#short story

The Squirrel

He sits there. In his hands he has his little book of poems, and a backpack by his side. The tree besides him casts a soft shade over the bench, shielding him from the blazing sun. A cold breeze ruffles the pages of the book and he puts it down and looks up. A few people play with their dogs on that circular grassy area over there. A couple walks along the tree line holding hands. He looks down and tries to resume his reading, but his concentration is lost. His mind is already far away. Three years away.

His mind is on her blue eyes and on her freckled face and on her thin lips. His mind twirls her hair and brushes her nose and caresses her eyelids as she sleeps. He feels her soft skin under his hands, and sees the way her hair sprawls over his pillow and feels her breath on his neck. Feeling his chest tighten, he sighs and puts the book away into his backpack; it was after all just a recommendation, something to take his mind off her. He stands up and looks for something to do, anything. Seeing a trail that leads into the wooded area of the park, he starts walking.

A few minutes later he is already immersed in the woods. The smell of moss and rotten leaves and trees calm him. The birds squawk loudly overhead as they look for food or a suitable mate. His eyes follow the complete path of a squirrel leaving his hiding hole, finding a nut by the base of a tree, scurrying around the dead leaves and underbrush, finding a good place and burying the nut there, and finally darting back to the hole. He stops walking as another squirrel that was hiding on a tree branch scuttles down and goes to the exact same spot and unburies the nut, eating it right there and then, leaving the waste behind. He pictures himself as the nut that was left buried, abandoned by the first squirrel, and is immensely grateful that the second squirrel came along and unburied and ate him. The nut was lucky the second squirrel found it, he reasons. When the squirrel comes back, it will be terribly sorry to find his food gone and will have no one to blame but itself. He knows squirrels bury their food for the coming winter when resources are scarce and it’s part instinct, but wasn’t the first squirrel taking the nut a little for granted? Isn’t it a bit arrogant to think that the nut will just lie there quietly and diligently while the squirrel looks for other nuts until it’s ready? The nut does not owe anything to the squirrel; it has no reason to jeopardize its own survival for another species entirely. And when the first squirrel returns it has no right, no right at all, to act surprised and hurt about the lost food because really, what did it expect leaving his nut there, alone and forgotten? When the other squirrel came it offered the nut a purpose in the immediate future. I won’t bury you, I won’t leave you waiting, I will use you right now, and you will never be alone again. Why shouldn’t the nut let itself be dug out? The first squirrel obviously had no time for it at the present moment, here is another squirrel that does. The second squirrel did not bother with pointless “in the future” statements. It wants the nut, and it wants it now. Just because the first squirrel buried it and is waiting to return to it does not mean the nut should wait too! What if the first squirrel doesn’t return? What then? No. I had no idea if she was ever coming back, I was alone and forgotten and who can blame me for going home with someone when—A tree branch snaps.

The man puts a hand over his eyes and takes deep breaths. His heartbeat has accelerated and he focuses on the faraway squawking of birds and the forest’s smell to calm down again. He realizes he has been standing there for some time looking at a bunch of squirrels playing hide and seek, and feels a bit embarrassed. Turning towards the path, he looks up at the sun and goes to look for some ice cream.

 

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