Sanctuary: Two

A network of geometric shapes, no two the same, cast its light across the melange that was both living room and bedroom in the Mausberg house. The rainbow of refracting midday light was illumination enough for Emmett as he fought through the fugue state of daydream and back into reality. One moment, he was half paralyzed by an inability to associate with the world; the next, he was flung forward, the stream of messages constituting his voicemail spilled like ink onto the notepad. Four calls, none requiring actual rehabilitation if things were appropriately reported, but four calls wherein he would arrive to play pest control for some frazzled and frantic critter. 

Hazy in mind, as he reclined back onto the couch, Emmett wrapped the tattered shred of a blanket around him, a rotting mummy’s shroud. For another half an hour, he stayed fixed in place, trying to set himself at ease. Medication, illicit or otherwise, was just a bandage, nothing that could sway his mind from terror for too long. He regarded the various orange bottles on the heap that somewhere held a table in its midst. With shaking fingers, he fondled across the miscellanea and found his flannel, his best as it lacked the patchwork that held most of his outdoor wear together. Beneath them were the less essential keys, one to the truck and one for the front door. A bronze medallion marked with the astrological symbol for libra served the keys as a beacon for weary eyes. 

With every tool he could need in the truck, Emmett was ready no sooner than he had his boots, yet there was one article of concern. Stomping the beaten and warped steel toes on as he went, he made his way to check both barns. They were secure, the keys just as safe on the cord around Emmett’s neck. It wasn’t that he had much to worry about, none that he could justify, yet the animals he cared for were his charge, his sole responsibility, and he wasn’t one to take such a duty lightly. Glancing up at the floodlights over the second barn, Emmett considered, not for the first time, investing in better security than a few lights and locks. If he had time, he told himself, he would make the trek a few towns over to a sportsmen’s store and get at least trail cameras. 

“Well, Mister Mausberg, I am sorry, but raccoon got my dogs so wound up I had to do something,” Becky Goodman testified on her own behalf. 

With his pole leash, Emmett pulled the limp, stiff, malnourished creature out of the attic. The foam around its lips would have suggested rabies if the lady Goodman hadn’t admitted to poisoning the poor thing. It wouldn’t have, in Emmett’s estimate, been able to stand up against the two shih tzus and certainly not the great dane. Taking care not to touch the body to any surface but the leash, Emmett extracted a bag from his kit. As he lowered the critter in, and stared into the glassy eyes of a desperate and dead thing, he muttered, “I hope you don’t mind if I dispose of her properly.”

“Well, yes, that’s why I called. If you’d gotten here sooner, you could have just let it run off, but now I suppose someone has to do it, and if you’re willing to toss the thing in your trash, I’d prefer it.”

“She isn’t a thing,” Emmett knew his tongue was forming words he shouldn’t, but he felt confident his tone was mild, “Female, likely in her first year if not just the runt from her litter. I’d take it on a wild guess you have a hole in your attic or some other entry into the wall else she wouldn’t have gotten up here. This time of year can be hard going for raccoons and the like. Probably, she was more interested in staving off hunger than harassing your dogs.”

“That’d explain why we didn’t have to wait for her to take the bait, I suppose. How much do I owe you for tossing the corpse?”

“Typical extraction of live animal is the normal rate, dead, let’s just say a few bucks for fuel. You’ll need the money to fix the hole in the roof,” snideness touched Emmett’s tone momentarily as he met Becky’s gaze. In her fingers was a ten, which must have been what she thought was fair, he considered. Had he been more professional and held to his rate, this could have turned into an argument and, therefore, another reason for odd looks in town. Forgetting any animosity he felt towards the gesture of undercutting him, Emmett took the bill and, with bagged raccoon in hand, left the Goodman residence.

The list was down to one. With his luck, Emmett knew it would be another extraction, again with a dead animal. Like a bad apple, the first corpse began to pattern of jobs fouled by mishandling. His first two jobs, a nest in an inopportune place and a pair of squirrels trapped in a garage, had run fine. It was always that type of ease that proceeded the dirty work. There was always some kindly older folk who didn’t want to see whichever creature was giving them a hard time dead just before someone who’d instead fill a can of SPAM with drain cleaner. 

Stop four was the Reynolds house. Before Emmett had even parked, Dee-Dee was on the porch, her walker clattering with only one tennis ball adorning the legs. Where her message was concerned, Emmett would have expected her to emerge in panic, but her withering features were bright and dimpled as always. As Emmett exited his truck and went to the back for his equipment, she called, “Oh, Em, don’t worry about things right away. I just brewed a nice oolong, and I know how you like it. Come in and talk before you set up.”

The dear woman, sweeter than his own grandmother, led the way into the house, Emmett just behind, ready to catch her if she were to slip. It had happened before, and luckily it wasn’t while he had his hands full with any number of the wildlife that seemed to find the woman’s herb garden so tempting. Today, despite the frosted steps, Dee-Dee made it in without incident. 

Dee-Dee’s home was what Emmett considered most homes must feel like. First, it was warm, not hot, but a soothing heat to combat the long winter cold, and not a single inch of the house boasted cracks, rifts, or holes. He always felt obligated to remove his boots despite her claims it was unimportant. Unlike his own home, Dee-Dee, despite her age, kept everything neat, organized, and uncluttered. The scent of tea hung heavy in the air intermingling with a lavender candle that never seemed to melt lower than halfway. Emmett never thought he would tell Dee-Dee the truth, that he hated tea. She hadn’t much else to offer in place of payment as things were. However, the enclave of black cats that began to parade from the solarium were a fine consolation prize. 

Though he would typically timidly lift the delicate china teacup and take a mouse’s sip of the brew, on this occasion, Emmett quickly went about petting the train of cats and allowing them to rub against him. The old dear let out a light chuckle, “They seem to know you’re here every time without even one look.”

“Oh, they probably just smell me a mile off. I’m just glad they don’t take offense to any of the other animal scents stuck into the fabric.”

“The poor babes would never take offense to you, child. That was, in fact, why I wanted a word with you.”

Dee-Dee rose and cleared her throat as she took a manila envelope from a bureau just beyond the door behind her. It wasn’t clear what she was about, but she stifled a sudden expulsion of breath as though having just come inches shy of touching a black widow. As she returned, she was wiping away a damp trail from her cheek, “I was at the clinic the other day for a follow-up on that bout of pneumonia. Peter, Doctor Wagner, I suppose is how you remember him, had some news for me. Lord bless him, it’s not the kind anyone wants to give, but I was glad he told me directly. He said a few months, maybe a year.”

She set the file of medical documents beside the untouched cup of tea, and though tears were still lingering in her eyes, she smiled. Emmett closed the folder before taking more than a glance at it seeing the truth was between them and not just in the typeface. Taking her shriveling, wrinkled hands in his, he allowed his attention to drift from work and cats and the wretched tea to the dear old girl. Without hesitation, he put himself forward, “What can I do to help you until then? I don’t want to be grim, sounding like I don’t think you’re tough enough to go on longer than what any doctor would say, but I want to be here for you while I can be. What can I do?”

“That’s what I wanted to ask you. Peter told me it could be by summer or maybe next winter. With luck, it could be a few winters if everything stays stable, but I wanted to plan as though he said I had weeks and not months. When I pass, I have everything negotiated in the will as to what should go where and who ends up with what, all but for the children,” the milling mob of cats began to mew almost as though they knew they were the subject now, “The precious little ones can’t go to either of my children, both of them being so allergic. I fear that if I don’t delegate someone to take them in, they’ll be put down. Would you be willing to take them? Even just one or two, I know a dozen cats are a bit much.”

“I- Yes, I will take care of them, all of them. You don’t need to worry. They’re in good hands with me.”

“I know they will be. There is one last thing I want you to have before you go because I know you have to get back to business,” sliding away, the file revealed an ancient-looking hunting knife with a sheath pressed with blue jay feathers. It looked well worn, as though it might have been passed between several different owners before. She smiled as Emmett placed a finger on the sheath, “It was my husband’s. I wish I could give you some proof of its history, but it was handed down to him by his father and his father before him, who received it from a native fellow out west. I can’t remember their word for it, I don’t think even his grandfather knew it right, but I know what it was meant to be. It was used more like a tool than a weapon like knives should be. The native man used it only to end the misery of injured animals or heaven-forbid fellow members of his tribe. I thought, with the inclinations you hold, you’d find a better use for it than anyone I could give it to.”

“Dee, I don’t know what to say.”

“You needn’t say a thing, child. You’ve looked out for me in the way I wish my children had, and you’re taking the cats for me when it’s time. I owe you something as payment after all this time. Don’t I?”

“Thank you. I will treasure it more than you might ever know.”

One thought on “Sanctuary: Two

  1. Love this
    This is a beautiful and touching piece that explores the fragility of life and the kindness of strangers. The descriptions are vivid and the characters are richly drawn. The ending is both heartwarming and bittersweet. Well done!
    Eamon O’Keeffe
    Easy Landscape Gardening


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