It was a good day to practice some ecology, to hang laundry out to dry in the spring sunshine, and save some fossil fuel. I pulled sheets from the washer and loaded them into a plastic laundry basket, then made my way to the clothesline in my back yard. Zephyr breezes brought hints of Confederate Jasmine and fabric softener to me as I hung the freshly washed linens. I remembered, so long ago, a similar clothesline draped in diapers, and the baby in the basket at my feet.
Staccato screams, high and wide, emanating from the canopy of the Laurel oak broke my reverie. I raced to the tree, and craned my neck. There, up in the highest branches, a battle between the frantic mother and the would-be killer raged the nest, swaying it nearly vertical. My hands flew to my mouth, to my breast in a cliché’ of helplessness. I couldn’t breathe, could only watch, horrified. My throat constricted and it felt as if my bowels had turned to ice water. A broken corpse, nurtured and tortured, murdered, tiny flopping fractured bleeding baby squirrel tumbled down from the canopy to the leaf littered ground at my feet, followed by three siblings, vulnerable to the very real threat of stray cats, dogs, and young girls with the best of motives, the least ability to carry out any plan.
The overhead war ceased, as quickly as it had begun. The attacker retreated, high-wiring to the adjacent trees, his mission of decimating the litter aborted by the ferocity of a dedicated mother.
I gingerly picked up the surviving blood-spattered babies. Their eyes were barely open, and they were nearly hairless. One made a plaintive cry when I placed them in my plastic laundry basket. I set the basket down where the mother could see it; where I could watch them, protect them, if necessary. I waited.
My neighbor came out her back door to leave for work at the Free Clinic. She walked up beside me. “She’ll abandon them. I’ve seen it a million times. It’s nature’s birth control.”
I cringed, reminded of my own abandonment by my mother; my struggle to rectify any damage I might have caused by not giving my daughter up for adoption to someone in a better position to raise her. Would she have had a better life? Would I be doing it for her, or so no one would have evidence of my sin. It was an internal debate that had raged on in me for nearly thirty- three years.
That this neighbor woman could be so cavalier enraged me. It brought me back to that gymnasium in tenth grade, four months pregnant, the cool girls who lived on the Pink Streets clique drilling me for information. Was I pregnant? Did I know who the father was? When I’d declined to satisfy their curiosity, they’d bounced a basketball on my softly pouching belly until I’d, in a rage, flown at them to protect my unborn baby.
“Slut.” They’d said when the gym teacher blessedly, finally, came to my defense.
I snapped back to the present. My lip curled in an involuntary sneer. It’s so easy, I thought, for you, with your perfect upbringing, your idyllic childhood. You have no idea. You probably knew who your father was.
“So, you find a job yet?”
“Oh. I thought that was just a hobby.” She smirked. I wanted to slap that smirk around to the back of her head. I could visualize her wearing one of those stupid gym-suits they made us wear, dribbling a basketball, cracking her gum, smirking at her girlfriends circled around me, calling me tramp, and slut and whore.
“Look, here she comes.” I said, and pointed to the Mother squirrel as she abseiled to the ground to her surviving family. She grabbed the closest by the nape of its neck and dragged it out through the holes in the side of the basket.
“This is why I don’t watch the Nature Channel,” I said. “I know animals kill each other, that it’s a necessary part of survival. Nonetheless, I can never get inured to the cruelties and inequities of life.”
With arms akimbo, a self-satisfied smile crossed her face. “You should get used to it. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
The mother squirrel returned to the basket, and dragged another of the babies to the new drey. I waited, held my silence until Mama retrieved the last one, before picking up the basket. “Yeah, well, apparently, she doesn’t think this is her babies’ time to die.” I pivoted, and left her with her platitudes to call my daughter, to wish her a happy birthday, even though it was three months away.