Monday, February 20, 2012

The Undertaker

Pablo's meowing so I open the front door, but something's not right—why is his tail so lush? It's a squirrel, for God's sake, the size of a small dog, belly-up on my doorstep.  His bushy tail ripples in the breeze, but otherwise, he's not moving.  Pablo claws at the screen door, purring and adorable. I turn around, slam the front door, and proceed to operatic screaming. Soprano tessitura.

          Moments later, an Indian dance, genetically repressed for generations, finds expression in my hopping tip-toes and hunched back while my hands clap the open-mouthed scream.

          "Pablo, a squirrel," I pause to explain to my elderly mother who sits at the kitchen table, not looking all that alarmed, I think. Then I resume the ritual dance to cleanse my horror but, like a ringing bell in a Buddhist monastery, it just brings me back to the present.

          When I'm fairly sure I've finished screaming, I snap open the tab on a Diet Coke, take three gulps, and call my ex, alias Rambo.

          "What's the matter?"

          "It's Pablo."

          "Oh, God." When he was over to pick up the kids last weekend, he yelled, "This isn't a house, it's a zoo!" Still, he's the only one for the job.

          "A squirrel," I explain.

          "FuckinMuzzerFucker."  Rambo rolls his 'r's so it takes him twice as long to say it. Instead of sounding coarse and threatening, as he intends, his Egyptian accent brings to mind a snake charmer, seductive and impersonal.

          Rambo has buried three cats and four guinea pigs and presided over their funeral services, where he has spoken in both Arabic and English. When my father died at home, Rambo whispered La ilaha illa Allah in his ear and accompanied his body in the back of the hearse and into the funeral home, as far as he could go. Muslims do not leave their dead until they are buried, so he was able to persuade the undertakers to bend their rules for him on the basis of his religious belief.

          Before I was able to manage it on my own, Rambo also took care of several field mice, some of which had been decapitated.  A pair of frog's legs, once. Once he shot a caterpillar the size of a grapefruit at point blank range with a BB gun. (My neighbor had lent me her ceramic ornament as a joke and, when she observed the green and yellow shards spattered with tomato pulp, asked me to please not replace it). But this was Rambo's first squirrel.

         Pablo is a determined cat.  He managed to dislodge the plastic accordion pleat that's been fitted to seal the air conditioner into my mother's bedroom window on the first floor. He'd been outside, working at it for a while, when all of a sudden—ta da!— there was Pablo, having jumped in through the blasted window, eating crunchies from his bowl on the floor. While Rambo re-sealed the window ("FuckinMuzzerFucker") my mother was dispassionate.

          "He's an interesting cat," she said.  "Very intelligent, and such a curious mixture of wild and tame."

          By the time Rambo gets off work, Pablo has the squirrel relocated. Luckily, the tail is sticking out from a pile of leaves under the bushes in front of our house, waving unenthusiastically.

          From the front window, I see Rambo standing outside the house with his hands on his hips, wagging his head from side to side and moving his lips in silence. FuckinMuzzerFucker.

          I gather the necessary supplies:  rubber gloves, reams of paper towel, a garbage bag, and tongs, just in case.  By the time I get to the door, Rambo is already ringing the doorbell.

          "Here," I say, extending my armload of stuff.

          "Eff!  Get out of my way." He stomps ahead of me through the dining room and into the kitchen.  "Turn on the fuckin water so I can clean my hand.  Full of microbe—" he says mee krob "—too much mee krob.  Squirrel is the dirtiest animal."  His upper lip curls in what appears to be a smile, but I recognize revulsion tempered with pure male pride.

          I turn on the tap at the kitchen sink, wondering if Egypt even has squirrels.

          "What you doing? Kitchen is for food."  I follow him to the bathroom and turn on both taps.  He thrusts his hands into the jet of cold water.

          "Four.  Four times."  I pump the soap dispenser into his open palm four times, thinking that's what he means.

          He narrows his eyes in the direction of the towel hanging on the towel rack and grabs a fistful of tissues instead, rubbing his hands so hard that bits of fluff pill up and drift to the floor like confetti.

          "You have to use your brain, Charlotte.  The same teeth—" he says teess "—the same teess that go in the squirrel, they go in your children's neck. In their neck!"

          I ask Rambo how he got rid of the squirrel.

          "What you think?" he says.  I wait.

          "I take the damn squirrel by his tail, I swing him around and around and around, and I throw him in the fuckin garbage can.  Eff!" he says.  I blink.

         "You crazy?  I use a stick and put him in a box.  By the way, I count four" he rolls the r for what feels like a quarter of an hour "four mouse, one as big as my arm with a long tail—what you call that?"

          "A rat?"

          "A rat!  Three mouse and a rat, in a nice, very neat pile under the leaves.  He make a pyramida with the dead bodies."

           I smile; he doesn't.

          I say to Rambo, "You know who Pablo reminds me of?" Rambo raises his eyebrows. "If you were a cat, what would you do?  You would kill everything in sight, right?  You'd kill animals even bigger than you—and then you'd come home for a nice dinner and some loving."

         Now Rambo does smile, but not for long.  "What kind of name is Pablo for a cat? You should call him Mish Mish."  Mish Mish means apricot in Arabic, but it's also Egyptian for Rover.

          "Eh, you just call me The Undertaker.  FuckinMuzzerFucker."

           I want to thank him but he's already gone.


  1. Interesting! Pablos all over the world take note...start counting!

  2. Maybe I should fasten a cowbell around his neck, to give the neighborhood cats a head start.