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If Not Them, Me

by Kelle Schillaci Clarke

I’m flipping a grilled cheese for my lunch when the raccoon moves in. Waltzes right past me to grab a bar seat, stares at me from across the counter with his beady blues until I cut him off a small square of sandwich. He takes it in his tiny, dainty hands and begins to nibble it in concentric circles, such a little gentleman. I call him Ryan, and offer him a cherry lemonade. I can tell he plans to stay. 

“There’s no way in hell he can stay here, Marissa!” my husband says when he comes in from work, pulling loose his tie, unbuttoning his shirt, and tossing his keys and wallet onto the counter in one swift, practiced motion. The raccoon is asleep on the floor, clutching the TV remote like a lovey, sucking fervently on its fingers while its long white whiskers quiver in a dream. “They’re nasty animals, and they can get violent.”

“Ryan’s not like that,” I say. “Can you please keep your voice down? He’s trying to sleep.”

The next day, when Ryan’s sister arrives, I make more sandwiches and tiny side salads. They’re used to vegetables, but the ranch dressing comes as a surprise. I love watching the changes in their little expressions as they try new things, like a toddler with its first punch of lemon or swift pickle-zing. They fight over the last tomato, slashing at each other’s faces. 

I teach them the sign for ‘more,’ flattening my hands and bringing my thumbs and fingers together. More sandwiches, more salad, they say. They’re not interested in ‘thank you,’ a simple flat-hand gesture, outward from the lip. Still hungry after lunch, they dump over the stainless steel Rubbermaid and fight over the trash inside. I let them be. Who am I to change who they are? They need to test their boundaries, work things out on their own. 

I check to make sure my little red first aid kit is stocked with antiseptic spray, Bandaids, and children’s Allegra. The girl raccoon has a constant nasal drip. I have already named her Donna. 

Bellies content, the raccoons work together to saw through the couch upholstery, and I learn quickly not to get too close when their tiny, razor-sharp claws come out. It’s nothing a little Neosporin won’t fix, and the half-priced Costco couch is hardly worth protecting. Spent from so much activity, the raccoons crash hard into sleep, heads buried in each other’s fur, sweet angel-babies.

A quick search on my local “Buy Nothing” message board yields a Trader Joe’s sack full of newborn baby clothes—girl stuff mostly, frilly dresses, slightly pilled unicorn- and princess-themed leggings with faint vomit stains, onesies with phrases like “Daddy’s Princess” and “Future She-E-O.” I’m fairly certain I don’t ever want to meet the kid who’s outgrown these items, but they’re fine for the raccoons. I shove the “Worth Every Shot” onesie with a picture of a syringe back in the bag, mildly aghast. Who needs that reminder, I think, rubbing a thumb over the hardened scar tissue above my own pelvic bone, remembering each jab. 

I leave the little ones napping to Alexa’s soft-streaming lullabies so I can fill the washer with baby-safe detergent.  

“No, no, no,” mutters my husband, walking in from work, tie-shirt-keys-wallet. “What are you thinking here, Marissa? Have you lost your mind?” 

“Just look at how sweet they are together,” I whisper, standing in a mountain of spilled trash and couch innards, hair pulled violently from my already-messy bun, the room a sealed heat-box of mounting feral odors. “Please.”

“It’s been a really long day, honey,” he says, squeezing his eyes shut and splaying his fingers across his face, his thumbs making familiar circles at his sunken temples. “I can’t begin to deal with this. They need to go outside. Now.”

“What do you think will happen if I put them outside?” I say. “They can’t survive in the wild now!”

“It’s been less than 24 hours,” he says, his voice slow and steady, as if he were a hostage negotiator and not an insurance salesman. Ryan and Donna are buried deep into the couch’s new hollow, bundled in blankets, tiny heads propped on tiny pillows.

“Look at them,” I say, but his eyes remain shuttered. “If not them, me!”

He does, looking me in the eyes in a watery, sparkly way.

“This is our chance,” I whisper. Finally.

Kelle Schillaci Clarke is a Seattle-based writer with deep L.A. roots. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Superstition Review, Pidgeonholes, Barren Magazine, Bending Genres, (mac)ro(mic), Flash Frog, Lunate, and other journals. She’s on Twitter @kelle224.

Lead image: “Raccoon” (via Flickr user Jean)