Sounds of the Alleyway
by Patrick Legay
With no rain for months, the sun bleached the city. But the pear tree got its water day after day, soaking up all of that sunshine and making it green, so now its pears weighed on their branches, and of course the squirrels were after them. One little glutton was there on the ground, eating a fallen pear, spinning it in his paws as he worked his teeth.
Greta had on her gardening gloves to protect her skin if the squirrel struggled. She crouched low to the soil, stepped carefully, looking ahead, focussing through her neon-framed sunglasses. She was old. Her long, gray-black coils of hair were all pulled together at the back by a string tied into a bow. The length of her hair was tucked into her cardigan, for practicality.
She kept on stopping, smiling, cocking her head to the side, clicking her gums, and laughing a little to herself, her eyes following a bug buzzing from to leaf to leaf, or the birds calling across the sky.
Her yard was closed in on either side by tall shrubs with fences running through them, as if the chain-link had grown up with the shrubs. At the top of the fences were jagged loops of barbed wire, connecting along the roof of the garage at the back. From the alleyway, over the garage, through the barbed-wire loops, was the squirrels’ path to the pear tree.
Greta snuck between the tomato plants and the herbs she had growing in her garden. The tomato plants grew well this year. They were as tall as a man.
Something was planted in every inch of the yard that caught the sun. There was a hose set to spurt on a timer to keep everything green. She had punctured a line of holes all along the rubber to the end, and capped it with a wine cork, then crisscrossed the length of it through the garden, and around the pear tree. The tomato rows stretched just short of the tree. The herbs were on the other side of them. Corn along the shrub/fence. Kale, spinach, collard greens, lettuce, beans, beets, potatoes, carrots. Everything.
Rascal the Cat waddled along behind her. He was a rotund orange tabby. A skirt of fur-enveloped fat was thrown up from his belly as he trotted. He wasn’t crouching like a sneaking cat would. He wasn’t paying any attention to the squirrel. Rascal was watching Greta. He followed her as she crouched along. He waited, watched her move ahead a little, then trotted up to her, and waited again. The soil was moist, and he didn’t like the feel of it. Between trots he flicked his paws behind him. When he stopped, he stuck his nose in her direction, smelling, his whiskers moving, and his eyes closing as his cheeks puffed.
She wanted to show Rascal how to hunt like a cat. It was his job. She made low meowing and cooing noises to him. He meowed back now and again, but he was meowing about the treats in her cardigan pocket.
All the while the squirrel was under the pear tree with his back to them, happily munching.
She was a little girl when her parents lifted it out of the bed of her father’s truck like it was a Christmas tree. They set it down in the yard, and let her unwrap it from the twine and burlap. Mostly her father dug the hole. They only had one shovel. But they each held a branch, each uprighted the tree, and filled in some soil. They planted the pear tree together. She had a photo from that day up in the kitchen. There were pictures all over the house to help her keep her memory. Some they painted on the walls. Her mother guiding the brush in Greta’s hand to show her the strokes.
On this block, in this house, with this yard, Greta Washington had lived. Her parents brought her here when she was an infant, before she had memory, when the house was empty and rundown. Her parents spoke of it when she was older. How the doors were warped and wouldn’t close, the windows were warped and wouldn’t open, and the roof leaked in a different spot each time it rained. Before they fixed it up. When the old, European neighbors cursed them and moved away.
Now she was 76 years of age to be exact. Sure, she smoked the odd cigarette, and drank the odd spirit, but she ate clean, stayed fit, and kept busy around the house. Yes, she was old, but she did not feel elderly. And she had her home, her place in the world. Being a Detroiter: that was her secret to living.
On her way to the squirrel, she reached up, and squeezed a low-hanging pear. The pears had come early this year. The tree’s flowers had been early too. The tree always bloomed white flowers in spring to tell her when the pears would come.
In his grand voice, her father had threatened to shoot the squirrels for their plundering. Her mother shook her head and called them poor creatures. But, he kept on saying it, that those squirrels should be shot. When he had said it too many times, her mother raised her righteous voice, and told him that there was no reason to be shooting at those poor squirrels. It wasn’t the time for that. And he should hope that time never comes, “when food is hard to get, and when children don’t play in the alleyway behind our tree.”
After that her father would repeat the threat, but laugh to Greta as if it had always been a joke, and her mother would laugh too, shake her head, and call him a dangerous man.
Greta was in her first year of junior high, sitting in class one day, in one of the rooms with all the windows, watching the teacher write equations on the blackboard, when she heard a bunch of loud, deep pops. Bullets shattered the glass, flew invisibly over their heads, and snapped into the wall. All the kids were in shock. The teacher yelled at them, and they ducked under their desks like they had been taught to do for the bomb. Her seat was close to the window. Glass kept falling, and cut the back of her head.
Her father picked her up in his truck. Across his lap was his rifle — the gun he had brought home from the war. Greta’s head was all bandaged up. He asked if she had seen them. She hadn’t. He told her to sit on the floor of the truck, down on her bottom in the foot space. As he drove, he kept telling her it was alright, that he didn’t see anyone bad. They watched the white hoods marching on the news.
Her father went to a meeting in the church basement. Then he sat in a kitchen chair on the edge of the front lawn, with beer cans and cigarette buts on the grass around him, his rifle held up between his legs, and a newly bought extra-long phone cord stretched out of the house. The phone was sitting beside him on the stepping stool from the kitchen.
Greta’s mind was still as clear as ever, but she had lost her hearing. She had been ignoring it for years. Tens of years. Her ears were so dead now there were times when Rascal would have his claws out, ripping at the side of the couch, with Greta lying there reading, but all she heard was quiet. Eventually, she would catch the blur of orange limbs out of the corner of her eye, mark her page, and get up to spray him with the water gun.
The kettle whistling, her rattling pots and pans, slamming the door, bounding down the stairs two at a time — nothing roused her ears. Day and night, she saw things make noise, and heard nothing but quiet.
Back when she could hear well enough to tell a calamity coming, she boarded up the front of her house with plywood. She already had the fence with the barbed wire and gate, but figured an extra touch wouldn’t hurt. She painted one special board with white primer, let it dry, and then wrote in big letters with a fine brush:
Toxic Breathing Hazard
DO NOT ENTER
She painted her best rendition of the biohazard symbol in red (she had practiced it on cardboard) and signed it “By Order of the Detroit City Police.”
Now she couldn’t sleep at night because it was so quiet. Someone could be busting down her door, and she would hear nothing but quiet.
So, before she was after the squirrel that day, Greta went out to the Wal-Mart to see about a pair of hearing aids. She asked the store attendant to lean in close, and repeat himself loudly and slowly. “But, say the same words. I’m no technopeasant,” she told him.
The hearing aids were tiny buds that had these fine little stems on them that you held between your fingers when you put them in your ears. The attendant wouldn’t let her try them out before she bought them. For sanitary reasons, he said. You can adjust all of the settings once you install the app on your tablet.
She bought them with some pension money.
She took her tablet out of its drawer as soon as she got home.
When the app was installed, she put in the buds. At first they only plugged her ears, and felt like they’d let nothing through. She swiped through on the touchscreen, following the prompts to set up the basic settings. She couldn’t quickly figure out what all the bars meant — some went up and down and some went diagonally — and she was impatient to try it, so she swiped each bar to the max, clicked that she was sure about the changes (even though she wasn’t), and put the tablet back in its drawer.
She went out to smoke in the backyard with Rascal following.
The buds let the sound in, and she could hear everything. The spring scraped the bolt in the door. Her sandals squeaked. The tobacco crunched when she pinched the cigarette. The flint scratched and clicked to light. She pulled in smoke, and the tobacco leaves crackled as they burned.
When she was first out there, she stood hearing, remembering, surveying her garden, and smoking in the sun, crossing her arms with one hand holding out the cigarette.
The day the boy next door was born, James, that was her earliest memory. Balloons tied to the mailbox. Everyone shouting “Itsa boy!” She had more memory of his parents than she should. She was still an infant, and she didn’t know them long, but she had seen photographs of them, heard stories, and thought about them a lot when she was older. They were walking on a crosswalk in front of a bus that had been rigged with a bomb. Greta remembered sitting in a scratchy dress on her mother’s lap on the seat of her father’s truck in a line of cars.
James’s Auntie came to take care of him. She was loud and silly. She let teenaged Greta borrow her clothes. She lived with him in the house next door until James was in his 20s, then she moved into an apartment with some younger man she had met when she worked at the grocery.
Greta looked at the pear tree, and the sky. She listened, and was struck by sound. She closed her eyes, and let the sun hit her face. She felt strange about what she heard. Like she heard everything that touched the air. Like she heard more than she remembered ever being able to hear before.
The breeze moved the leaves of the pear tree, but didn’t shift the pears. Bees and dragonflies did flybys in her garden. There were so many bugs on the air. So much birdsong, from all around and far away, so many different types of birds calling and answering each other. She could hear creatures moving through the weeds, crackling, in the yards around her.
Someone down the alleyway was saying slurs. A bottle shattered, Greta flinched, the birds got quiet, and there were footsteps running off. After a moment, when the steps were gone, the birds got back to their song.
The garage with the barbed wire on the roof protected her yard from the alleyway. It had a little window onto the yard, and she could see her father’s old red pickup, still there inside, tires flat, the hood rusted through, and the innards all dried out.
Annabelle was out dancing with her friends. Demetrius boasted to her and bought her a drink. They dated, in the way that people dated back then. He was drafted, sent to Korea. Greta had found their letters stacked in her father’s dresser. Annabelle’s writing was worried and poetic. Demetrius’s writing was factual and obscene. He asked for pictures. She sent a department store portrait of her with her parents.
Annabelle never went to school but she read a lot. She taught Greta. She worked different jobs, cleaning houses in the suburbs, and when she was older, she worked as a secretary. Greta had brought home a portable typewriter from school, and taught her to type.
Annabelle wore patterned dresses all year round. It was only when she got old, and had trouble with her bladder, that she wore slacks.
Demetrius was first a cleaner in the factory, then did heavy work, and then put together auto-parts. When the parts plant closed, he got a job in another place piloting a machine that bolted the doors on the cars. Her mother said he came back from Korea thinner, quieter, with less of himself. All he brought home was his gun. He took it apart and cleaned it almost every weekend.
After Greta wore her mother down enough to allow it, he taught her how to shoot. He would take her out of town to shoot at garbage.
He wore denim. Polyester shirts. His breast pocket always had the imprint of his cigarette packs. After he got sick and was told not to smoke, he kept a pack of playing cards in that pocket, with half a deck, and a bunch of cigarettes crammed in. He and Greta would sneak a puff when the coast was clear of Annabelle.
He would spend most of his time in the bedroom, listening to the radio, reading sports magazines, smoking, and drinking beer. Her mother couldn’t take it anymore. All the beer cans, and the radio at all hours, all the smoking, the snoring, and the kicking and shouting in his sleep. She had a long list. She moved into the other room, but she still picked up his beer cans, vacuumed, stacked the magazines, emptied the ashtray, made his bed, and picked up his shirts. Greta asked why she bothered, and she said that was the arrangement. She was still his wife.
Demetrius died pretty quickly of throat cancer. Started coughing at work. They made him retire, full pension though. The plant closed not long after.
Then her mother’s health deteriorated sharply, and Greta took care of her. Annabelle lived on too long, bedridden, in that deteriorated state. She couldn’t do anything but eat and sleep, and otherwise she wasn’t herself.
Greta remembered being in the yard, on the grass, before she had the garden, hearing her mother in bed, through the window in the room above, saying something loudly that didn’t make sense, just a jumble of words. But, she was saying it as if someone was there listening. Then she would hiss and shriek as if she was being burned. Greta would check on her, and she’d just be in bed, asleep, nothing wrong.
Greta would read books to her, ones she used to like. For the short bursts that she was awake, Annabelle would repeat the same questions, asking what time it was, or whether the letters had come. Greta wanted to do something, but couldn’t decide if she should, so she didn’t, and then Annabelle passed on her own.
Now for the first time in a long time, the quiet cocoon had been broken.
Greta heard a squirrel jump onto the side of her garage from the alleyway, his sticky fingers gripping the wooden wall. He climbed to the top, went through the loops of barbed wire, and across the roof. She saw him jump into the tree. Rascal was lying in the sun. Greta was still smoking, hearing everything, remembering, and surveying the garden.
Soon the squirrel settled on a branch with a pear in his mouth. She walked towards the tree, and shouted, hissed and blew smoke at him. The squirrel looked ridiculous with his tiny grey head, and his yellow and brown buck-teeth clutching the heavy pear, bigger than him. He looked at Greta a little while, then held the pear in his teeth, and jumped back onto the roof.
But, somewhere in the air, the squirrel lost the pear. It fell to the ground between the garage and the tree. After the squirrel landed without the pear, his little head looked down over the edge of the roof. He jumped back onto a branch, and climbed down to the yard, passing by all of the pears in the tree to go after the one he had dropped.
When Greta was a teacher, it was at the same school with the windows. She’d start the first class every year by stepping outside of the mandated curriculum right away. The boys and girls would come in, some stone-faced and staring, and others hunched over, keeping their eyes down, shifting in their seats. Greta wanted to get them talking about real stuff, so she told them stories, her own stories: What happened to the Fosters next door. What it was like for her when she was in junior high. How there was a man on her street who played the electric guitar — ‘Pinky,’ they called him, because he wore rings on his pinkies. He would sit on his big copper amp and play, making it sound like ten guitars, not one, warping the sound by tapping his foot on something that looked like the pedal of a sewing machine. It was fun to watch his pinky rings wiggle and dance as he played. She could hear his guitar at night and on the weekend. The alleyway would bring the sound to her window. As she spoke, she would watch the faces, and sometimes some of the kids would smile, and say they too heard music on their street.
She would tell them how one day, every summer, her street would be blocked off with cars, and all the neighbors would have a big party. Pinky’s band would play. They would grill food right on the street. They would paint the pavement, Greta with her mother and the other children. Watercolor zoo animals, trucks, trees, flying saucers, an ocean with fish in it, along with some other depictions, very colorful, but hard to say what they represented. If she put enough glee in the telling, sometimes the stoned-faced kids would loosen up, look at each other, and smile sarcastically.
She would tell about the day when she was in grade school. She got let out of school early and told to go straight home, and on the way home, she could hear there was something wrong in the city. She saw smoke. Heard sirens. Shouting. Pops and bangs. Greta ran into her mother along the way, who was sweating and out of breath, saying she couldn’t find her father. They went to look for him. Buildings were on fire. People were running around. They gave up quickly, went back home, and saw him walking down their street with his rifle on his shoulder. He wouldn’t say where he had been. He claimed he had been looking for them. He took them to the church, and they all waited inside while he stayed out front with some others. As she spoke, the class would fall silent, mesmerized.
She would also tell them about the pear tree, what the squirrels looked like when they ate, and that Greta and her mother used to paint things on the walls in their house. In the kitchen, they painted a mural of their tree, with the squirrels like gremlins gorging on the pears.
It wasn’t long until the students would start telling their own stories: About who their parents were. About snow forts in the winter, and baseball in the summer, and the pheasants, how they would startle and rush out of the bushes if you came upon them. How someone’s brother fell in the river, and another one’s dog jumped up on the kitchen table and their father punched the poor thing in the ribs. About sad things being said or done. Beatings and illnesses. People drinking too much. The stories of living.
Sometimes they told her about things happening, and Greta had to do more. She’d knock on doors, talk to whoever needed talking to, and she’d go to meetings in the church basement. Doing that was what had kept her going.
The squirrel was chomping under the tree. The sound grated her.
Rascal was curled up in the sun, half watching the squirrel. She whispered to him: “We could both afford to be a little more cat-like.” He looked up at her. She reached into her pocket, took out a treat, and let him smell it. He stood up. She returned the treat to her pocket, and put on the gardening gloves. He watched her. Then she snuck up on the squirrel, stepping carefully, in that crouched stance, through her garden towards the pear tree. Rascal followed, sniffing the air in her direction.
The squirrel was on the other side of the tree, sitting there on the ground, filling his mouth luxuriously with pear-flesh. From behind a tomato plant, she peaked around at the squirrel, then back at Rascal. The cat flicked the soil off his paws, and just looked at her. She meowed at him, and gestured towards the squirrel. He looked only at her hand.
The squirrel was aware of the approach of the slender old black lady, and the fat, slow orange cat. He chewed more rapidly, to fill himself — the pear was the most important thing.
Greta heard the squirrel chew, then pause, then go back to chewing, but faster. She looked around the tomato plant again, and watched him with one eye.
She shifted her weight, lunged around the tomato plant and pounced, grabbing at the squirrel with her two gloved hands. But the squirrel had heard her first step. Before she got there, he jumped into the shrub, and climbed onto the fence with what remained of the pear in his teeth. She hit the ground, hands first, in the spot the squirrel had vacated.
She stayed down, rolled onto her back, breathing, and laid there listening to the sound of the squirrel escaping. She took the gloves off, and watched from below as the squirrel climbed up the chain-link, jumped into the tree, and onto the garage. She relaxed.
When Annabelle finally did give in, and allowed Greta to go shoot at the dump with her father, it wasn’t unconditional. “Fine,” she said. “But, don’t kill anything I can’t cook.”
Her father was showing off his marksmanship, and asked, “Think I can hit that gull?” aiming the rifle at the birds swirling above the garbage.
“Can Momma cook it?”
“Nah. It’s just a gull.”
Greta shook her head. He re-aimed and smashed a glass jar.
The squirrel sat on the roof and finished the pear. She heard him, but couldn’t see him from her view lying on the ground.
Rascal waddled over and lied down beside her, sniffing her pocket. She gave him a treat.
She heard the squirrel stop chewing. The pear’s core rolled down off the roof, and bounced on the ground. It tumbled along in the direction of her head, but slowed and stopped just short. She stayed lying there, looking, hearing, but not moving. The squirrel landed on a branch above her, and looked down, sniffing at her. Greta, directly below, watched him, then she closed her eyes.
The wind changed. The leaves fell silent, letting in all of the sounds. Squatters coughing and spitting. Someone snoring. Somewhere a basketball. The sound of dishes clanking. Someone hammering. Drunken screaming. Children throwing rocks through windows as a game.
She heard things moving through the dried up yard next door, James’s old place, all rundown and grown in thick with years of weeds taking over, and new trees planted by the wind. Maybe it was mice or birds, more squirrels, or other little wild creatures.
She grew up beside James, not with him. They were never kindred spirits. He was a few years younger than her and that mattered most when they were growing up.
They went to school together, a couple grades apart. He was always bigger than her. When they were teens, he started paying more attention to her. He snuck up behind her in the school hallway and threw her on his shoulders, spun her around, and said he wouldn’t stop until she said his name. The way he picked her up, the way he held her, she knew he just wanted to touch her. She refused to say it. She would punch him and claw him, but not too hard. He would get tired, and put her down. She learned to steady herself, and not to fall from the dizziness. She would kick him in the groin if she saw him coming. She liked older boys.
She had enough boyfriends. She liked some things about some of them. But, they were never worth the arrangement. She hated the arrangement. It meant doing all the work and making none of the decisions. Getting scolded like a child. She couldn’t do or say certain things, but they could do or say whatever they wanted.
It was her senior year in college when she broke up with a boyfriend, and decided he was the last one. Not the last man. The last arrangement.
She saw James one autumn night. It was late and the band was in full swing. She danced with him. He had been working outside all summer, and his body was lean and hard. He was different. Older.
She made it clear to him there would be no arrangements. He was shocked by it, but agreed. She remembered how he was then. How he moved, how he smelled, how he felt. They went on like this for a while. Years. Living next door to one another. She would come to his place. For a long time neither of them spent time, that kind of time, with other people.
Until she met the new teacher at her school. He wore a jacket and tie, and they talked about teaching. James saw them out together. He didn’t like it, and he told her so the next time she came over. He lost his temper. Greta just went right back out the door, and shut it on him. She hadn’t even taken off her coat.
A week went by until she knocked on his door again. It was Friday. He let her in. She took her coat off, spent the night, and they didn’t talk about it. The next day she cooked him breakfast and told him her doing so was a one-time occurrence. They drank coffee spiked with whiskey, and then just the whiskey. In the afternoon, he took her to a burger joint.
He swallowed down his burger before Greta had hers out of the wrapping. Sitting in the booth, mustard on his lip, he fumbled, held out his mother’s ring, and stuttered through a proposal. She sat chewing, choking. She swallowed. She muffled a laugh into her napkin. But, it couldn’t be muffled. She looked at him, that dumb smiley look on his face, holding that ring out to her in the booth, as if she should throw up her hands and scream with girlish delight. She couldn’t stop laughing. Right from the belly. He shouted for her to stop. She still couldn’t. He slapped her. Heads turned and the place got quiet. She got quiet. Shocked. She swung a punch back at him. He dodged it, laughed at her, and called her a disgrace. He got up, spat, and left.
She walked home, and his car wasn’t there. After that, time went by, neither of them broke the silence, and they settled into never speaking.
A moving truck pulled up to James’s house one day, a small one, but it came full of boxes, mirrors, dressers, and the pieces to a big canopy bed. James’s car followed, and he got out, opened the door for a woman, and got her suitcase out of the trunk. Greta saw them together on the street. One night she heard them shouting next door. After a time, the moving truck pulled up again. The woman moved out.
Greta saw James coming and going, getting older. She heard him on the other side of the shrubs raking the leaves that had blown from the pear tree. She grit her teeth, sucked in air, and went inside. When she began to lose her hearing, she liked it a little. Without her putting any effort into it, a quiet cocoon was forming around her.
Now lying there, eyes closed, with the earbuds, she could hear the squirrel’s sticky fingers on the bark, and the thinner branches bend and creak as he walked along. She could hear exactly where he was in the tree.
The squirrel paused on a branch, then reached up, and pulled on a pear with all of his weight. The pear’s branch bent down, and rattled back when the pear snapped off. Other pears hit the ground near her head.
She opened her eyes, rolled over, moved up on all fours, and stood up.
She went to the house. There was a bucket holding a spade, rake, and other long-handled gardening tools beside the back door. She pulled a garden hoe slowly and quietly out of the bucket. She breathed carefully. The handle of that old garden hoe was heavy red hickory. She looked over her shoulder at the squirrel, then back. The steel of that old garden hoe had a shine to it. She kept it sharp to cut through the roots of weeds.
Rascal was back in his dry spot in the sun. As she went by with the garden hoe, she touched him with the red hickory end to wake him up. He opened his eyes, and looked at her dazed. She gave him another treat, and whispered for him to “Watch and learn.” Then she moved towards the squirrel with the garden hoe held high, and angled in front of her.
The squirrel was on a branch at about the height of her shoulder. Maybe just above. He was bent over the pear, spinning it, gorging. She could see his neck.
She stopped, and raised up the blade very slowly.
The squirrel sat up. He didn’t run away. He just sat there on his branch, looking at her, shifting the pear in his grasp.
She watched him, and waited for him to go back to the pear and show his neck again. They stood there frozen, looking at each other, the squirrel with the stolen pear, Greta holding the blade of the garden hoe over him. She kept her eyes on the squirrel, but her ears were with the little creatures rustling on the other side of the fence.
When they got the fences and barbed wire, James wouldn’t pitch in. Greta assumed it was because of her. She had gotten a group of her neighbors to go in together so they could all get a better deal. Some of them might not have been able to afford it otherwise. James told the neighbor on the other side of him that he wanted nothing to do with it, and to stop asking. It made it more expensive for them all.
She hosted the party after the fences were installed. Her neighbors from both sides of the street were in her backyard, eating ice-cream cake on paper plates, lamenting the cutting of Greta’s shrubs. Saying nothing about James. They talked about how strange all their yards looked with the chain-link and barbed wire.
The shrubs grew back, but those neighbors were long gone. Moved away. Got sick and died. Or just disappeared. James’s car was gone and never came back. His place got all grown in, got condemned, and boarded up from the outside. That was before the city went bankrupt.
Greta was the lone holdout of the old neighborhood. But now the place around her was something else.
She held up the blade of the garden hoe. The squirrel still had his head up, listening. Squatters were shouting by one of the houses down the alleyway. Pounding on the door. The squirrel turned his head a little. A woman’s voice screamed hysterically from inside. “Don’t you dare,” or something like that. “Don’t” something. Another voice yelled back. Then someone hit the door with something big. And hit it and hit it. The door came down. A bunch of voices laughed and hooted. The woman screamed something back. There was a gunshot. Greta flinched, the garden hoe dipped slightly. The squirrel looked up at it, then looked away, and turned his ear back to the sounds. They heard the woman scream something more. Then some sort of scuffle. Another shot. Something fell. The woman laughed, spoke, and then it all fell quiet, peaceful. Just the bugs and the birds.
The garden hoe was getting heavy.
The squirrel went back to the pear, hunched down over it, eating and spinning it. She adjusted her grip. The squirrel ignored her. She turned her head for a moment, and looked at Rascal, who had darted back near the door of the house. He was sitting motionless, wide-eyed, watching her.
She shook her head at the cat, then turned back to the squirrel, lined up the blade, and chopped it down, hitting him on the neck, taking part of his head off. The blood, the body, the partly chewed pear, and some of the branch fell down onto the yard.
Rascal shrieked, jumped into the air with all fours, and puffed up to triple his size. He clawed at the seams, trying to get in the back door, but it was closed.
Greta put down the garden hoe, and went after him. Rascal didn’t run from her. He waited facing the door, and she picked him up. He tried to get away but didn’t scratch her, then went limp in her arms. “I’m sorry my scaredy cat,” she told him. She pet him, hugged him, kissed his head, and laughed at him. He dangled in her arms, puffed up with his limbs sticking out like he was a balloon in the Thanksgiving Day Parade. She pet his neck and his ears, and he stretched up to her, rubbing his forehead on her chin.
She put him down, and gave him a treat from her cardigan. He ate it, still puffed up a little. She showed him another treat, and backed up with it. He followed. She gave him the treat. He ate it, then looked up at her. She showed him another treat, and moved back through the garden. He followed, pausing to flick dirt off his paws. She held the treat closer to him. He reached his mouth out. She led him a couple feet more to the pear tree, and he followed with his mouth open, trying to take the treat. She put the treat down near the squirrel’s partially beheaded body. He ate the treat, and sat down on the spot, sniffed at the body, then settled there with each ear sticking up and moving independently of the other. The cat was listening to the sounds of the alleyway.
Greta picked out a spot near him, and carefully sat down on the ground. Both of them were listening, heads-tilted in the same direction.
They sat there well into the afternoon.
Then she was at the kitchen counter, putting some foil on the cutting board. She brought out the knife, and watched a YouTube video on how to skin and clean a squirrel. She went through the steps, wearing yellow rubber gloves, cutting under and pulling the skin, pinching and pulling out the bones. The squirrel’s cheeks and stomach were all full of mashed up pear. Rascal meowed at her, and laid over her feet. She heated a pot of water on the stove, dropped the squirrel’s meat in the boiling water, cooked it, and rinsed it in cold water.
She put the meat in Rascal’s dish. He trotted over. On the side, his dish had a little painted depiction of the fat cat himself. He smelled the meat, licked it a little, and then gulped it down with only a few chews. She ate a salad with kale, cubed beets, shredded carrots, and thinly sliced pear on top, unripened and bitter. It was all glazed in balsamic. Greta was a vegetarian, but Rascal was not.
Patrick has been writing since he was a child — his first work of fiction being a brief supernatural detective story that had something to do with voodoo in New Orleans. He was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In most of the candid childhood photos, he is wearing a green Robin Hood costume, which he sewed using a pattern his mother ordered for him from a catalogue. Sometime after the costume no longer fit, he moved to Toronto for school, but stayed to do human rights and pay equity work with university unions. He now lives and writes by the far ocean in Victoria, B.C. firstname.lastname@example.org