You finish watering the plants and the dogs return from the woods. All three of them swarm together, tails wagging—and Rebel carries a dead squirrel in his mouth. He seems to want to deposit it in your bare hands like a tennis ball. Rebel isn’t your dog, exactly, but you are watching the house in your parents’ absence. The squirrel’s eyes are closed and its claws extended—it hangs with absurd grace, tail swaying as Rebel trots forward. So loyal. But you want very acutely to avoid contact and he is bewildered by this rejection. You shut yourself inside the house and he sits on the steps, still holding the squirrel. It is quite dead—you can tell from the angle of the neck, the gaping wound. Saliva drips from Rebel’s mouth, hits the concrete. You call your brother because you’ve already taken the garbage out and this seems like a good occasion for reverting to traditional gender norms. But he doesn’t answer. So you go back outside.
All three dogs are waiting. You feel distinctly outnumbered—even if the squirrel were on your side, you would be outnumbered. And the squirrel is not on your side. It is one against four here. But you manage to chase the other two dogs away. Then you ask Rebel to drop the squirrel. He steps close, expecting praise. You back away, clapping and yelling. His jaws remain clamped around his prey—something instinctual has kicked in. You try reasoning with him, remind him that he is meant to be herding sheep, not hunting rodents. His eyes shine with devotion; the squirrel’s limbs dangle.
You get a plastic bag and wrap it around your hand. You’ve been reading Aristotle—how character is choice, how we become courageous or cowardly by choosing to perform certain acts, but also how we choose those acts according to our natures. It’s circular, though there’s some hope for improvement if one develops good habits. Either Rebel senses your ambivalence or he has his own ambivalence and turns his head away. You decide to resort to bribery, which, after all, has about a fifty percent success rate with fictional terrorists. You get a handful of dog biscuits. All three dogs come running.
Rebel lays the squirrel, with some reverence, on the asphalt. You go to the dead thing and try to scoop it quickly into the bag. But it is on its back with its feet sticking up in the air. When you touch it, you are unable to grab it, even through plastic. You generally do okay with dead animals once rigor mortis sets in and you can pretend they are stage props. But this squirrel is only very recently deceased. It flops and squishes in a most distressing way. You realize you will need better equipment and go to find a shovel.
Meanwhile, your brother’s dog grabs the squirrel and runs off with it. You call the other two dogs into the house and then hesitate. You suspect that you ought (this is one of Aristotle’s favorite words, ought) to summon the dog, deal with the squirrel. But this dog is notorious for not coming when called. He is larger than you and unlikely to relinquish his claim. Also wolves and coyotes eat rodents in the wild. And at least the squirrel doesn’t contain any unsavory chicken by-products or processed grains. You are rationalizing here, you know this. But who are you to intervene? Grateful to have the matter taken out of your hands, you watch the dog vanish into the deep woods, emerge carrying nothing
About the author:
Ceridwen Hall will soon complete an MFA at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She has poems forthcoming in Booth and Cold Mountain Review.