I wrote this story a few years ago. The inspiration was dealing with squirrels in the yard, and how all efforts to do something with them is futile in the long run. You can kill them, trap them, scare them, and think you're making headway; only to find there are more than all your efforts can deal with.
Anyway, I'm thinking I wrote this short fiction story during a time when the dealings of life were heavy, little things became annoying, and something as insignificant as a bunch of squirrels became the focus of anger. Letting go of the stress was important, and placing it all in perspective was more important.
Me and Columbo
My wife loved her flower garden. That, the birds, and my nemeses: the squirrels. While the birds fascinated me, the squirrels dug in her planters, chewed on things that didn't require their chewing, and I was repairing a bird feeder at least once each year.
We'd sit on the covered patio, when the weather permitted, or in the den, when the weather didn't, and watch, while we drank coffee. The seed feeders were in view, so as the birds accumulated, we could watch as they initially came alone, or later, when they'd feed the hungry fledglings; insisting on being fed, with open mouths and complaining squawks.
After her passing, I tried to keep her flowers, but they reminded me too much of her and the scars that tugged and ached. I realized the sorrow was constant, when I worked the bed, so I tilled it and placed sod.
I left the bird feeders. The birds were like pets; and I relished their antics as they came for their seed. I'd anticipate the migrations, when a grosbeak would pass through to stop for a meal, or I'd glimpse a few indigo buntings on their way to their winter habitat.
I didn't like the squirrels, so I'd sit on the back patio, with a slingshot and scare them away. I'd thought of a pellet rifle, but didn't want to kill anything I didn't plan on eating. The slingshot worked, as long as I was on the porch. When I glimpsed through the window, they'd forage with impunity.
One small squirrel attracted my attention one summer. Young, and without predators, he'd only move away, or hide behind a tree, when I'd send a shot his way. Determined to change his ways, I bought marbles for projectiles. I figured I could change his attitude; especially if I managed to hit my intended target.
One morning, as it remained, after the other squirrels scampered away, I loaded my slingshot, carefully aimed, and sent a marble its way. It immediately fell over and was still.
I had one of those moments, when you say to yourself: "Now, what do I do?" Rising, I went to examine the squirrel. If it wasn't dead, I'd finish it off.
It was laying on its side; blood seeping from around its eye and slowly breathing. I raised my foot to stomp its head, when something told me to stop. Instead of ending its life, I squatted, nudged it with a stick laying by, and examined the squirrel that raised my ire.
After watching for a few minutes, I went to retrieve a box, placed an old towel for a bed, and placed the squirrel in the box. Returning to the patio, I left it on a corner, so it could escape, when it came around.
At dusk, I peeked into the box. The squirrel was still unconscious. No knowing what to do, I soaked some bread in milk, placed a jar lid full of water, and left it for the night in the box, which I moved to an inner corner of the porch. It looked like rain, and I didn't want the squirrel to get wet from the cold autumn rain.
When morning arrived, I made my coffee, looked at the box, and decided I'd probably have to bury the squirrel. Finishing my first cup, I eased onto the patio and glimpsed into the box.
The squirrel was awake; sitting quietly, and looked up as a I peered over the edge. I expected it to panic, but it only gazed at me.
I could tell it's eye was a mess. Now swollen shut, it seeped blood, which stained the fur. Some bread remained on it's mouth, and the lid of water was half empty.
Carefully reaching into the box, I retrieved the jar lid. The squirrel didn't move, so without thinking, I reached over and gently pet it on the shoulder. It moved, which caused me to jerk my hand away, but it didn't panic as I assumed it would.
Felling brave, I reached in again, pet it on the back. It moved, but not away. I spent a few moments gently running my finger on its back. It seemed to comfort it, but not willing to push my luck, I decided to go for some more bread and water.
For the next few days, I tended to my squirrel. I'd give it bread and water, or some pecans I'd bought. It would use the paper towel I'd placed in the corner, so I'd change it twice each day.
The eye remained shut, so I assumed the marble ruined the eye and caused a head injury. The latter became apparent when I turned the box on the side after a week.
The squirrel ventured from the box, but its unsteady gait, wobbling body, and disorientation confirmed the damage was great. It didn't venture far, and after a few minutes away from the box, it would return to its sanctuary.
I decided to call it "Columbo". A cursory glance after I hit it with the marble revealed it was a male, so Columbo was appropriate.
Columbo had no fear of me. I found it surprising, but figured it was a reaction to the only caretaker it had. He'd let me scratch his back, never made any effort to bite, and greedily ate the food I placed, or he ate from my fingers.
Columbo never regained his balance. Efforts to run resulted in a flopping gait, or caused him to fall to his side. He could only creep, or slowly climb. He'd climb into one of the chairs on the patio, and nap during the morning, when the sun would warm the porch from the cold of the night.
Before the first real cold snap of winter, I wondered if Columbo could survive without the protection of a nest, or a family of squirrels to cuddle with. Not knowing what else to do, I pulled his box into the den, left the door cracked, so he could leave if he wanted, and waited for his reaction.
It didn't seem to faze him. He climbed from his box, surveyed his immediate surroundings, and soon returned to his box. I gave him fresh water, a clean paper towel, and some pecans before I retreated to my chair by the television. Warm, and tired, I soon fell asleep to the sound of an old Western.
I awoke to the sound of a gunfight, running horses, and the voices of cowboys in the thick of battle. A movement in my lap startled me. Looking down, I found Columbo curled up, sound asleep, and content. Not wanting to disturb his sleep, I pet his back for a few moments, and soon returned to sleep. When I awoke in the morning, he was by the plate glass door; watching the cold wind stir the leaves in the yard. I retrieved the block of oak I gave him for gnawing, and we settled in for the winter.
I eventually brought Columbo to the vet. Nothing was wrong, but I felt it was the right thing to do.
The vet was a young woman, new to practice, and curious about Columbo. After I told her our story, she gave me a funny look, smiled and continued with her examination. She found nothing wrong, although she explained there wasn't much she knew about squirrels, and those that did, usually worked for a zoo. She gave me some phone numbers before I left, but I never called. She's told me to come back if something was wrong, gave me a hug, and we parted with her saying: "You're a sweet man. Most would have left him to die."
That was over a dozen years ago. He never became aggressive, although he'd fuss if I took his small bowl after he finished the ice cream I'd give him for a treat. He'd fall asleep in the dog bed I bought him, with the bowl close. I'd carefully remove the bowl while he slept, and usually find him curled in my lap in the morning. The recliner had now become my bed. Columbo feared the rest of the house, and would bark if he couldn't find me during the night.
Columbo's appetite fell off over the last few weeks. I took him to the vet, but she couldn't find anything wrong. She suggested more tests at a teaching university, but she said they would probably be traumatic for Columbo, so I decide to bring him home.
Three days ago, all Columbo would eat was a little of the ice cream I placed. He'd never finish, but I was glad he'd eat something. That changed yesterday. He wouldn't eat anything, or venture from his bed. I eventually picked him up and placed him in my lap as I sat in the recliner. He curled up, fell asleep and I soon followed. I woke a few hours later to find he passed. I sat with him for awhile; scratching the spot he liked me to scratch between his shoulder blades. I buried him under the white azalea; the flowers a brilliant white against the blue spring sky.
In the grand scheme of things, an old man, and a squirrel, don't mean very much...except to me. It's the small things that make the big things, and the attempts to rectify the wrongs with the rights should mean something. Whether my effort was right is to be seen. I like to think it was.