This story was originally published on The Quotable, Issue 14.
I first noticed that the squirrel population had grown in both number and size while sitting on a park bench in Boston Common three weeks ago. The bench was next to a very small, underutilized playground. This was the safest and best location to take leisure in all of Boston Common, because I ran the risk of subjecting myself to visions of horror had I sat within eyeshot of Frog Pond. It was winter, and all the couples had crawled out of their love nests to skate around the frozen oval.
The benches near the playground were nice because most parents were too distracted by their cell phones or members of the opposite sex to pay any attention to their kids, let alone me. I was surrounded by nannies who wiped dirt and snot from the noses of tiny brats. None of them would mind me sitting here. They hardly noticed me at all.
The squirrels were much bigger-round-the-middle than I had once remembered them being. I wanted to catch each and every one of them and stick my fingers down their little throats. I’d chase them up trees, run them around light posts, down subway stairs, and under bridges. Peanuts, bread, candy, popcorn, hotdog buns, potato chips, and everything else. They ate all day long. A city-wide buffet! My dollars and cents went into feeding every squirrel in this park with crumbs I’d left behind from soggy corn dogs.
A fat squirrel sauntered towards me as I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In a perfect world he would have had a severe peanut allergy. Then, and only then, would I have shared my sandwich. I watched scornfully as he inched towards me, standing fully erect every two paces. He stared me square in the eyes, that gluttonous bastard, but I never let on that I was scared. Not even for a second.
I wanted to gut him and mount him on the wall above my fireplace, or make a hat out of him and sell it online to the highest bidder. I shoved the rest of my sandwich in my mouth and choked on the crust a bit while smirking at the pea-brained squirrel that stood before me. Assuming he might have better luck elsewhere, he climbed up the metal-wire trash bin directly to my right, his left.
He danced daringly along the circumference of the bin, doing his best with that ungodly figure of his. The squirrel managed one full trip around the top before submerging himself in the heap of city trash below. He disappeared inside the bin, and for a few moments I had almost forgotten he had ever existed at all. Had I just gotten up and walked away, I would’ve never had to look at that damn squirrel ever again.
Instead I sat there on the park bench like an idiot. I caught a faint, yet potent, whiff of marijuana as a group of young men in oversized sweatpants walked by. Next followed some suits, all of them with slicked back hair and expensive-looking shoes. They cocked their heads back in laughter at a poorly told joke about the female bartender they just over-tipped. Not a single one of them looked at me. I bet half of you are still in the closet, and have wives and children waiting for you at home.
The squirrel reappeared. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him swing his hips up over the edge of the barrel. He dove head first towards the cement sidewalk, showing no regard for his safety and no remorse for his merciless bottom-feeding. I checked my watch and noticed that my break was almost over. I had to put an end to whatever spell this squirrel had cast on me, for I could not recall the events of the last thirty minutes, marijuana smoke and gay businessmen aside.
I gave him one last hateful glance as I packed up the rest of my lunch. The squirrel couldn’t take the hint and came towards me again, this time so close that I could almost see the foggy haze of his breath, the sticky air pumped by his tiny little lungs, on my shoes. We were in a stalemate of sorts and I knew that I had to make a move or I would not only be late for work but worse, I would lose my first stare-down with a squirrel. Several moments passed until something fell from his mouth to my feet – a morsel of chocolate wrapped perfectly in red aluminum foil.
“What am I supposed to do with this now?” I said, cupping the chocolate in my hand, gently rattling it around like dice.
The squirrel had given me a kiss.