Jack and the Skunk

by Jessica


“ When Jack first saw the skunk she was nothing more than a foul stink, a tail disappearing behind a dumpster, a glowing white stripe rippling over black grass in the dark of night. ”

Dear Readers,

Here is this week’s installment of Jack & the Skunk. I’m hoping that this is where the story begins to get more cheerful. Let me know your thoughts! Have a wonderful Monday,


Jack and the Skunk
Installment 4

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Jack liked dogs. Lisa preferred cats, but they had never owned one. Jack did not trust cats. You could not, for example, take a cat for a walk in the woods and expect it to stay with you. A cat was too likely to slink away into the darkness, melt into the trees like a shadow when the sun sets. Jack bought a plastic mixing bowl for his dog and filled it with ground beef every morning. He tried to feed the squirrel warm milk, squeezed from the mouth of a tiny eyedropper. The squirrel bit him.

On Wednesday, the campgrounds were empty. Campers rarely came to the woods on weekdays in October. Jack had planned to consult a lawyer about his wife that day. But when he had shut up the trailer and was standing outside in the driveway looking at his truck, Jack decided suddenly to go to the zoo instead. His squirrel would die of starvation if Jack did not find out what to feed it; that was clear. Jack’s finger was still throbbing where it had bit him, and he thought that he should ask a zookeeper if squirrels ever carried rabies. There was a tour bus that stopped at the edge of Jack’s woods, which Jack could take directly to the zoo. There was no need to take the truck.

The front of Armstrong Zoo was brilliant and lustrous. A flock of red and pink flamingos lit up the cold sky like a pink and red sun. Jack watched them hesitantly for a moment, but the flamingos made him feel uneasy. They were too silent, too sleekly graceful. Jack doubted you could trust a flamingo. He went off in search of squirrels.

There were not many visitors at the zoo at this hour. Probably, Jack reflected as he walked, the children were still in school. It had been a while since Jack had been personally acquainted with a child, but he felt fairly sure that on Wednesdays, they attended school. He passed a small woman feeding a bag of peanuts to an elephant. A romantic young couple wandered through the baboon park, hand in hand. Otherwise, the zoo felt abandoned. It was infinitely huge, wild, lonely. There were no squirrels to be found. Jack wound up sitting sadly on a bench in the petting zoo, staring disconsolately at a trio of velvet-footed ferrets that were, in almost every way, completely unlike squirrels.

“Do you come hear often?”

The voice came suddenly from behind Jack’s shoulder. Jack lurched up from the bench and tripped. He turned around. A young mother was crouching behind the bench. She guided the hands of her young son as he stroked a resigned-looking white goat.

“What did you say?” said Jack.

“I said, do you come her often?” said the mother.

“Er,” said Jack. “Yes. Not often. Excuse me, I have to leave.”

Jack turned to go, but the woman continued to speak as if he had not said a word.

“This is my son, Natty,” she said. Jack turned back to look at the child. The mother held up its arm and made it wave at Jack. “Natty knows all about animals,” she said. “Don’t you, Natty?”

Natty buried his face in his mother’s shoulder. He appeared to be about four, Jack decided, or possibly five, or eight. Jack did not know many children.

“Natty, tell the man what your favorite animal is,” the mother crooned encouragingly.

Natty peeked shyly at Jack.

“The dinosaur,” he whispered.

“And what kinds of dinosaurs were there, Natty?”

Natty cleared his throat.

“The Abelisaurus, the Abrictosaurus, the Abrosaurus . . .”

Jack began to feel nervous.

“ . . . the Achelousaurus, the Aracanthus . . .”

Jack looked around for the nearest exit, but the mother interrupted before Natty lost his audience.

“And what did the dinosaurs eat, Natty?” she prompted.

“Leaves, berries, other dinosaurs-”

“Do you know what squirrels eat?” Jack interrupted suddenly. The mother looked startled.

“I’m sorry?”

“Squirrels,” said Jack. “I’ve got one in my house. In the bathtub.”

The mother looked vaguely offended, but Natty responded tranquilly.

“Squirrels eat acorns, nuts, berries . . .”

The mother looked surprised.

“You know what squirrels eat, Natty?” she said.

“Yes,” said Natty.

“How do you know?”

“I’ve seen them,” said Natty, “In the park. Seeds, people food, little snakes-”

“Squirrels don’t eat snakes, Natty,” the mother interrupted. “Squirrels do not eat amphibians.”

“Squirrels do eat snakes.” Natty’s eyes were huge. “I saw one once. It was eating a little snake.”

As Jack was leaving the petting zoo, he found a little snake. It had slithered under the door to the Reptile Room and looked lost, lying alone on the step. Jack peered around and saw that no one was looking. He put the snake in his pocket.

(To be continued…)


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