“Get the hell out of here!” I waved my shovel at the crow pecking at the squirrel carcass at the top of my driveway. It was raining. Not a hard a blustery storm, just a light mist with a brisk wind. The grey clouds were casting seasonal depression down upon the land, but they were moving fast across the sky. My glasses were beading with the flecks of rain drops. I was wearing grey sweatpants and a Pittsburgh Pirates t-shirt, the standard uniform for most other men in my neighborhood. The suburbs were mostly silent at dusk. The only other sounds were the hollow rolling of a few garbage cans on driveways that needed to be resurfaced. A dog barking. A garage door closing.
The crow hopped back a few steps as I tried to shoo it away from it soggy meal, cocking its head sideways and blinking rapidly. I approached the deceased. It was still hard for me to believe that the squirrel was dead. It’s underbelly was still a bright fluffy white. It looked like some plush toy that had just been through a gentle wash cycle with an extra dose of fabric softener. Still, it was no more than a furry lump of gore at this point. It’s body deflated, internal organs succumbing to bacteria and ants and carrion birds. It’s head was missing with no evidence in sight as to where it might have gone.
What must my shovel be thinking? I had just bought it at Home Depot a few weeks ago. The shovel’s first task at its new residence was a grim one. I’m sure that when it left the factory in Taiwan it had had visions of slicing through sod to frame in a garden or digging a fence post to keep a herd of sheep safe. But as I scraped the spade on the concrete and under the rotting mess, I’ll bet it thought, “Great. Just great.”
The angle of attack on the first pass was too steep. The blade of my tool caught some spalling and ran over the little blood-soaked fuzzball instead of going cleanly underneath it. I think I heard something snap. There was the head! It had just been folded inside its chest cavity all along. Well that made me feel better at least.
Carcass handling was not my forte as a man. In fact, any animal, live or dead was off limits with bare-hands in my book. Just last weekend, I had attempted to go fishing. I was shocked when I was able to hook a quarter pound sunfish. Thank God I brought my gigantic leather gardening gloves. I wasn’t touching that, mouth gaping open for air or water or whatever those nasty things use to get oxygen. I grasped it through clad hands and flinched when the fish gave a wriggle. I used my bare hand to pull the hook from its mouth and flung it back into the water. As it swam off, I removed the glove and put it in my back pocket. Triumph, in a way.
“Jesus Christ,” I muttered to myself as again the shovel rolled over the squirrel. I turned my head to look away. I saw that my wife was watching from the kitchen window. She was eating a pear, eating for two. The pregnancy test was still on the sink in the powder room. She took a crunch, judged me for a moment or two and then disappeared back into the house. I couldn’t have been passing whatever test she had mentally formulated. A real man wouldn’t be flinch. A real man wouldn’t have to avert his eyes. A real man would have scraped it off the driveway, flung it into the garbage and killed the crow all in one swing of his mighty shovel.
On the third try, I achieved a success. The shovel went under the raw pile of rodent and lifted in the air. I looked back to the window to see if my wife had seen it, but she had moved on. This wasn’t as large of a milestone moment for her as it was for me. In years past, I would have seen the squirrel at the top of my driveway and thought, “Someone else will get that.” I’d leave it up to my dad, the garbage men, or even the crows to take care of that problem for me. But now I’m out here. I’m in charge, this is my house and my family lives here. No one is going to do it but me.
I walked to my backyard with a heaping shovelful of meat, two boney little squirrel legs dangling in the wet wind. I stopped right before I tossed the poor bastard into the woods, where the ants and crows could eat him in a less public setting. I took one last look at the squirrel and said, “Thank you. You mean something. You are important.” He sailed through the air and landed with a soft rustle in some tall grass that I hadn’t necessarily been aiming for.
This was it. This was my very first act of being a dad.