Possums or: We Are All the Things We Hate
I saw the light again. Colorful, bright, a blur while screaming—everything is changed now.
* * *
After Grandma persuaded Grandpa to put the knife away, he caught them with canned fruit. Don’t be afraid to make a mess, he’d say, a smile cracking his face. Juice from the fruit spilled and I wanted juice on my hands too. Grandpa stopped, rubbed his palms against the grass beneath us – rid himself, seemingly, of this sweet thing – advised me with dark, engulfing eyes, to do the same. He picked at the edge of the can, plopped fruit into an old bowl, the kind made of porcelain, floral designs, cracks running throughout, wrinkled fingers pushing it inward. Slowly, he set the trap’s door. We’ll catch the rest of ‘em. He took a breath, stood shakily to his feet. Already caught one. Might be the mama. He stopped, eyes searching the perimeter of the yard. Bastard.
I followed Grandpa through ancient gates to the trap at the rear of the house. Look at its underside. He studied a moment. Pregnant, he said quietly, grimace on his face. Then, carefully, he slid the knife he’d hid from Grandma out of his pocket.
Night had begun to fall, the sky morphing into a sea of color. The many bars of the cage reflected oranges, blues and purples that the sun had left behind. Grandpa ran the sharp edge of the blade along the bars, the pointed edge moving closer and closer to the animal. He kneeled before her as if she were a queen, and I laughed at the thought. Grandpa cut his eyes at me, lost my breath, focused on the grass swaying, chanting beneath my feet.
The clatter of the knife against the metal bars brought me back. Grandpa was careful, precise, his hand gripping the knife’s wooden handle, vines on a fence. The squeal of the animal echoed for a moment against the house – faded blue shutters – into the wooded area behind us. Carefully, Grandpa pulled a small item from the cage. The severed thing was brown, like us. And blood as red as apples trickled down his fingers. He moved them across the surface of the grass beneath us, this sea of green calling to me.
The river had eaten many men. Boys, too. Grandpa was sure of it. Told me of a cousin of ours, sailing when his boat was overturned. Swallowed whole by a big fish waiting in the waters below. When God calls... His eyes set on the water in the distance. I was there. Got away though.
A boy had been disobedient, decided to journey to the river, the mixture of gravel and sand pulling at his feet. After grass had disappeared, the man-made path emerged, a tricky thing, and the boy slid right into the waters. His appearance was a lot like mine, the boy. And everyone in town searched for him, but they never recovered his body. It swallowed him, the river. He sank right into its mouth.
Grandpa tinkered with a tattered bungee cord in the moonlight. Tied an end to the cage and stopped. Watched his wide nostrils release a lengthy breath. In one hand, Grandpa began to swing the cage, the remainder of the rope in the other. Then he turned toward me. Help.
The cord was coarse in my hands. I gazed at the possum, the mother, her pinkish nose. I could see her underside, round and sagging against the bars – a native imprisoned in her own land.
Without warning, without counting, we tossed the cage into the water. Watched as, rapidly, it was devoured by the river. Grandpa flashed a grin. You’ll know when it’s done. The bubbles. My breathing slowed, heart quickened. You’re getting older. Have to do stuff that makes you a man. Still, there were a few bubbles at the surface of the water. It’s time for you to toughen up. A sigh. You’re too damned soft. Grandpa yanked the rope, pulling me forward. My feet struggled to find stable ground; thought that I might meet the river. The air was silent, listening. And Grandpa laughed, a thunderous laugh. It echoed out over the water, left a wake in its trail. Dark, engulfing eyes, like rivers, peered into mine. I fought back currents in my own. All the while the fangs in his mouth grew longer and sharper than they’d been before.
We should be done now. When the mother was scrambling around in the cage in search of an out, Grandpa and I repeated the process.
I gazed out over the water at the docks and boats on the other side. A stoplight in the distance granting a hue of yellow pulsed on. We slowed, sounds still, colors fading. With my free hand, I tried to catch this yellow light, yearning in my fingertips. But Grandpa tugged at the rope, and so I began to pull again. He shook Mother Possum around the cage, her fragile, lifeless body pressing against the sturdy bars. Grinned. Come here. Grandpa opened the trap door and passed the cage to me. A moment passed, wind whispering in my ear, and I began to dump her body, but he stopped me. Reach in and pull it out. His tone a sudden flood, dark, engulfing eyes sinking me.
My hand shook, but after a moment I reached into the cage for Mother Possum. She and her members were gone. Her fur was thick and slimy, and I dropped her onto the gravel. Grandpa gripped my shoulder for balance and kicked her lifeless body into the water. Said that the river would consume her as well. Death is a part of life. The white of his fangs shined in the dim moonlight. Grandpa took the knife from his pocket, and with a cold hand gripped my tail. This stays between me and you, right?
After, we traveled the short, endless road from the riverbank to home. And when we entered, I found light and comfort and Grandma, smiling, welcoming me with warm claws and cautious eyes – eyes set on the empty knife block atop the kitchen counter.
* * *
I saw him in the bathroom, rushing for work, remembering, grins extended, therapy sessions awash in my mind. Laughter from my amygdala filled the room. And there he was, staring back at me, his breath, my breath. His cheeks, eyes, all mine.
When he drowned, there was a gift left hovering over my being while I attempted to sleep. His spirit refused to leave, floating above the river, his face, body one with the thing - in old age he’d taken pests there, trading fates, having tripped and fallen in.
I could not sleep. Sat at his funeral, tear ducts dry as the well left dilapidated in his and Grandma’s yard. I cut off my tail the night before my high school graduation. Caused myself much pain in the process, blood, but knowing that I was cutting him granted relief. Took it to the river, tossed it in, waited for it to sink. The piece, this toxic appendage of him—of myself—floated away. But it never left the surface.
* * *
The yellow light in the distance has been changed now. It is yellow and red and green, too.