Sometimes I have dreams that are so realistic I think, “How weird this isn’t actually a dream.” Of course, the joke’s on me; I wake up, realize my mistake, and that’s that. Another strangely sublime moment produced by my subconscious and trapped there, like an exotic creature in some madwoman’s backyard menagerie. So what else is new.
But while I was out for my walk yesterday, the opposite happened. My subconscious reached its hand out into reality and gave it a good shake.
I had just left the part where they ripped up the covered bridge and bandaged the path in yellow caution tape. When we first leased our apartment facing the mud flats almost two years ago, they told us cheerfully: “It’ll be back to normal by spring.” Just enough time for me to move in and start nesting, which was fantastic. A lake without water–at least on our end–is no lake at all.
Well, two years on, and the dam is finished but the additional projects are nowhere near, and the October deadline isn’t looking too promising. To make it worse, they just removed integral sections of the covered bridge that lies smack dab in the middle of my daily walk. I can hike around it through a subdivision, but a subdivision is the last thing I want to look at. I’m renting a lake-front apartment and would like to look at a lake, thankyouverymuch.
So I just left that, it’s raining, and I’m trying to think about about nothing when something reaches out of my subconscious and shakes the dripping trees overhead. It’s a limb or a bomb or a giant load of pine cones–either way, I get out of there quick. It crashes to the ground just behind me, what looks like a beehive but isn’t because it’s squeaking.
Of course it’s squeaking. Already this shoots to a level seven on the zero-to-ten Uncanny Scale.
I look up at the tree. A squirrel clings to the nearest branch, peering down at me, her little whiskers quivering. A couple steps closer, and there it is: a little shrimpy thing, two inches long, pink and naked, thrown from her nest and lying on the path in the rain.
Mommy squirrel is nervously twitching. What knocked her nest down? It’s not really windy, just miserably damp, the long slow drizzle of a bad mood. Nothing malicious is at play, just awful chance. I don’t believe in luck but I’m not one to look for signs either. It was just creepy random chance that I almost got knocked in the head by a metaphor I wrote maybe five days ago:
People don’t change who they are just because someone’s walking by–especially if that someone’s a kid like me. I once saw a guy on a ladder waving a broom at a squirrel’s nest in his front yard. I was right there as it fell to the ground in chunks, dried leaves fluttering down like autumn in July, the pink and sightless babies still curling around each other as they smacked onto the driveway.
My character chalks it up to the darker parts of human nature. I don’t even have that. Just bad stuff raining down from the heavens, indiscriminately dropping on unsuspecting targets. How long before it stops squeaking? I had thought it wouldn’t have survived impact. Maybe they’re made of heartier stuff, I don’t know. I’m not in the habit of knowing. Just imagining.
So at this point I’m pretty much losing it. I’ve had an awful day as it is and baby squirrel death is too much to handle. People looking out their living room windows must be muttering to themselves, “See, I told you she wasn’t quite right. Look at her crying at that pile of sticks.”
It’s not sticks. It’s carefully woven leaves and strips of bark, surprisingly intact. If I could climb it back up there, set it on a branch and tie it down nice and tight, it’d be fine. Perfectly habitable. But I can’t do that. I can’t even touch the baby–Mommy might not want it after that. It’s way too little to nurse by hand. What do baby squirrels even eat? My cat would think it’s a toy. I can think of five cats within a block of here, and surely they’ve gotten the bulletin by now: fresh young squirrel meat. Come and get it.
Mommy squirrel’s still there. Suddenly my heart rages with hope. Maybe, just maybe, if I get out of the way. . . I scamper down the path, hide behind an excavator, because I can’t just leave it. I have to know what happens.
I don’t even have to wait. As soon as I’m out of sight, Mommy runs headfirst down the tree. Bounds across the path, stops before the nest. She picks up the baby and carefully shoves her into her mouth. Then back across the path, up the tree, and out of sight.
I have no idea what the next step is. Maybe there is no next step. Maybe another nice squirrel family will take them in. All I know is, somehow, Squirrel Metaphor will be a reoccurring one. It will climb back into my head from reality and then out onto the page, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing, it’s that sometimes, things happen for a reason. And no one else can tell you what that reason is: you have to make it yourself. You have to make it worthwhile, because otherwise, it’s just a bunch of baby squirrel death.