Appetizer

One afternoon late in September, a red squirrel with short arms, long finger-like claws, and superior sight was rummaging in a bed of dry leaves at the foot of a live oak tree. The red squirrel scratched and scratched searching for a place to bury the acorn that perched firmly in its tiny mouth.

Among the wirehairs of the red squirrel’s back, a tiny mosquito buzzed and buzzed searching for a place to devour an iron-rich feast.

Annoyed by the persistent zzzzs of the tiny mosquito, the red squirrel swung its short arms this way and that, drawing leaves up into the air and holding fast to the acorn between its teeth. But the tiny mosquito did not relinquish its quest to dominate the red squirrel. The red squirrel rubbed its back here and there against the live oak’s roots and up and down against the live oak’s trunk. But the tiny mosquito had clamped its tiny legs around the short, wiry hairs of the red squirrel and nestled its body into a crevice along the red squirrel’s spine. The tiny mosquito chortled, then slid its needle-like labrum into the supple skin of the red squirrel’s back and began sucking and sucking the red squirrel’s blood.

But the red squirrel, neither out of breath nor purpose looked into the sun-speckled oak leaves of the tall, tall tree and began to climb up and up and up until it reached the thinnest of branches. It pushed the acorn out of its mouth and into one of its claws, then released it, watching with its superior sight as the acorn fell and settled among the dry oak leaves. The red squirrel turned its attention back to the thinnest branch and gnawed it from the live oak limb. The tiny mosquito continued to feast. The red squirrel grabbed with its long-fingered claws one end of the rough-hewn branch and extended the other end, the pointiest end, over its shoulder and to its back and began to scratch and scratch, up and down, here and there, this way and that.

The tiny mosquito ceased feasting and found itself tangled among the wiry short hairs. It buzzed and buzzed that way and this, there and here, down and up trying to get free.

But the red squirrel’s branch found the tiny mosquito and tore one of its wings. Then, the branch tore the other wing, and the tiny insect somersaulted

down,

down,

down,

until it was smacked by the red squirrel’s tail as it hopped between the limbs of the tall tree down to the leafy floor.

And there, in the bed of live oak leaves, beside the acorn, the red squirrel reclined and picked the wingless stub off its tail, examined the tiny body pinched between its claws, and with its superior sight saw on its tiny gray-striped ass a tattoo of a president leaning against a tree morel, counting red squirrels. The red squirrel ate the pest, belched, picked up the acorn, put it back between its teeth, and resumed scratching at the bed of dry oak leaves.

 

original version first published in The Houston Literary Review