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Is this a joke? 

No, but it stinks

Word has circulated in the local marsupial community that we are operating a possum hospice in the crawlspace of our house in Grant Park. Several times a year, one of the creatures creeps under the house and dies. You cannot imagine the odor that wafts through the floorboards of this 100-year-old house.

In the past we've paid a company $160 to remove each carcass. I'm sorry, but I'm not crawling on hands and knees in the dirt and darkness in search of a maggot-writhing corpse. The animals wedge themselves in the back of the house where only inches are between the dirt and the floor. Last year, the possum remover was convinced a "medium-sized dog" had died under the house and was stunned when he dug out a gargantuan possum.

This time, we decided to be frugal and see how long it takes a possum to evaporate. I do not recommend this. It takes weeks. I put a sign on the front door warning visitors and my clients, whom I see in my home office. "Yet another possum has died under the house," it said. "Take a deep breath before you come inside." I illustrated the sign with a line drawing of a cheerful possum.

I might as well have put a neon sign out front that said, "Y'all stop and say hey!"

First was the letter carrier. The doorbell rang and I assumed she was going to ask me to sign for a delivery. "Is this a joke?" she asked, pointing at the sign.

"Not at all," I said.

"If I was you, I'd get some lime. That will get rid of it quick."

"But don't you have to put it on the body?" I asked.

"Well, yes."

"But I don't want to crawl under there and look at it. If I did that, I would scrape it into a bag or something."

"Oh," she said. "You know some people back home where I'm from eat them. They smell real bad when you cook 'em, too."

"Thanks for your help," I said.

Another day, a client arrived for her initial consultation. "Is this a joke?" she asked, pointing at the sign.

"No," I said.

"I don't like them," she said, hurrying down the hall to my office. "They play dead, you know. They keel over and stick their tongues out and they start smelling just as if they are actually dead. They can stay that way for hours. Are you sure it's dead? Maybe it's just playing possum."

"I'm sure," I said.

Wayne, my partner, took to burning paper in the sink to cover the odor in the kitchen. The cat howled. I bought 2,000 sticks of incense. But the sweet smell actually intensified the nauseating odor of the possum. I dumped lavender oil in the heating uptake vents. Our house smelled like a Buddhist temple in Provence.

A homeless man rang the doorbell. "Is this a joke?" he asked, pointing at the sign.

"No. Would you like to make $50 by removing it?"

"I'd rather just have a sandwich," he said. "You know, they are stupid animals. Problem is they have 20 babies at a time. I seen it back home. The babies have to crawl to the pouch and only about half of them make it. They ain't no bigger than new peas at that point."

"Thanks for your help," I said.

That night, I saw three young possums frolicking on the concrete wall outside my office window. "They will eat anything," I told Wayne. "I bet they are the dead possum's offspring and have been feeding on her rotting body."

The next day he found another dead possum on the back terrace.

"Did it die violently?" I asked, hoping so.

"I couldn't tell," he said. "It was too far gone."

I shuddered. "What did you do with it?"

"I put it in the trash can," he said.

"The trash can!" I repeated. "What trash can?"

"The one in your office," he said solemnly.

The doorbell rang. It was somebody collecting money for a worthy cause. "Is this a joke?" she asked, pointing at the sign.

"No," I said. "I ..."

"When I was a kid," she said, "I found a dead one in the road. It still had babies in the pouch, so my mom took it to a wildlife center."

"Why?" I said.

"So the babies could live!" she said.

"Why bother?" I asked. "They are hideous animals."

She looked at me oddly and left.

I dreamed I was a kid back in Charlotte. I used to go to the woods near my elementary school and swing over a ravine on a vine attached to a gigantic persimmon tree. One day, I looked up and saw two possums hanging by their tails. "They have prehensile tails and opposable thumbs," my teacher told me.

The doorbell rang. There was nothing but a rock wrapped in a piece of paper. I unfolded it. "You are dead meat," it said. "Signed -- a relative of the murdered possum." I looked around. Nothing. "Is this a joke?" I yelled.

cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com


Cliff Bostock's website is www.soulworks.net.

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