Pelt by Emily delaCruz
I fantasized his death - a pit, a trap, a wee guillotine, an itty-bitty gibbeting.
Granted, I had unreasonable expectations. As a child, I spent summers on my grandparents’ farm. My earliest memories are midwestern earth knocking the horizon, angular machines tending acres of feed corn. Even my mother, who escaped the monotonous corn by earning a professional degree and moving to the coast, conjured backyard carrots and zucchini thick as a forearm. So, naturally, when I settled into my own adult house with my own garden, I anticipated cornucopian abundance.
But first I had to shoo my golden retriever off the flat speck of Los Angeles backyard.
“Go poop over there,” I told her, pointing to the line of agave that sloped into rough canyon.
And then I planted the garden. Well, not really then. Then I had to amend the soil because the house was built on clay scree with the nutrient value of a marshmallow. Then I had to build planter boxes to hold the amended soil which slid into the canyon with the slightest application of moisture. Then I had to lasagna the contents of the boxes - wire, newspaper, straw, compost, repeat. Then, finally, I planted.
Oh, and it was lovely, those fine, straight rows of childhood vegetables measured precisely and thriving in the sunshine.
I do admit that I failed to notice his earliest forays, although he must have been stealthy because I was in the daily habit of watering the garden while sipping my morning coffee. One blue autumn dawn I stepped from the house and was practically inside the massacre before I realized what lay ahead: heads torn off, tissue shredded, remains pulverized, life snuffed. Like the bewildered victim of a car accident or lightning strike, I may have screamed. I must have moaned. I definitely dribbled coffee down the front of my robe. He had murdered The Mammoths, sunflowers with seeds as large as a thumbnail that sprouted in dutiful rows, each petaled head so distinct that I had named them. And he hadn’t just murdered them, he had mocked me with their destruction.
I had seen him prior to this, of course. I knew he was out there, bounding along the power lines into the canyon, standing upright in the rosemary hedge at the edge of the garden, creeping across the deck. I just didn’t know one squirrel could eat so much. By winter the spinach was shorn, the carrots tattered, the late-season tomatoes gnawed. So I consulted my neighbors. I read how-to books. I scoured gardening blogs. I urged the dog, “Get him, girl. Go get him!” But she just looked at me with her brown petulant eye, as if to say, ‘First the insult with the agave and now this? I think not.’
I schemed and plotted but the assaults continued. The sonic spikes didn't faze him. The putrescent egg white paste and garlic oil spray were his salad dressing. It was impossible to properly stalk the squirrel weighed down as I was by my PETA membership and guilty conscience (baby mice, laundry room). I could fantasize death but I could never follow through.
One spring night I lay beside my husband sobbing out my frustration. An asparagus patch that had bubbled into frothy mounds over months had been decimated in a single day. My husband held my face gently in his hands, letting me cry.
“We have a garden?” he asked and slipped a hand inside my pajamas.
By summer my husband was allowed back in the bedroom and the squirrel had moved into the rosemary hedge permanently. It was surprising how fast he broke me from there. Coming out each morning to a new destruction, I began to neglect the garden. The hose flaccid, I drank my coffee with sullen ennui.
But as autumn circled back around and the Santa Anas blew yellow smoke across my ruined plot, certain plants began to thrive. A ribbon of mustard greens here and a spiral of radicchio there. The warty scorpion peppers survived while their smooth sweet brothers were eviscerated. I tentatively added a cutting of lemongrass, saying farewell even as I tucked it under a soil blanket. But to my delight, the squirrel ignored it. So I added nasturtiums and they flourished. Ditto the black radishes and cherry quinoa. He didn't touch the ginger with its gnarled golden root, and he turned his (admittedly, adorable) nose up at the serrated epazote. I scoured seed catalogs for their toughest wares - artichokes, gourds, and hollyhocks. Loofahs are cucumbers! Who knew? I saturated one garden box with a two-pound sack of wildflower seeds and the sheer number of cotyledons overwhelmed him.
We had found balance.
And then, abruptly, the squirrel died. I didn't see it happen but I’m positive that with a scream and a rush of wind through her feathers, the red-tailed hawk that lives in the canyon nabbed his gloriously rotund body. Just like he was watching my garden with ravenous glee, she must have been watching him. Plumped on a year’s crop of carrots and sprouts the squirrel was indubitably delicious. She left me his tail though, curled and comical on the deck without its body. I think I’ll make it into a hat.
Although a New Mexican at heart, Emily lives in Los Angeles, California with her two docile labradors, four feral children, and one infinitely-tolerant husband. She practices law, poetry, and witchcraft with the same meager degree of success. Find her on Twitter @BeesEmily.