by Deirdre Day-MacLeod
She noticed first a clotting of fur by the center line of Rt. 15. A clotting almost like marsh grass over-grown and tangled as if it had roots in dirt, except it was not grass chunked out of the ground and tossed out of its element to lie on the macadam, it was a raccoon. The baby sat hunched over the dead mother small and harmless. Its beady little eyes peered straight into Ginny Finn's own eyes. Right through the windshield through her new bifocals straight into her eyes, as if it could look right past them and into her brain. As if the little dumb raccoon like a target for another car, just sitting there mourning its dead mother and not getting on with its own life could see right through Ginny Finn's pancake makeup and pink lipstick and carefully applied navy blue mascara and see that Ginny Finn was afraid.
In June the bugs were just beginning to thicken in the still air by the river bottom and the river flowed high and ran muddy. The first spring there in her mobile home on the flat spot by the creek was almost gotten through and she was driving home from the big supermarket on her weekly trip with her bags of groceries in the back seat. Hot already and getting hotter. Ginny pulled the car over and jumped out, her white sandals showing through the dark against the tar, she could feel the sticky grit of tar sticking to the bottoms of them. "Git," she shouted at the baby raccoon. "Git," and it just looked at her as if she were nothing dangerous. She stood by the car door not wanting to venture far into the beam of her own headlights not wanting to get too close to the raccoon, because of diseases and also because, what was she doing out in the middle of the darkness in the roadway where no one but hitchhikers ever walked? It was not natural. But the baby just sat their frozen and quivering and it was something about the quiver made her, Ginny Finn, who knew what it was to be a mother and knew what it was to experience loss, pull the ice scraper out from behind the front seat and wave it through the air as she walked her dainty awkward walk out to the raccoon and the dead mother raccoon, dead so recently that she had not been tossed to the side and the blood had not streaked over the macadam and the body was still whole yet.
"Git away," she shouted to the baby and it stayed still, "You dumb animal, don't you know what's good for you?" She knew that she could have shouted the Declaration of Independence or a nursery rhyme as anything else that made sense. It was just her voice that might scare the raccoon enough and she at the same time wanted to touch its thick fur and feel the way it shuddered breathing although she was never unconscious of the nits and fleas and what-not that wild animals bear. She got within three feet before the baby gave up staring at her and whining next to its dead mother's corpse and scuttled off into the ditch's deep grasses. But not without looking her in the eye and sending off one long last glance at the matted clump on the road which Ginny could only assumed was a look of of love and the forlornness of a life without it.
"Don't come back or you'll end up just like her!" Ginny shouted hoping that her warning would be heeded.
Ginny Finn got back into her car then and drove away, but as she glanced in the rearview mirror she caught a glimpse of the baby raccoon coming right back out from the shadow to sit in the same spot. As she drove further and further the twin patches of brownish merged into one behind her.
A piece down the road she got a look at another clump and another one and then three more. Raccoons, a couple that might have been woodchucks and a few more she could not tell. There were seven all told in quick succession on this Sunday night in late June.
Back home she opened the gate to let herself through, careful not to let out Toby, her big dumb Doberman she'd had for all the the four months she lived down at the river bottom. And then she remembered she'd left Toby asleep inside because she didn't want him fighting with Ralph, the mutt she'd had from the end of her first marriage and all the way through her second which hadn't barely gone on at all. "Six, in dog years'" she'd liked to joke to her friends at the restaurant. "And, I tell you with Mitch every day felt like a dog year."
She'd been by herself unpacking groceries each Sunday night for four months and never noticed all this carnage by the side of the road. She fed the dogs because they wouldn't let her walk from one side of the kitchen to the other until they go their food, and sat on the steps of her mobile home watching the insects come towards the light. Slapping at them the wet spring making the mosquitoes fat and slow easy to kill and their bodies like nothing falling to the ground.
Sitting there on the wooden step she looked out at the river's brown and listened for the cows on the other side and noticed with a beating of fear that the brick pile where she kept her extra key was different. A random pile of bricks, but one she'd looked at every day for the time she'd been living alone. One of the markers of her life and now the arrangement was not quite how it had been when it had fallen after her son had handed the stones into her hands and she'd dropped them there, because it was heavy work. And that day it had rained frozen rain. That day in February, the first in her new place.
And back then, the patio her son Pete—named after her first husband Pete—was going to build, didn't seem so important. What with the wind and the sleet, and so they'd gone inside instead of piling them up neatly. But Pete Junior still hadn't drawn himself away from his new wife and his new job for long enough to get started. She would have called him, but it was dinner time and he'd be busy eating or reading to the kids or watching some sports thing on tv and he wouldn't want to talk.
Once she'd put away the milk and the cottage cheese, the frozen pizza and mixed vegetables, she left the cereal and the canned food on the counter and she drove back into the night away from her pile of stones to see if that baby was still waiting for her.
Copyright©2004 Deirdre Day-MacLeod