Sunday
Rebekah Matthews

 

You have an apple tree in your backyard, and the apples begin to disappear. I call you every Sunday–we set up that rule when I left for college, and we have kept it, after all this time–and this Sunday you say you can’t figure out why the apples are missing. If animals were eating them, wouldn’t there be bite marks, traces of dropped fruit somewhere on the ground? I say maybe a neighbor kid is stealing them and you say, “But there are apples way up high, where a kid couldn’t reach, and those are gone too.” Another Sunday I call even though I don’t want to talk to you that much, because I just broke up with my girlfriend but I don’t think I can tell you that, or at least I don’t want to tell you that, and you say you finally figured it out: squirrels are taking the apples. And they are taking them whole. Dad is ordering traps for them online and later you report that our dog finds the squirrels in the trap, still alive, and shakes them until they die. I say that sounds upsetting and you say, “But they are parasites. In the suburbs, they have no predators. They are taking over everything.” They eat your tomatoes. They climb up the bird feeders, scaring the birds away. I say it could be a science-fiction story, squirrels taking over the world, and you say I should write that story. You suggest, “Have them invade a single house. Like one of those home invasion horror movies.”

You and Dad are making plans to take a vacation to the Grand Canyon, though you’re not sure if you will be able to go because of Dad’s health. But you want to ride donkeys on a trail down the canyon and go white-water rafting with him. After you got married, before I was born, you traveled all the time together. You told him you were pregnant with me while you were in Costa Rica, while you watched a shooting star fall in the sky over the ocean.

*

The Grand Canyon trip falls through. Instead with some people from your church you take a mission trip to Kibera, a slum in Kenya, and you are gone for two weeks; Dad is pretty sick, so I drive down and stay with him for a few days. He is okay, I guess; he mostly just sleeps all day.

I am making dinner, one of the only meals I know how to make, grilled cheese and tomato soup from a can heated over the stove. Dad sits at the kitchen table trying to open one of his prescription bottles of medicine. I am stirring the soup when I look out the window. It’s fall, your favorite season, and before you left for Kenya, you decorated the outside of the house with a pumpkin flag hanging by the front door, and set pumpkins and gourds on the sidewalk. I watch as the squirrels chew one of the pumpkins. I wonder out loud, more to myself than to Dad, “They’re always around, but how come we never see any of their poop?”

Dad laughs and says, “Mom is always wondering the same thing.”

After dinner I google “squirrel poop” on my phone. I look at the images first–they look like pellets, dark brown, slightly bigger than a grain of rice. There’s a website that explains why people usually don’t see their droppings: squirrels poop on the run so they are spread out and don’t accumulate into piles; they poop up high, in tree trunks; since it’s brown in color, it’s difficult to spot in spoil.

I explain it to Dad, who seems tired and bored, and I say, “I’ll tell Mom when she gets back. I solved the mystery.” But you get back and then it’s Christmas and we fight about how I don’t want to go to the Christmas Eve service at your church, and I forget to tell you.

*

I run into my ex-girlfriend at a birthday party for mutual friends. I am trying to get up the nerve to smile at her and say hello, but we catch each other’s eye and she looks angry, and she walks away from me. It’s not inappropriate: I was the one who broke up with her, and not kindly. When I get home I drink a glass of water and cry about it in the bath tub, thinking about how I should have loved her, because she was really nice, but I didn’t. I get out and dry off and I call you. You’re surprised because it’s not Sunday, and it’s late at night, and you ask me if everything is okay. I say yes, I just had a question about the care package you sent me. The fudge in the package, should it be refrigerated, or put out? You say it should be refrigerated.

Then I make up something to tell you. It’s not really a lie, but it’s kind of a lie. It really did happen, just a long time ago. I was eating my lunch at the park and I saw a squirrel who was missing one eye, its other eye infected. It was searching around in the mulch for some food but couldn’t find any. I gave it some pieces of bread from my sandwich. I conclude by saying to you, “I shouldn’t have done it. You’re not supposed to feed animals at the park. There’s this big sign. I’m just making the problem worse.”

“You just did it the one time. It’s okay.”

“I probably prolonged its suffering.”

“It was hungry and you gave it some food. You shouldn’t feel bad.”

“You don’t think it was stupid?”

“No. I would have done the same thing.”

I say I believe you, and I do. We hang up. I eat some of the fudge you sent and go to bed.

*

It’s months after you’ve been back Kenya, but a woman from your church finally emailed you all the pictures she took, and you email them to me. In the pictures, most of the ground in Kibera is covered in trash. You and your church group dug ditches to help with getting rid of the trash. You also visited the orphanage there. All the women in your group had to wear long skirts. There is one photograph of a little girl reaching up to hug you. When I call you on Sunday I ask about the pictures. You remember the one of the girl at the orphanage. You say, “I always wondered about her. Did you see in the picture, her hair is in all those little braids, with little beads at the end? She’s at an orphanage and, you know, there’s no one to take care of her, but somebody must have braided her hair for her like that. I kept wondering who did that for her.”

That’s when I tell you, “I decided to write a story about squirrels. Like you said to.”

“Can I read it?” you ask.

“If I actually finish it. And if it’s good. Yeah, of course you can read it then.”

My dad is feeling better and you are trying to plan a new vacation, this time you want to take a cruise to Alaska. You are excited to see the glaciers, the sea lions and whales. You’re both gone for a while on the trip and we don’t talk on those Sundays because you don’t have reception on the cruise, and I finish the story, and I wait for you to ask me about it again. I don’t know what I’ll say to you, about it, this time.

*

Dad gets another kind of trap hoping these will work better that the old ones. They come with something called squirrel butter to attract the squirrels. But they ignore the traps, even when Dad covers them in peanut butter and pieces of apples. You say, “I see them eating birdseed on the ground and there are the traps with peanut butter only inches away from them, and they’re ignoring them.”

On certain days I feed squirrels in the park on my lunch break. They eat the pieces of my food by holding it in their little paws. They look cute, not like parasites. I watch them and feel satisfied and guilty. Sometimes you and Dad and the house and your squirrel problems seem close to me, maybe too close, in my mind, almost like an intrusion. But there are other times you seem so far away from me, and barely real, and that relieves me, and scares me, at the same time. Every now and then I still call you on days that aren’t Sundays, trying to find a reason to talk.

 

Rebekah Matthews lives in Boston and watches a lot of TV. Her stories have appeared in such publications as Storyglossia, Smokelong Quarterly, and Wigleaf. Her chapbook, Hymnal For Dirty Girls, was published by Big Rodent, and her novella, Hero Worship, was published by Vagabondage Press. Find more about Rebekah here.