by Mel Bosworth
The squirrel in the vent is tapping, bone on metal. It’s a song the man has heard before but can’t place. Although her hair was blond in life, in his dreams she’s a redhead. Like a dog shrinking beneath a raised fist, this makes sense to him. He knows there are deeper holes than this.
He shakes free of the smoke, stands, brushes the front of his shirt, searches out the squirrel’s location. He does this by humming, by circling, by walking on his toes—extending himself. The rabbit ears on the television sometimes pick up stray communications from passing ships.
When the sounds come from the television he regards them with suspicion, even anger. They are intrusive, slicing into the beam of his headlight. And yet he needs them, encourages them—the rabbit ears thick with duct tape where he snapped them once, furious for their bounty of unfamiliar, quivering voices.
The television is quiet now. Only the squirrel in the vent—tapping, toying—incites his memory. With the flat edge of a screwdriver, the man drums the vent. The squirrel grows silent, perhaps considering retreat, an escape to the doghouse now mounded with moss. The man understands this and, despite its vacancy, he knows there is life inside.
At the edge of the man’s held breath, the squirrel begins again, playfully tapping, making music. The man rips the rabbit ears from the television and balances them atop his head. When the car rolled over he lost four fingers as he reached for her though the flames. Only his thumb left. Placing his thumb to his lips like a microphone, he whisper-sings the squirrel’s song, feet stomping. He knows there are deeper holes than this.