Lucia is almost four and Lindsay is eighteen months. All winter, the scent of skunk has lingered around their yard, and they can’t make out where it is coming from. It is a warm spring day. The girls are in the backyard while Grant is at a summer school activity.
Lucia bolts inside and cries, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! There’s a skunk outside and it’s trying to spray me.”
The man and Lauren look outside, and Lindsay is near the shed, binky in her mouth, the skunk about ten yards away. Lindsay calls, “Kitty!” Lauren darts out to grab her.
“We can’t have that,” the man says when Lauren is back inside. “We can’t have the backyard invaded by a skunk when the kids might get sprayed. I’m gonna set the trap and kill it.”
“If you shoot it, it’s going to release its smell.”
“I’m not gonna shoot it. I’m gonna drown it.”
“You are absolutely not going to drown the skunk in our pool.”
“I’m not gonna drown it in the pool. I’m gonna drown it in the trash can.”
“That’s insane, Gordon.”
“Just let me handle it. We’re not going to have a skunk running around the backyard.”
The man sets the trap that night with a layer of lettuce inside. When he arises the next morning, he looks out the kids’ back window and sees the skunk nestled in the trap, looking around. Simple. Perfect.
He showers and dresses for work. Before eating breakfast, he grabs one of his trashcans, and spends ten minutes filling it with water from the garden hose. He places a towel over the trap to blind the skunk, then grabs the trap, dumps it vertically into the water, pulling back the towel as he does. The trap sinks to the bottom, but the trashcan is too short by about three inches. Moments later, the skunk is staring at him, gripping the wire cage with his front paws.
“Come on,” says the man.
He runs back inside to grab his car keys. Lauren has Lindsay in the high chair, and Grant and Lucia are working on bowls of Honey Nut Cheerios.
“Did you drown it?” she says.
“Trashcan is too short. I’m gonna run to Walmart and get a fifty-five gallon can.”
Lauren sighs. “This is going nowhere good. Just let the skunk go.”
“Nope. I’m gonna kill it. Can’t have it in the backyard.”
Twenty minutes later, he is home with a new black fifty-five gallon can. This takes another ten to twelve minutes to fill. He dumps over the old trashcan, and the skunk scent is throughout the water in the grass. It’s a mind-altering smell–very different at the epicenter than when you smell it from afar.
When the can is full, he grabs the trap and doesn’t bother with the towel. He dumps it into the can vertically. It sinks to the bottom and disappears.
Except. Except for a tiny triangle about an inch in area. The new can has its wheels cut into the base, and the trap has landed at the bottom with part on the wheels and part on the base such that it is sitting slightly diagonal in the water. And just this slice of the trap is sticking out.
“Son of a bitch,” the man mutters. “What now?”
He stands with his hands on his hips, the smell of skunk overwhelming. He has read about dry drowning. Maybe he can still kill it?
He turns the hose back on, puts his finger over the nozzle to make a hard spray, and aims at the skunk’s nose. The skunk snuffs and moves his head. The man keeps moving the spray and keeping it on the skunk’s nose, and soon, the skunk is thrashing around in the cage, the trashcan trembles, and then tips over.
Skunk-scented water rushes around the man’s dress shoes, and the smell nearly chokes him. The man grabs the can and starts to fill it again.
As he does, he hears Lauren’s voice from the upstairs window. “What on earth are you doing? Did the second trashcan not work?”
“A tiny corner sticks out, and he put his nose out of the water. So I’m spraying his nose to kill him.”
“That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.”
“I’m gonna do it. This skunk has to go.”
“Gordon, I had to shut all the windows because the smell is through the whole house. Just let the stupid thing go! You’re making it worse!”
“We’re past the point of no return. I’m taking this thing down.”
“You’re late for work, too.”
“Understand what? That you lost your mind and got killed by a skunk?”
“No, the skunk is gonna die. Not me.”
The ground is all mush from the eighty-plus gallons that have spilled. As the water nears the top of the can again the weight tilts the can off its base, and it spills all over again. Lauren sees this.
“You have to give up now. This is insane. The kids have to go to school. You have to go to work.”
The man looks at his watch. He’s twenty minutes late for work, and it’s a half-hour drive. The scent is through the whole neighborhood now. His cell is buzzing with emails pouring in from their offshore facility. He sighs heavily, walks over to the trap, and stoops. The skunk looks up at him, soaked and exhausted. The man opens the escape door, props it open, walks over to the deck and sits down.
The skunk just sits in the trap for several long moments. Then he steps forward and sticks his nose out, sniffing the wet ground around him. Then, he steps cautiously forward until his body is out of the trap. He scans the yard for threats, makes eye contact with the man.
“Go on, get out of here,” the man says.
The skunk turns, sees the shed, and pads slowly over to it where he squeezes under it and disappears.
The man leaves the trashcans where they are, goes inside, and changes clothes but still smells skunk the rest of the day–because it’s on his shoes. A coworker even comments on it.
For days, he figures the skunk will turn up again, but the smell dissipates. After a week, even the lingering smell from winter is gone. In fact, they never see the skunk again, and when he plants his garden in late May, the woodchucks, which had been driven out by the skunk, return from the burrow under the shed. And his next battles are with them.