Saturday, October 21, 2006

Dead And Gone

The day before yesterday, as I left my house to take the Bug for a walk, she suddenly made her snorting, high-spirited, "there-is-something-for-me-to-chase-in close-proximity" noise. She reared up and ran forward just a few feet barking and then stood with her head down at the right side of my neighbor's front doorstep. As I walked over to see what it was that so immediately grabbed her attention, I realized that she was sniffing some kind of large animal.

"Oh my God," I said out-loud. "Is that the neighbor's cat?" The long, smooth-coated body looked like that of a honey-colored, tortoiseshell tabby. But then I saw the head. And this thing was definitely not a cat. Its weasel-like face stared glassy-eyed toward the street, death making it unaware of the dog or me. And it was big, the size of a large cat or a small dog. And it was, definitely, DEAD.

"Let's go, Bug. . . now!" I said sternly to the dog, retracting her lease, suddenly worried that this animal may have died from some disease that my beloved pet might catch. And so we walked away from this large, dead creature only a few feet from my own front door. "What the hell do I do with that?" I thought to myself, at once grossed out by the dead animal and even more grossed out by the thought of its rotting corpse staying at the side my neighbors' doorstep unnoticed for too long.

Let's just put it right out there: I am not good with dead things. Of the things I've cared about, I have only experienced close proximity to death twice. When I was fifteen, I went to see my Nana at her visitation a couple days after she died. My aunt asked me if I wanted to give her a kiss. Instead, I dropped the bunch of burnt-orange dahlias I was holding into her coffin, careful not to actually touch the body, and bolted frightened and nauseous from the room. When my mother died suddenly at 50, my father wouldn't even let my brother and I go see her one last time after the emergency room docs declared her dead after working on her for more than an hour. And at her funeral, the coffin was closed.

Then a couple of years ago, my old cat Dee had to be put to sleep. She was almost 19 and her kidneys were failing. I sat with her for a long time on the couch before we left for the vets. I scratched her ears and petted her soft, white and carmel-colored fur and told her how much I loved her. Later, standing in the vet's treatment room, I had held her as she died. I was amazed at how quickly life left her body. How different she felt once her heart stopped beating. And the dividing line between life and death had only been a second. Maybe even a mili-second. She was here and then she was gone.

But the demise of less beloved creatures usually just made me plain sick to my stomach. The rats that died curled up in the insulation in our outdoor crawl-space were dealt with by Craze. I wouldn't even go near the basement entrance for months. And I once picked up the decapitated head of a small bird that had been kindly deposited right on our back doormat with a handful of paper towels, tossed it over the side of our deck, and then ran back into the house as quickly as possible, into the bathroom and promptly threw up my entire breakfast.

But getting beyond my stomach-churning dislike of all things deceased, one thing that was dead but not yet gone was this unspecified creature at my neighbor's door. And it had to be dealt with. . .promptly.

As is my typical modus operandi, I immediately took responsibility for solving the problem even though it wasn't on my property. And as Bug and I continued to walk along the sidewalks littered with fallen leaves, past houses decked out in Halloween ghoulishness, I couldn't get that thing out of my head. Was it a possum? But aren't possums white? Some kind of weasel, perhaps? But who's heard of wild weasels running the streets of Chicago? Its face looked a little bit like a fox, but it looked too small to be a fox. It was just a dead creature of unknown species, littering my neighborhood.

Now, I could have just gone and knocked on the neighbor's door and informed them of the deceased currently lying in state on their property. But my neighbors are a somewhat odd Hispanic family who never turn their lights on at night, go out of their way not to communicate with us and, appropriately, seem to speak mostly Spanish. And while I actually speak Spanish, the idea of having to walk past that dead thing to get to their front porch, knocking loudly on their front door and then trying to explain in Spanish that there was a dead animal in their yard and that I wanted them to dispose of it, seemed just too gargantuan a task.

"Hola, soy Maggie, su vecina. Quiero decirse que hay un animal meurto aqui en frente de su casa. . ."

It wasn't going to happen. Firstly, the wife might answer the door and there was no way in hell that I'd expect her to get out there with a shovel and a garbage bag and pick up that dead thing. I wouldn't do it myself, so why should I expect her to? So much for feminism and my usual "I-can-do-anything-a-man-can-do" attitude. When it comes to dead animals, rodent problems or any kind of outdoor home repairs, I default entirely to my meek, "but-I'm-a-girl" stance. I am woman, hear me roar. . .but I can also be a woosie baby.

And then I had a bright idea: maybe the city would come and take it away? Did this fall under the domain of Animal Care and Control? Could they be called upon to rid our old neighborhood of this dead menace--my tax dollars in action? It was worth a try.

So, after finishing our walk and returning to the house from the direction that did not require us to pass the dead visitor again, I picked up the phone. I called the city's non-emergency number and asked if Animal Care and Control could be asked to pick up dead wildlife. I explained to the pleasant woman on the line that I wasn't sure what this thing was but that it was fairly big. She said that she could put in a work order with the Rodent Patrol. Rodent Patrol? It sounded like some kind of cartoon. I imagined cute, helmeted mice racing around on mini motorcycles attending to emergencies and tracking down diminutive, animated crooks. But as fun as that sounds, I was also sure that the reality of Chicago's Rodent Patrol is far bleaker.

And so I gave the operator my neighbor's address and the approximate location of the diseased thing, crossing my fingers that the Rodent Patrol would be a quick and efficient outfit.

That evening, after dinner, I told Craze about my find. "Wanna go see it?" I asked like some carny offering tickets to the freak show.

"No. . .no, I don't," he answered matter of factly, obviously not wanting the image of this dead creature burned into his own imagination. And I was somewhat crestfallen that I was the only one in our household, besides the Bug of course, who would have to live with the memory of that fixed, necrotic stare.

The next day, as I went about my work at home, I went out of my way to avoid any trips to the front door. At some point, the Bug stood at the front window and went ballistic for several minutes, which surely meant that some unknown person was creeping around the front of our house. I was hoping that it was the Rodent Patrol, but didn't get up from the desk to look.

Later, when the daylight was about to ebb, I finally decided to get the mail. As I stood on the front porch, I peered hesitantly over the white railings onto the ground near my neighbors' first step. But there was no fur there to see. So, I more brazenly walked to the railing and looked straight down onto the death scene. But it was gone. Either the Rodent Patrol had efficiently done their job or my quiet neighbors had taken care of business. And thankfully I could finally describe the animal with the only two adjectives that seemed appropriate to me: it was now both dead, and gone.

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