Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Time I Dropped a Bagel

A hand that dropped a section of toasted bagel, moist at the ends where a mouth’s juices went to work, and the clouds of war that enveloped that small bite of sidewalk in the park as two gray squirrels bounded over to the morsel, each squaring up on strong squirrel haunches in recognition of a challenge; they unleashed their thumping chatter, baring claws and teeth and bristling fur.

The light and changing stance of the trees had been talking about winter for weeks. Each combatant knew starvation -- a predator worse than cat, hawk, dog, or soulless car simply because it was a child born of inevitability itself, and in the end turned everything to food, even children. Starvation lurked in that piece of bagel. To the human eye neither squirrel seemed that different. But one weighed slightly more, and unlike the other, he had not spent the morning screaming at a blue jay that came too close to his nest. A clash over this bagel could wound one or both of them. Winter would come; what use does nature have for a squirrel with only one ear? At least the hawks wouldn't starve.

They came at each other once. Backed off. Twice. Same result. The chatter rose and they each spun around the bagel as if they were tethered to it. The third time fur and bone met, one tore away into the grass and wound up a tree with the second in pursuit, leaving the bagel to be pecked at by spectator pigeons. The entire situation felt a little too Roman. I chased the pigeons away and picked up the bagel and tossed it toward the tree, hoping at least one of the squirrels would get it. I felt guilty; I guess, because I had known what I wanted to see when I dropped the bagel, and for once I got exactly what I wanted.

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