by Elizabeth Walztoni
This morning I finished my cereal and crawled under our deck until I found the possum who lives there and I watched her look around for a while before I let her see me. I slapped my palm in the dust and she froze. She had such a look of openness, like the whole of her was unafraid to be unsure, could put its suspicion everywhere. My dad had asked me to set a trap for her before he left, because she was eating our garbage, but I couldn’t. I reached out for her but she turned to me and hissed with her mouth open like a triangle and scurried further away under the porch.
I think about my life, sometimes, in one wild animal sighting to the next. Most of the time I see possums. Often they are dead. I feel thankful that they usually lie by the side of the road instead of on it and I don’t have to suffer that thump of running over their bodies. Last week I did feel one, driving away from the hospital, so quick and then done, whump, there goes your life. I wanted to pull over and cry. I try not to be so sensitive, but I see their eyes and mouths open like that for the sky and I feel so bad for them.
I let my elbows out from under me and watched her go with my chin on the ground. My dad had rebuilt this porch when I was younger and I remembered sitting in a plastic pool filled with hose water, watching him. The pool was printed with turtles wearing purple sunglasses. All the wild animals I knew of as a child lived in a parallel world to ours and liked it better than human people did. They wore clothes and had jobs and rode the bus and loved their families.
For a minute I kept my chin in the dirt looking at the darkness where the possum had gone. The sun shone hot on my calves and my ankles where the porch ended. I had hoped she might drop one of her babies so I could take it inside with me and raise it as my own. Already I had a snail that I found inside a bag of salad greens. I made him a big terrarium from an empty plastic cheese puff barrel and I misted the inside of it every day. He was tiny, the size of my pinky fingernail, and I hated the thought of how easily I could have eaten him.
When the automated church bells down the street started to ring the hour I scooted out into the daylight by my elbows and sat up on the porch. It bothered me a lot to know that those bells tolled with a computer. Until the tenth grade I thought real people pulled real ropes, rising up off the ground with the downswing like in the cartoons. My dad had told me that until the same age he thought every time a bell rang it meant an angel was nearby. I told him that was quaint, and it hurt his feelings.
I slid down in the chair until my legs were straight out and folded my hands over my hip bones. The neighbor kids ran through lawn sprinklers and screamed down the street and the wet concrete smelled like moving backwards. I thumped the heel of my foot on the porch and knew the possum felt it. The house was mine now, or going to be, probably, and I could barely think about it. I didn’t know what I would do with the place, or how I would make sure it even belonged to me, or when to pay money on it. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to keep it.
Maybe I could knock it all down and build another house again. Maybe I could put in a bell tower and pull the ropes myself, angels or not. Maybe I could make a possum cage in the living room. The breeze picked up and stirred the dandelions on the lawn and the voices of neighborhood and the water pooling on the sidewalk and each small grey hair laid down perfect against the side of that animal.
Elizabeth Walztoni is an organic vegetable farmer living in Michigan. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Red Fez, Voices, Hell is Real: A Midwest Gothic Anthology, and elsewhere. She received a Nature in Words Fellowship from Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in 2020 to complete her first short story collection. Her writing has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize.