Yard Work

The squirrels chewed through the face of the plastic owl Caribou bought to scare them off. They ate all the sunflowers and gnawed through his Boston ivy. There were other things to think about, to deal with, but he focused on the squirrel’s destruction of the plants.

Caribou was trying to ignore what was going on inside the house.

He grabbed the broom and swept up the shells, chewed leaves, broken stems and the dirt kicked out of the pots. Gathered it all up in the dustpan and emptied it in the garbage container. Then he realized he hadn’t put the bag in first. He sighed, snapped the top down, sat on the edge of the can and lit a cigarette. Exhaling slowly, his eyes closed, left arm across his chest, fingers rubbing at the rib that has been sore for months.

Caribou crushed the butt under his heel, bent down, picked it up, lifted the lid and dropped it in the garbage.

His eyes moved to the half-bare elm in the neighbour’s yard and counted three squirrel nests. Three. He had no idea squirrels actually made and lived in nests until the neighbour said he saw a couple of baby squirrels sitting in one of them. They had got into the building last year, through the neighbour’s dryer vent. Into the house, and into the walls. Destroyed his pantry.

They had to leave for the weekend, so animal control could get rid of all the squirrels. They went up to her mother’s.

Caribou shook his head, grabbed the rake and walked to the far corner of the yard. He moved along the fence, sending the brown and yellow leaves toward the middle. Came down the east side, avoided raking near the back door, and up the west side of his backyard. Never built that deck she wanted, he realized. Never planted the vegetable garden either.

Squirrels would have loved that.

He moved in closer, dragging the leaves into a mound, circling around, raking them up into the middle. Caribou examined his pile, thought about where he had put the paper bags last year. Then a brief thought flickered. His eyes darted from side to side. He walked to the north fence, pretending to have heard something.

He turned; glanced up quickly at the back door, to make sure no one was standing there. Took three big strides and jumped, into the mound of leaves. Caribou lay on his back and sunk into the pile, leaves fluttered down. He covered his legs and chest with wide sweeps of his arms.

Caribou settled in the pile, buried, only his face exposed, stared at the tree limbs above reaching across the grey autumn sky. A squirrel carrying half a slice of white bread scampered out and stared down at him.


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