Death of a Beast
June was sitting at her desk and looking out the window, as she often did when she was thinking about her problems. It was a cold day, and cloudy, threatening rain from the north. As she thought, June twisted a length of her hair around and around her index finger.
She observed a squirrel on the tree outside her window. It was perched on a small stump mid-tree which had been made earlier that year by overzealous tree pruners. The squirrel was clutching his heart.
Before she stopped to look out the window, June had been reading about a massive trichobezoar. Gastroenterologists removed the giant hairball from a girl on Thanksgiving morning. The hairball weighed ten pounds and was shaped vaguely like a stomach, where it had been lodged. The girl had a mental disorder that involved eating her own hair during times of duress. Romantic gastroenterologists call it Rapunzel Syndrome. When asked if the removal of a ten-pound hairball would affect their Thanksgiving meal, the gastroenterologists were quoted as saying, "We don't get fazed by much."
It seemed as if the squirrel was having a seizure. He was shaking, and gripping the tree with three paws. The fourth was still on his chest, as if he was about to break into song. June thought it would be wonderful if the squirrel broke into song. She couldn't take her eyes away, though she was tired, and needed to work and sleep. Helping the squirrel was out of the question, because the tree branch was eight feet from the window. June wasn't sure what she would do to help, anyway. She could do the tiny chest compressions if necessary, but she wouldn't be able to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She had tried a similar procedure once on a kitten, many years before, and it had not worked.
The girl had come to have the hairball removed after she lost nearly forty pounds. The hairball that was growing in her stomach was filling her up, and though her body begged for protein and energy, everything she ate or drank fell against the mass of knotted hair and clogged in her system. The food would eventually break down into enough nutrients to keep her alive long enough to eat more hair.
The squirrel was no longer shaking, June noticed. Its tiny paw still hovered over its breast but the beast simply stared in through the window. June understood dramatism, having recently worked at a dinner theatre, but the performance was a little too compelling. The spirit and knowledge in the eyes was gone, and the squirrel was dead.
Somehow, its tiny claws had dug deep enough into the wet wood—it was raining now, June saw—to keep it righted on the mid-tree stump. The squirrel had honey brown fur that was the same color as June's hair, still twisting around her finger. June and the squirrel were only two stories up, which still seemed a long way to jump or fall.
That morning, June and her friends had a laugh over breakfast about how they would each die. June had claimed skin cancer, pointing to some questionable moles on her forearms. One swore that after a lifetime of watching her husband smoke, she would be the one with an ironic cancer of the lung. Cancer is the most funny when discussed over breakfast.
June tried to see the humor in things. It was a character trait of which she was proud, her ability to laugh at any situation. She joked about love, and death. She thought the ball of hair stuck in the eighteen-year-old was hilarious. She often made a small joke about the last gift her grandmother sent before she died, a single pair of red socks with polar bears embroidered on them. When anyone remarked on her strange socks, she would say, those were the last present my grandmother gave before her passing.
She never would say "passing" to be serious, either. Her grandmother hadn't driven in years and likely had never been aware of the HOV lane, but June imagined the woman in a dirty red Yugo, flipping the bird as she tore around a school bus and howling at the idea that a pair of socks could make so many people feel like shit.
The girl with Rapunzel Syndrome claimed she ate her hair out of heartbreak. June certainly understood heartbreak, having recently worked at a dinner theatre.
The squirrel was dead for sure. It was staring through June with eyes that had seemed glassy before but were practically mirrors at that point. The squirrel swayed along with the tree, in the breeze. Raindrops dripped from its sagging tail.
June smiled at the poor squirrel, wondering about where the rest of it was at that moment. That was funny because she usually saved ridiculous thoughts about the afterlife for animals or people close to her. When the kitten died, for example, June invented the idea that the pitiful creature would return to the world as a ballerina.
She twisted her hair around her finger and watched the squirrel, which had passed. Her knuckle, wound tight with hair, was nearly at her scalp, and her hand was held against her head by her own hair. June wondered if it would be a comfort. She could barely see her own reflection in the windowpane, and when she squinted, it appeared that the squirrel was sitting on her shoulder. June closed her eyes and pulled her hand away in a ripping clump, making a sound like an animal might make. A brown leaf blew against the squirrel, against its face, and then whipped past. June twisted her hair into a knot and swallowed it without chewing.
She was distinctly aware of her body and skin. The squirrel pitched forward with the swaying tree branch. Something was going to have to give, which wasn't too funny.
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