It’s Only Hubris if I Fall

They got Susie as a puppy for Peanut to have a friend. She was part beagle and part terrier, and Dad was sort of hoping she would be like Freckles. She isn’t–she grows to be taller and bigger, lacks his intelligence and mischievous nature, and has a different temperament–but she is good-natured, and she adores Peanut and he adores her, and they entertain each other well while the kids are at school and Dad is at work.

For a while, they don’t get her or Peanut fixed, and their mother reluctantly agrees to allow them to mate so the kids can get a crack at birthing and raising puppies. But Susie is too tall for Peanut, and they are not creative enough to solve that problem. So instead, they are just amorous, unconsummated buddies who chase birds that fly across the sky, take naps next to each other, bark at and capture roaches that try to steal their food, and go wild at any wildlife that shows up in the backyard.

Ah, yes, the wildlife. The backyard fence has a grape patch growing up and over the fence on both their property and their neighbor’s property behind them. From that patch, they periodically have possums emerge, which bring out a rage and long-running fit of attacks and retreats like no other animal. Every time the dogs attack, the possums play dead, which leads the dogs to nip at them, back off, watch, and then attack again when the possums try to make a break for it. This could go on for hours unless the boys intervene to dispatch the possums.

But there is nothing so consistent as the squirrels, especially one in particular. The family has taken to calling him High Wire Squirrel. A telephone pole straddles their property line and their backyard neighbor’s, and HWS loves to skitter along that line, then pause directly over their fence. This drives Peanut and Susie to paroxysms of rage in which they attempt to jump up the fence, while barking, in order to get to HWS. This can go on for thirty to sixty minutes at a time. And HWS loves to stare down at them, chatter, taunt them, run back and forth, and watch them run back and forth in response. In the middle of hot summer days when the dogs normally nap, if barking erupts, it is always thanks to HWS.

Until one day. It’s one of those summer afternoons. The dogs are resting on the porch in the shade. The young man and Stephen are taking turns playing Nintendo. Peanut raises his head and barks, then Susie does the same, and soon both are charging to the back fence.

“What are they after?” says Stephen while not looking up from his game.

“High Wire Squirrel it looks like,” says the young man.

He rises from the sofa and peers through the sheer curtains. Peanut and Susie are taking turns leaping as high as they can up the wood fence, landing, spinning, and barking. He can see HWS on the telephone line about ten yards above the fence. HWS is chattering at them and running back and forth to the pole.

“Yeah, just the squirrel. Who is taunting them mercilessly.”

He’s about to turn back to the sofa when the unexpected happens. The squirrel slips. He plummets like a stone while flailing to land on his feet. The dogs pounce in a burst of snarling.

“Dude, the squirrel fell off the wire.”

“No way,” says Stephen. He puts the controller down and comes to the window.

HWS somehow escapes for a moment and bursts away from the two heading toward the front yard. He doesn’t make it ten yards. It’s over in a few seconds once they catch him.

“Oh, damn,” says Stephen.

“Yeah,” says the young man. “Guess that’s the end of the taunting.”

“Now what?”

“Probably oughtta get a shovel and bury the remains in the garden.”

“Right,” says Stephen.

And they both head to the garage to grab shovels.

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