They might just consider it a sauce,” the Little Prince pointed out. “Like the hot-sauce birdseed.”
“Well, it’s biodegradable.” I’m not sure why I chose that as my defense, but I was on a mission. I grabbed a pad of paper towels, slathered a hunk of veggie lard onto it, and stepped out into the scorching heat.
Miss B, of course, had to come with me. Besides, it was after dinner, and she had unloading and prancing to do. Sir Boxnoggin had not yet graced us with his presence, but I’m sure he would have wanted to investigate whatever fascinating thing I was doing with something from the kitchen cabinets–i.e., food.
And I greased that fucking bird feeder pole.
Now, the blessed thing is metal, and it had been an above-90F day, so there was dripping involved. But I marinated the fucker. I greased the arches, the loops where plant-pots were supposed to go (the squirrels had put paid to that particular decoration choice) I even left a glob on top of the central pole so it would melt and slide down. Miss B sniffed, but she didn’t try a single lick.
She knows better. And she had business of her own to attend to in the backyard, once she figured out I wasn’t adding anything snackable to the lower portions of the pole.
Because, you see, I was just annoyed enough to leave the bottom half of the damn thing ungreased, just to draw the little bastards in. Not very sporting of me, I know, but the goddamn arboreal rats never play fair themselves. It was time to get a little of my own back.
Anyway, I got back into the air conditioning, heaved a sigh of relief, tossed the greasy wad of paper towel, and turned to find both children staring at me.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” The Princess looked uncharacteristically worried.
“No,” I said. “But I’m pretty sure of one thing.”
That perked the Prince’s ears all the way to the top of his fuzzy head. “What?”
“It’s going to be funny.”
That cracked both of them up pretty good, and Miss B came prancing back up to get inside. Dinner was over, the trap was laid, and the squirrels weren’t going to be back until the next day.
I have never outlined a book before; the most I do, about a third of the way into a particularly challenging project, is put some highlights in brackets further down the document to ignore when I get to those particular events. But apparently, there’s a portal fantasy with a love triangle in my head that wanted an outline, so I spent yesterday afternoon switching between housework and getting the skeleton of a brand-new trilogy out of my skull.
As procrastination and a “day off” goes, it wasn’t too bad.
Anyway, I was telling you about squirrels and Crisco.
When last we spoke, Preggers McGee (who, if she is not gestating, puts on a grand appearance of it) had shown Batgirl just how the getting of birdseed was done. Batgirl nosed at the falling seeds, casting nasty glances up the bird feeder pole, and Olsen Twins probably thought he’d gone to squirrel heaven, where manna in the form of No-Waste Birdseed falls from the sky.
I stared, mouth slightly open, and the Princess exhaled in wonder. The Prince flinched when Preggers’s hind claws slipped. “I don’t like this,” he said, darkly…
…right before said hind claws gave out, and Preggers hung from the heretofore-unplundered bird feeder, her back legs scrabbling for purchase. If you can imagine a furry, rage-spitting piñata made of arboreal rodent and scattering shrapnel far and wide, well, you’ve pretty much got the idea.
“Oh, shit–” the Princess and I chorused, and Preggers McGee fell.
The Little Prince winced again, this time in sympathy. But Preggers didn’t splat on the decking.
Oh, no. Instead, this gravid squirrel curved in midair, as if to perform Batgirl’s signature cat-in-a-cartoon trick, and landed, with a thump that shook the entire deck…
…right upon Batgirl.
“Oh, no!” I gasped.
“HOLY SHIT,” the Princess weighed in at the same moment.
“BE CAREFUL!” the Little Prince yelled.
“…be careful?” the Princess enquired, a half-beat afterward.
Then the squirrels exploded.
Wigs came off. Heels went flying. Hair was pulled. Olsen Twins, seeking safety in distance, scurried away with a full mouth, squeezed through the deck railing, and ran up a handy fir trunk. Squeak-screams of “BITCH THAT’S MAH POLE” and “YOU ASSHOLE” echoed through the backyard. My fork clattered into my bowl, because both my hands clapped over my mouth. The Princess half-rose, watching with her eyebrows fully lifted.
“STOP IT,” the Little Prince yelled, thinking he could restore order through sheer volume or just excited, I guess. “MOM! THEY’RE FIGHTING!”
“I know, honey,” I managed to say, muffled by my hands. Had I more time, I might have warned him not to underestimate the hormones in even a pregnant squirrel, but there wasn’t a moment to make such an observation.
Because Preggers, slightly slower because of the extra burden in her swollen belly, was simply not having any of this bullshit. Not only had she landed on a convenient pillow, but she was motivated, which all added up to one thing.
She whupped Batgirl’s fuzzy ass.
Batgirl made for the same fir trunk Olsen Twins had scampered up, but Preggers wasn’t finished. She got hold of Batgirl’s tail and climbed the the other squirrel’s back like a rodeo rider crossed with Spiderman and lit with napalm. Birdseed flew, spattering the French door, and we all flinched in unison.
Batgirl finally escaped, and Preggers strutted around the bird feeder pole, chittering some version of “THAT’S RIGHT, MOTHERFUCKERS, I GOT A FAMILY TO FEED, DON’T FUCK WITH ME!”
“And she’s pregnant,” the Princess breathed, sinking back into her chair. “Wow.”
“I felt like that a few times, carrying you two.” I finally dropped my hands. The deck was a mess, coated with wasted birdseed, because the squirrels like the bigger bits and the birds don’t want to be on the deck floor cleaning that up with the Mad Tortie staring through said French door at them.1 That’s just a step too far for their little prey-wired nervous systems. “Jesus Christ, what a mess.”
“You know, you could probably move the pole…” the Little Prince said, nervously.
“That would mean they win,” I said, darkly. “I’ve got another idea.” We watched Preggers complete her victory laps and stuff herself with enough birdseed for herself and her passengers, then she scampered off into the dusk.
And I, once my pasta was finished, headed for the kitchen cabinets.