I hear them scuffling behind the sheetrock. Scratching. Rustling. Building a nest. Inviting their friends over for tea. It wakes me up at night, like there are people in the wall who are plotting a break-in. I call an exterminating company and they send someone named Paul. He’s in his mid-20s with tattoos on his neck and a nose ring. There must be a hole somewhere. That’s the access point. He sets traps around the house. Squirrels wander in and out of them, taking the peanuts Paul has put there, licking peanut butter off the metal bars with their tiny squirrel tongues. Paul comes back daily to check the traps. They’re old, he explains. Sometimes they don’t work so well. I’m making lasagna and ask if he wants some. Turns out he has a degree in electrical engineering but lost his job because they caught him smoking dope in the john. We sleep together three times. The squirrels don’t make a sound when he’s there and I ask Paul if he wants to move in. His eyes get all squinty like I’ve set a trap for him and after that he doesn’t come over anymore. The exterminating company sends someone named Rich, who’s married with two kids, and tells me the house is tight and there’s only six days left on the contract I signed. I sit on the porch and watch squirrels digging up my yard, tearing apart my flower beds. It’s some kind of revenge. People think they’re cute but to me they’re oversized rats with bushy tails. On the day before Rich is supposed to take the traps away, a squirrel gets caught in one. It has a big furry butt and mean black eyes. I can’t tell whether it’s one of my squirrels. The trap makes it frantic, gnawing the bars of the cage, racing from one side to the other. In the middle of the night I go outside to see what it’s up to. It’s still awake, still chewing on the bars. I could lift the latch. Save it from certain death. Become the patron saint of squirrels. I asked Paul how they do it. With poison. Very humanely. So there’s no pain. But how does anyone really know? If this squirrel could talk, it’d be screaming. I go back inside the house and stand with my ear pressed against the wall. I hear the air conditioning humming, crickets chirping, faint car noises from the highway three blocks over. Other than that, it’s quiet in the bedroom and I get a tight feeling in my chest and that’s when I realize I don’t want to get rid of them. Because having something there is better than empty sheetrock and the dead quiet when I can’t sleep. And then I hear a faint scratching from deep inside the wall. Like they can read my mind. Like they’re trying to tell me something.
received an MFA in creative writing from Queens College, where she teaches in the English department. Her fiction has been published in The Portland Review, KYSO Flash, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Sandy River Review, Blue Lyra Review, and Panoplyzine; and is forthcoming in Delmarva Review, Gloom Cupboard, and Joyce Quarterly. Her poetry has been published in Hawaii Pacific Review, Hartskill Review, Lime Hawk, Synecdoche, Gyroscope, and The Evansville Review, which nominated her poem “Minor Planets” for a Pushcart Prize this year. She has also written five mystery novels.