This short short story is based on the poem, "Billy Talbot", by Ed Nudelman.
Plato chases the ground hog under the deck, shoves his snout in against the edging and claws at the earth. Oh great, I think, now we've got a ground hog burrowing at the foundation. Plato gives up excavating and throws me a curious look, as if to ask, "why aren't you helping?" My mind is elsewhere. I'm debating whether or not to visit the parents of a dead child to offer my condolences.
Yesterday, at the house at the end of the street, a three-year-old boy fell off the back porch and broke his neck. I've never met the parents, didn't even know they had a child.
Mindy is over there now. She asked me to go, but I had a report to finish. I could go now, but I'm stuck on that word: ‘condolences'. What precisely are condolences and what do people do with them? Why would these people want mine?
I need to get rid of this ground hog, so I decide to go to Home Depot and see if they've got something that will drive him out. Plato follows me out to the car, and I open the passenger side door for him. Plato sits erect in the seat like a human, but then he turns to look out the side window and slobbers on the glass. I press the button to lower his window so he can stick his head out.
I can't find anybody at Home Depot to help me out. I see employees here and there, but before I can get to one, they always disappear, dart around a corner or find a door to duck behind. It's as if we're playing hide and seek. Finally, I collar a woman in the paint section.
If you find the hole, she says, you can run water into it, and I tell her he hasn't dug the hole yet. We've got other holes, I say, but he's not in those. Isn't there something we can spray in there and drive him out?
You mean like a poison, she says.
Well, yeah, I guess.
Why don't you try Decon? Most rodents go for Decon.
But that will kill him, right?
I thought that's what you wanted to do.
I hadn't thought about killing him. I just wanted him out from under the deck.When we arrive home, Mindy's waiting for us. Where have you been? she says. I tell her, and she throws me an exasperated look. I know what she's thinking. She thinks I'm being callous. She goes into the kitchen, and I hear her pulling stuff out of the refrigerator for dinner. The faucet goes on, and I know she's washing something, probably carrots or lettuce or something like that. I go in and stand behind her. She's standing over the sink with her head down and her shoulders slumped forward, and I can tell she's crying. I put a hand on her shoulder, and she turns and buries her face in my chest.