Yesterday, on the drive to piano class, Julia and I were taking notice of everything Fall. Piles of leaves. Pumpkins on porches.

“Mom, look at that scarecrow!”

“Aw, that’s cute. Hey! Look at those squirrels. They’re chasing each other.”

And just like that, they ran out into the road. The chasee narrowly escaped an oncoming car, but the chaser, unfortunately, didn’t. I sucked in a sharp breath and clapped my hand over my mouth.

“Mom? Mom, what happened? Did that squirrel get killed?”

I glanced in my rearview mirror at the limp body on the pavement as the car moved speedily away. “Uh huh,” I uttered. “I don’t think they even slowed down,” I said, more to myself than to Julia.

I’m not really sure what I expected the driver of the car to do. Pull over? Try to save him? I don’t know. Something, though. Maybe just a slight pause – a flash of the brake light to signal some kind of concern or regret or I don’t know. I don’t know!

“Poor squirrel.”

“Yeah,” I sniffed.

At bedtime, we pulled out our latest read: Ribsy by Beverly Cleary. We read Chapter 4: Ribsy Becomes A Mascot in which Ribsy (a dog) joins the second grade and things get wild when Danny Yaxley brings his pet squirrel in for Show and Tell. It made me think about the dead squirrel on Front Street. And that squirrel parody of the Beastie Boys song “Girls.” But mostly about the dead squirrel on Front Street and how no one was going to bring him to class for Show and Tell. Well, no one was going to bring him to Show and Tell alive. No one was going to put a sweater on him. (Note: The squirrel in Ribsy wasn’t written as wearing a sweater, I don’t think. That’s just how I imagine him. In a turquoise sweater with red trim.) And I thought about how much I disliked the squirrel squishing driver who cut my sweater-less friend’s life short without so much as an attempt to swerve.

This morning, without giving it much thought, I chose to fold Julia’s origami lunch note in the shape of a squirrel. An unconscious homage, perhaps.

Origami Squirrel

I wrote on the back: “Squirrel!” (A reference to the movie “Up,” which Julia loves.) And also, “We’re both nuts about you! Love, Mommy.”

I had sort of forgotten about the squirrel note until Julia reminded me after school. The truth is, I don’t remember much of what happens during the hours before I am caffeinated and I sort of wish what happened next would have happened then, because if that was the case, I wouldn’t have the experience burned in my memory to relive again and again…

You guys, I ran over a squirrel today with my van and I killed it. It’s…it’s dead. Definitely. I am feeling so bad. It’s the first time I’ve ever killed anything with my car. Well, other than those birds. And that snake. It just happened so fast. But not he-probably-never-knew-what-hit-him fast. I think he saw it coming. And I became the thing I hated.

I shook my head and pounded the steering wheel as I relayed the frightful tale of the probably weresquirrel (because the thing was so much bigger than a regular squirrel!) to a freshly picked up from school Julia, who was looking Cheshire cat-ish.

“Oh, Mom,” she chuckled. “Wait until you see my poetry folder today.” She pushed it forward. I grabbed it from over my shoulder and opened it to find a squirrel.

Juila's poetry folder

And another squirrel.

Julia's squirrel drawing

They’re just…they’re just everywhere. Squirrels are one of the most populous species of wildlife in Ohio! And every squirrel sighting feels like a wet willie from The Universe.

I can’t help but wonder: is there anywhere squirrels don’t live?

cheeks flush with fever
black underscores tired eyes
“My tummy’s angry.”

I knew she was lying. I could feel it. Maybe it was her tone. She was trying just a little too hard to sound convincing. Or it could have been her eyes, refusing to break contact with mine and searching for a sign that I’d bought it.

I hadn’t.

I was tired of interrogating. I was frustrated that even an offer of clemency couldn’t get her to admit she’d been playing in my room and digging in my closet. And so, I changed tactics. I moved in close – real close – and took her hands in mine. “You know,” I began. We were nose to nose. I was almost whispering. “When you lie, your heart rate changes, and when I put my fingers here,” I placed them on her wrists to take her pulse, “I can feel it.” Of course, I was lying. Sort of. I think your heart rate changes when you lie. (Isn’t that how lie detectors work?) Still, I couldn’t really feel her pulse or anything because mine was racing since I didn’t have a plan if she called my bluff. But I knew she wasn’t being honest with me.

“So let me ask you again: Were you in my room?”

“No,” her voice waivered. “I mean, not really. I wasn’t in your room.”

“I see,” I said. “Lucy!” I thought. I released her. “That’s all I need to know.”

I had been triumphant.

At bedtime, we talked about what had happened. I tucked her into bed with a final word on the subject: “Tell the truth, Julia. Always. It’s just easier that way.”

“Okay, Mom,” she said and kissed me good night. “Mom?”

“Yes, honey?”

“I’ve been wondering about something.”


“When you were trying to tell if I was telling the truth, why didn’t you just read my mind?”

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