tree trunk with artificial face pasted on
Antonia Benyovszky-Jones

It was the sound of a gasp that woke me from my lazy lounge in the morning sunlight. I had been scratching my back along the cement stairway that ran the length stretch of grass that separated my “safe zone” from the black topped “dash zone” that I can no longer race across. Several weeks ago I had run through the “dash zone” to the other side of the street. On my dash back across, I was startled by the siren of a fire engine as it began racing down the street from the station on the corner. I leaped to avoid being squashed by its tires and was struck by the bumper of the truck as it raced past me down the road. Since then the lower half of my body has been dead and my life has been a much slower version of what it had been.

The gasp that brought me to this morning was from a young girl and it sent me scurrying along in the handicapped manner that I had grown accustomed to in order to preserve what I had left of myself. This manner was one that found my two front legs powerfully dragging my lifeless lower-half back to the safety of the large green ivy leaves covering the base of the big old walnut tree that I call home. The girl crept up close to me leaving my only option as to “freeze” and hope that she might lose interest and leave me be. Where did she come from? The house next to my tree had been quiet and vacant for weeks and nobody had disturbed my peace for at least that long aside from the fluffy black and white dog that the little old lady from next door walks by each morning. A dog that is nearly blind and offers little threat as he can only sniff as far as the short little leash grasped firmly in the old lady’s wrinkly old hands will allow.

“Honey, look! There is an injured little squirrel! We have to do something!” The girl’s squeaky voice increased the panic that was racing through my half-alive body and I was quite certain that you could see my heart pounding through my soft summer coat of shiny brown fur that stretched over my rapidly thinning body. Suddenly emerging from the house was a tall lean man with a hint of shiny grey hair dappled near both temples. He peered at me over his reading spectacles and with a deep kind voice he echoed the girl’s sentiments with a long drawn out “Awwww”. “Quick, get me something that I can pick him up with” the girl chirped out. “Oh crap, how was I going to get through this one”, was all that I could think as I eyed my immediate surroundings for the best escape route. The man gently put his hand on the girl’s shoulder and crooned these beautiful words, “You can’t catch him honey, just leave him be”. “He obviously got hit by a car or something and he’s a wild animal, he’ll bite you.” I let out a sigh of relief and reached out in front of myself grasping at the ground in front of me pulling my little body closer to the safety of the big tree. “Oh! His lower half of his body is completely paralyzed! “I’m going to get my camera”, she added as she disappeared into the house next to my tree.

The tall man mumbled something about facebook, rolled his eyes, and wandered over to the composting bin at the outer edge of my “safe zone”. He opened the lid and began fiddling with the contents. “Honey, check out all of these worms!” he shouted seemingly forgetting about my presence under the old tree. The girl appeared quickly but offered no comment about the worms as she slowly crept close to me holding a black rectangular shaped object with a tiny red light illuminated in my direction. I tried to remain calm and do the protective “freeze” position. My mother had been adamant about teaching my siblings and me this basic freeze defense making us practice over and over inspired by a nip to the scruff of our necks, but that defense just didn’t seem to work with this human predator. I wished that I had the use of my lower half so that I could scurry like I used to quick as a wink away from this meddling human. I took a deep breath and made a leap with every bit of gusto that I could power into my tiny front legs and I grasped for the trunk of my tree. I was really glad that I had practiced doing this for the past several days all in fun trying to follow two of my buddies as they scurried through the yard scampering through the trees and running along the top of the fence separating the house next to my tree from the apartment building next door, the way squirrels are meant to move about. I held fast to the deeply creviced bark of the old tree and pulled myself up quickly scurrying around the backside of the trunk out of the view of the girl as she gasped “Oh! Poor little guy!”

My dexterity astonished the girl and even captured the attention of the tall man from across the yard over by the composting bin. To tell the truth I was quite astonished myself as my tiny front legs carried the dead weight half of my body up the backside of the tree like a gymnast defying all of the obvious effects of gravity. “I’ve frightened him!” “Oh my God, I hope he doesn’t fall!” The girl’s voice hit a fevered pitch as she quickly backed away dropping the hand holding the rectangular object with the red light to her side and pushing her messy hair out of her face with the other. The tall man was suddenly there leading her gently back into the house. “I said to leave him alone, there is nothing you can do”. The girl allowed herself to be led back inside all the while objecting, “But he’ll surely die!” “A cat might get him!” “Or worse, a coyote!”

As the door closed behind them I took a quick glance around me and then down below my perch in the tree. I wasn’t that high off of the ground and before I was disabled I had made leaps from many times higher than from where I was now. I closed my eyes tightly, took a deep breath, and let go, my body falling hard as my dead lower-half plunged to the thick growth of ivy beneath my tree dragging my panicked living half along with it. I quickly scurried into the cool green leaves and thanked Great Mother Nature for keeping me safe once again. Once again I closed my eyes and took a moment to connect with the higher power that brought me life into this world. “Please don’t let that girl try to take me to get help” “Let her see that I am merely in the midst of my cycle of life”. The cool dampness of the ivy surrounded my body slowly eased me out of my panicked state. This had become a familiar place of comfort for me in the past several weeks after I realized that reaching my nest high in my old tree was barely an option as my strength had dwindled rapidly since my injury. Food had been difficult to come by but I was thoroughly grateful for the nuts that I had gathered in the spring of my tree and fastidiously buried in the planters nearby the composting bin at the edge of the yard.

My eyes opened with a start to the sound of the door to the house opening again and out crept the girl grasping a bag tightly in her hand. “What is she planning to do with that”, I thought to myself the panic once again looming in my beating little heart. Visions of the girl capturing me and placing me into a bag regardless of her kind intentions to “help” me ignited my panic once again. I slowly and quietly pulled my body deeper into the lush ivy and had no other choice but to initiate the “freeze” again hoping that my camouflage within the thick growth would protect me from her prying eyes. She walked past slowly, her eyes scanning back and forth around the tree trunk, up into the tree, and around the yard. She timidly crept about on her tipped-toes as if she was sneaking up on a playmate ready to playfully pounce an unsuspecting friend. I imagined myself stuffed into the bag clutched tightly in her fists and then thrust into a metal cage to live out my final days in the misery of captivity. I only wished that the horrifying thought of it would shock my dead-half back to life and take me fleeing to the rooftop with the happy satisfaction of my renewed athletic prowess. “Awww, there you are little guy”, the girl crooned squatting to the ground just a few feet away from my haven. She placed the bag at her side and began to open it the loud crinkling of the plastic grating at my nerves. I made a last attempt to burry myself under the deep green of the ivy leaves. The crinkling noise stopped and the girl inched quietly backwards. I watched her closely with my deep brown eyes wide open, peering at her as the bright sun behind her head cast her face into a dark shadow. “I’m not going to hurt you little guy.” She slowly reached into the bag and pulled her hand out with a fistful of beautiful large nuts. “Have you ever had a Brazil nut?” She asked with a hint of excitement in her voice as if she were sharing one of her favorite treats with her best friend. She gently tossed a large nut towards me and with a start I recoiled in the opposite direction. I could see the large brown nut beckoning to me out of the corner of my eye but I kept my eyes on the girl as she was in such close range I couldn’t let my guard down for even a moment. We both sat there for a time in a quiet standoff waiting to see who would make the first move. Finally the girl made a quiet clucking noise with her tongue and gently placed a handful of the nuts on the ground in front of her. She pushed herself backwards in her squatting position and slowly stood up. “Eat up little guy” she whispered and quietly walked away.

When I heard the door next to my tree close and could no longer detect the scent of human nearby, I pulled my exhausted body towards the Brazil nut closest to me. I had never in my life tasted anything quite so delicious as that nut and the rest of the pile that I greedily devoured in the warm afternoon sunshine that day. With my belly full and the sun slowly falling behind the fence that stood between me and the black topped “dash zone”, I mustered the strength in my little front legs to pull my body deep into the ivy that surrounded my tree and lined the wall of the building next to it. As I pulled myself deeper into the lush that surrounded the building I relished in the comfort of the cool ground that penetrated the skin of the living half of my being. I buried deeper into the darkness of the dense growth feeling the peace that only safety could provide. This would be the place that I would take my rest. With my belly full and my dead half buried beneath the lush ivy I snuggled into the cool earth to die free and to die safe. I closed my eyes and smiled to myself knowing that this is the way it was supposed to be.