The Things We Do for Love

Lisa Tuttlebock held a mug of hot coffee against her cheek and stared absently out the bay window. Something wasn’t right. She could feel it like rolling thunder.

Her husband, Walt, had already debugged a software program that morning and was making oatmeal. When the microwave sounded, Lisa bolted into action. “Unbelievable,” she said, padding onto the terrace in her nonskid, fleece socks. “Someone unzipped the lawn.”

Walt set two steaming bowls on the table and followed Lisa outside where she stared transfixed at a strip of grass peeled back like a banana, exposing a smorgasbord of earthworms and beetles to gluttonous towhees and robins.

“Why would anyone do that?” Lisa gestured at the loamy scar.

“Must be a raccoon,” Walt said, shaking his head.

Normally he wouldn’t care. Except for mowing, which he did as seldom as possible, and withholding water to stunt the lawn’s growth, he left the gardening and yard work to Lisa. “It will come back in the springtime,” he always said when the grass was the color of dog biscuits and so dry it would slice your foot if you went barefoot. But one week ago, Walt had paid a landscape service $2,000 to resod the lawn.

In Walt’s mind, despite Lisa’s slow start off the blocks each morning, she was near perfect: long-legged and low maintenance. He liked to brag how years ago he had gotten her to elope so they could use the money they saved—by not having a fancy wedding—on a two-week sailing trip in the Aegean Sea. Even when she spent the first three days heaving overboard, she never complained.

When Lisa reminded him about their upcoming tenth anniversary, however, his instincts told him this wasn’t the time to present her with an anchor line or take her to a roller derby bout like he had done for past anniversaries. Instead, he asked how she wanted to celebrate.

“Renew our vows,” she said.

When Walt heard those three little words—renew our vows—an air pocket formed in his chest and, like a bubble in a water cooler, floated upward into his throat.  “Before hundreds of people?” he gurgled. “In a church? With a tux and all the other froufrou?”

After all these years, had she lost her mind?

“With an organist for the walk down the aisle, ushers and a maid of honor,” she said, playing him like a fish, until she realized he was squirming as much as a worm on a hook. She hated to see anything suffer, least of all Walt. Besides, the last thing she wanted was an organized religious ceremony.

“I thought dinner with a few close friends would be nice, on the patio, overlooking the Sound,” she said. “Lots of wine as we reminisce about falling in love and share our dreams for the future.”

He sighed with relief. It sounded like fun and Lisa would take care of everything. All he had to do was show up.

“A catered buffet,” she added.

“Sounds good.” He loved her cooking but she deserved time off.

“With a manicured, green lawn to complement the blue of Puget Sound. No weeds,” she emphasized.

And that’s why Walt hired a landscaper to lay sod that was now ripped apart and rolled up like a sleeping bag.

“I’ll fix the lawn,” he assured her. “All I have to do is roll it out and tamp it back into place. You’ll see. Come inside before breakfast gets cold.”

 

The next morning broke cold and rainy, a perfect northwest day for growing grass, except that five strips of sod had been disturbed overnight. This time the strips weren’t rolled up like sleeping bags but splayed open like butterflied legs of lamb. The yard was a raw wound. Walt knew he had to do something before it turned into a mud hole. “I’m going to the hardware store to see what kind of traps they have,” he said, grabbing his keys from the bureau.

He came home with a Havahart animal trap, set it on the kitchen counter and asked, “Do we have any peanut butter?”

“Yes, but it’s organic,” Lisa answered.

“The raccoons won’t mind,” he said.

“Do you want bread, too?” she asked, getting out a loaf and a knife.

“Yes. Here, let me do it.” He slathered thick peanut butter onto a slice of bread. “We’ll get that little bastard.”

“If the bread gets rained on, it will turn into a sticky wad of glue,” Lisa cautioned.

“But it will be tasty glue, better than worms. I’ll set it under the covered area of the patio,” he said, picking up the trap and sliding the door open to the backyard.

Four hours later Lisa heard what sounded like a small engine out back. She stepped outside to check, then leapt back inside and slammed the door shut. With her hands clasped tightly in front of her, she went into Walt’s study, “There’s an animal in the cage and he’s growling.”

“Alright! We’ve got him.”

“It’s not a raccoon,” she said. She could feel her eyes widen as big as sunflowers. “It has lots of teeth.”

Walt stood up to go check on the beast. Lisa trailed safely behind peering over his shoulder. “What is it?” she whispered.

“I’m not sure. It’s tail is naked. Could it be an armadillo?”

“Armadillos don’t have fur on their bodies,” Lisa said, snuggling into the back of Walt for warmth and protection.

“You’re right. What was I thinking?”

“Look at its long snout and beady, little eyes, she said.

“I have an idea,” Walt said, turning to go inside.

“Don’t leave me here alone with it!”

“It will be okay by itself.” Walt continued inside, and Lisa hurried to catch up with him.

“I’m going to check the Internet.”A few minutes later, he said, “Aha, I’ve got it.” Then he joined Lisa in the kitchen.

“It’s an opossum that’s tearing up our sod,” he said, standing next to Lisa at the bay window and watching the animal. The rain was coming down harder, drumming the roof and gushing through the gutters. Thunder rolled ominously in the distance.

“What are you going to do with him?” Lisa asked.

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

Lisa made a pot of coffee while they mulled over ideas. “You could call Animal Control and ask them,” she suggested.

Animal Control told Walt they didn’t handle nuisance animals unless they were dead or wounded. “Call the Department of Fisheries and Game,” they said.

Walt dialed the number and asked what they suggested he do about an opossum that was tearing up his yard. “Kill it,” the officer said.

Walt switched the phone to speaker. “Could you say that again? I don’t think I heard you right.”

“The opossum is a nuisance animal. They reproduce up to three times each year with as many as thirteen survivors per litter.  When they become a pest by invading homes or destroying lawns, we recommend killing them.” Walt watched Lisa’s mouth drop open like a drawbridge.

“How exactly do you recommend I do that? We live in a neighborhood; I can’t shoot it.”

“Fill up a garbage can with water. Place the trap with the opossum into the can and drown it.”

Lisa shuddered and curled into herself.

“Okay, thank you for your help,” Walt said, carefully replacing the phone. He fetched his raincoat. “You stay inside. I’ll take care of it.”

When he came back inside fifteen minutes later, Lisa reheated the coffee. They didn’t say much, just worked the two daily crossword puzzles.

“Done,” Walt said.

“What was your last word?”

Go Poof for disappear,” Walt said. “I’m going to go check on the ‘possum.”

Moments later, Lisa heard Walt shouting expletives. She grabbed a coat and stepped into the cold. Walt was hovering over a fifty-five gallon trashcan. She hurried over and saw the problem. The top of the trap protruded about four inches above the water-filled trashcan. The submerged opossum had wrapped its prehensile tail and clenched its fingerlike paws around the cage wiring. The animal clung to the trap while poking its cone-shaped snout into the four-inch air space. “This is awful,” she said.

“I know. I should never have listened to that fish and game guy. Just because he’s an authority figure doesn’t make it right. Stand back, Lisa. I’m going to tilt the can and dump the water.”

Water splashed everywhere, marinating Walt’s tennis shoes, dousing the patio and drenching the lawn. Walt grabbed the trap with his thick, waterlogged gloves.

“Watch your fingers,” Lisa cautioned.

He slid the trap out of the garbage can. The pitiful animal shivered with cold and fright, a hideous sight, its wet fur plastered to its pink body, the worst hair day you could imagine. “You survived the water torture treatment,” Walt said to the creature. “Solitary confinement is coming up next.” The opossum’s agape jaw revealed a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth and two fang-like incisors. “Bite me and I may change my mind.”

“Let’s put it in the trunk,” he said, “and take it to Loveland Park. Twenty acres ought to be big enough for it to stay out of trouble.”

“Okay, but we have to name it. Anything that defies death like that deserves a name.”

“How about Paula Possum?” Walt asked.

“Hi Paula,” Lisa said, and then turned to Walt, “I’m going to line the trunk with thick newspapers in case the ride scares the crap out of her.” Hurrying off, she added, “Put on some dry socks and shoes before we go. You don’t have to suffer with her.”

When the car was ready, Walt lifted the trap into the trunk. “Get ready for the ride of your life Paula.” Then he slammed the lid shut. He and Lisa listened a moment, and hearing nothing, climbed into the Honda. Walt started the engine, backed out of the garage and began the ten-mile drive over surface streets and occasional potholes.

“It must be scary in there,” Lisa said, “especially if she’s claustrophobic. Sort of like getting an MRI where you’re confined in a small, dark, noisy space. Or maybe it’s like a tornado shelter.

“After the water-boarding, this is a piece of cake,” Walt said. He pulled into the park and drove to a secluded area where they opened the trunk.

“Poor thing, she really is ugly,” Lisa said.

“She’ll dry out. She just spent half an hour clinging to her life while submerged in a garbage can of water and was then slammed into a dark trunk and bounced around for ten miles. It’s like a nightmare from The Godfather.”

Walt set the trap on the ground and opened the door, “Here you go princess. You earned it – home sweet home.”

The opossum waddled away slowly up the path without any seeming concern. Walt and Lisa felt more stress than the animal. They worried it would collapse from fright or die from hypothermia. Only after Paula disappeared into the woods did they get into their car.

Back home, everything was fine for two days. On the third morning, they awoke to a strip of sod rolled up like a jellyroll. Walt retrieved the trap from the garage and Lisa said, “Let’s forego the water torture this time.”

Within three hours of baiting the trap, they had another opossum and were on their way to Loveland Park. Walt drove to the same secluded area and freed the opossum, which calmly emerged from the cage and waddled up the path to the edge of the woods where Paula sat waiting. “They must be mates,” Lisa said, “Peter and Paula.” Walt wrapped his arm around Lisa and gave her a hug.

 

Three months later on a fine summer evening, Walt and Lisa celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary among friends. The lawn never looked greener against the blue sky and cerulean sound. The al fresco dinner featured exquisite hot Italian peppers in herbed risotto and basil lime sauce with roasted eggplant, tomatoes and mushrooms.

Walt raised his glass for a toast, but something caught his eye. He set down his glass, leaned forward and squinted into the setting sun. Staring back at him, from beneath the hedge, were six pair of beady eyes. Lisa was sitting next to him and heard him mutter under his breath, “You little bastards.”

Walt raised his glass once more, “To Peter and Paula. To Lisa, and the things we do for love.”

5 comments for “The Things We Do for Love

  1. July 25, 2012 at 5:22 am

    Clean and crisp. Having seen an earlier version, this is nicely strengthened and I love the new ending. Well done.

  2. Regina Hugo
    July 25, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    What a delightful story! Just read the edited version and enjoyed it even more. Good job of revision. I like the “teeth” you added to the ending.

  3. chris spencer
    July 25, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Commendably polished. Little stuff addressed well.

  4. July 26, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    A very engaging story. I like the photo too :-)

  5. Sue Van Etten
    August 28, 2012 at 3:52 am

    Great piece. I can’t help wondering how much is true. Reminds me of the time a bat got in our house. I went online to figure out what to do. After it went into torpor, I captured it in a coffee can. Dan insisted on keeping it entombed in the can “just in case.” But I was tormented by the thought of it and opened the lid a couple of days later. Next time I checked, it had disappeared.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *