This is a short story about relationships and how, after thirty-four years of marriage, my wife still manages to surprise me. The story begins as all stories do, on an otherwise firefly-lit and peaceful night, with a woman walking from the garage, through the kitchen, and out the back door while carrying a pitchfork.
We were watching a rented movie, the title of which was a play on a popular piece of text slang. It featured Tina Fey as a reporter in Afghanistan, and I don’t know if it was supposed to be a comedy, a documentary or a drama, but midway through the movie, through the bomb blasts and the crunching of blue chips dipped in hummus, I heard a sound. We both did. Mrs. G. thought it was part of the movie and it well could have been, but to my ears, this clearly came from outdoors. It had a distinctive metal on metal sound, which spun the gears in my head into analyze mode. I love a good whodunit, and in this case, it was more interesting than the movie we were watching.
Earlier that day, I had picked up one of our birdfeeders from the ground. How it got there was a complete mystery unless birds had suddenly learned how to use hand tools. I picked it up and re-hung it on a carabineer (instead of an “S” hook), which should have secured it against anything short of an animal with opposable thumbs, and since we don’t have koalas around here, I felt confident that it wasn’t going anywhere. The noise we heard had the distinctive sound of a chain hitting metal, which could only mean one thing: the birdfeeder fell to the ground, since the odds of somebody walking through the yard wearing a suit of chain mail were unlikely.
“Where’s the flashlight?” my wife asked, which was a very good question. If we ever had a power failure, we’d have better luck rubbing balloons on a sweater and guiding our way with static sparks than finding a flashlight. “I think it’s in the truck,” I replied, which it was, but I had another one someplace. In my dresser I think, or maybe in one of the bathroom vanity drawers. I found the flashlight and shined it into the area where the birdfeeder used to hang. Nothing but air.
The feeder had a metal dish above it to confuse the squirrels, and above that, a light chain that was wrapped over a tree limb. It was overbuilt for a normal bird or squirrel, and had hung in the same spot for over ten years. Now it didn’t.
I aimed the light down to the ground, some fifty yards away, and two little beady-eyed flashes popped up. The light had caught the eyeshine of some sort of critter. “Oh look, tapetum lucidum,” I said. “I’m guessing raccoon.” I walked out on the grass a little and sure enough, I could see the telltale silhouette of a raccoon, his face buried in a mountain of bird food. I then went back inside to my hummus and chips.
Now to get to the heart of the story:
Our dog had come face-to-face with a raccoon behind the bushes near our porch last year, and Mrs. G. instantly got all mama bear and grabbed Milo before he tangled with the beast, then they both came inside. In typically curious raccoon fashion, he lumbered up to the now closed patio door and stared at our dog. Milo nearly scratched a hole in the glass trying to get him, while Mrs. G. plotted on how we could get rid of the pest. I didn’t have a Havahart trap big enough, so we both agreed that since we live in an area where foxes, raccoons, turkeys, deer, possums, opossums (are they the same animal?), coyotes, and God knows what else regularly traipse through our property, we didn’t have many choices. Still, raccoons don’t sit well with my wife given that they hiss, they carry rabies, and they leave toxic poop all over the grass. Clearly Walt Disney never met a real raccoon.
As we sat there trying to ignore the elephant in the room or in this case, the trash panda in the backyard, I pieced together what happened:
This hungry raccoon had climbed the tree, ran across the branch, and flopped his full twenty or so pounds on the metal birdfeeder dish. His weight bent the last link in the chain and the whole kit and caboodle came down to the ground, where he could now sit and casually devour six pounds of high-end bird food. The fact that he was out there doing this worked the last nerve on my wife, who calmly walked out into the garage and got the mulch pitchfork, which is about the size of the trident that Neptune used when he slayed the Kracken, or whatever sea monster it was that he slayed. It’s one of those farm implements that show up in those horror movies that never end well for horny teenagers.
“I’m going to get that little gaspole,” she said calmly, although she didn’t say gaspole, but she was a woman possessed. And so she took off in her bare feet with her fresh watermelon-red pedicure, carrying a pitchfork like a bayonet, and screaming her head off at this unwelcomed animal. Any neighbors still awake at midnight got an earful, and I have no idea what she would have done had she met the critter, but when it saw her moving in his direction, I’m sure his first thoughts were, “Huh. I did not see that coming. Woman with a pitchfork. Huh. Nice pedicure though.” He waddled away, and Mrs. G. came out of the dark, triumphantly holding the birdfeeder. I imagine the raccoon went off to tell his buddies that there were easier, less stressful places to eat.
The next day, I took a leaf blower and scattered the seeds that were on the ground to the four winds, and then sprayed an animal repellant all around the area. I fixed the bent birdfeeder and hung it in the garage; the plan being to let any raccoon feeding habits that developed fade away before hanging it back outside on a thicker chain
As for my wife, I think she propped up the pitchfork in the utility closet, next to the broom and vacuum cleaner. You know, should she ever need it again.
On July tenth, my wife and I celebrated our thirty-fourth wedding anniversary. Over those years, she has done much to surprise me, make me laugh, and flat out love her more with each passing day. As most men are prone to do, I don’t tell her how I feel as often as I should.
Watching her charge off in the dead of night in her pajamas after a raccoon speaks to the spontaneity that she has and that I don’t. It also helps that it’s slightly nuts, which when one gets right down to it, is way more interesting than a lot of dull.