(Inspired by an impromptu prompt from L. D. Lewis.)
“Do they eat cucumbers?” Ryan asked. He tried to scratch at the opossum’s neck. She recoiled and hissed.
“Don’t give him any cukes,” Toni said. “Then he’d be coming in my garden all the time. I don’t want that.”
“She. It’s a she.”
“Are you a opossum expert now? Just a big, ugly rodent.”
“It’s a marsupial. One of the few marsupials in North America.” Ryan reached at the animal again and she hissed again. “I only know because I see her nipples. Preggo.”
“Shit. Can’t we move her? Would her ol’ man be looking for her?”
“I don’t know if they monogamous, you know? I tend to see them solo, or the mama with her babies.”
“Hanging off her like Christmas tree lights. I seen that before. At night, they get red eyes. I seen that, too. Can you move her, Ryan? I don’t want her in my garden.”
They were in her garden now, down around the cucumbers, tomatoes, and the marigolds that kept pests at bay. Magic socks, which were old socks filled with what Toni was told was animal deterrents, hung from a clothesline. Piano music softly played from outdoor speakers. “What’s that you listening to?” Ryan asked.
“Not me, the plants. They like Baroque. This is Scarlatti. They like Bach and Corelli, too.”
“I forgot you knew all that white stuff, too. Not just gospel.”
“Can you move her, Ryan?”
He sat back on his haunches. He looked around at the garden, at the sunflowers starting to bloom and the squash filling out. “I need more than vegetables this time, Toni. You got any money?”
Toni sucked her teeth. He knew she had money. She was all but retired, just working part time. And although he didn’t have to, Rev. Saunders paid her under the table for playing organ at the church. She was one of the few homeowners on her block. “I can write you a check if you show me the opossum.”
Later that night, Toni went over all her regrets: leaving her husband when he caught him cheating, not telling her daughter why she left her father, not fighting to see her grandkids, not remarrying though she had ample opportunity. Eventually, she’d be dead, and she’ll leave everything to her daughter and grandkids, though they’d have nothing to do with her. For all they knew, she was just a bitter woman.
Her newest regret was falling in with Ryan’s grandmother, a woman even older than her. When Toni went to her, she was surprised at how ancient the woman looked. Her wrinkles cut deep furrows in her skin, and the skin between was more grey than brown. An ancient woman. “You like things that ain’t you,” she had said to Toni. “Europe. You like Bach, Caravaggio, and all the Baroque-era art. How come?”
“I don’t think it’s not me. Race is a social construct.” Toni used to teach that when she was still teaching social studies at Malcom X Academy. “Still,” she had told her students, “racism can exist because that, too, is a construct.” To Ryan’s grandmother, who preferred the name Bunny, she said, “and I don’t limit myself to dead white artists.”
“Of course not. You like rap music, too. That, too, ain’t you. You lived a life that belonged to something else. What it is that you want?”
“Only for the animals to stay out of my garden.”
“You say that, but that ain’t all. That’s all you’ll tell me.” Then Bunny filled a satchel with various things and gave it to Toni for a fee. “Hang that up around your garden. Socks work as a vessel for most folk. The magic comes as an animal. If you take it away, you’ll lose something dear.”
Remember this conversation, it donned on Toni: the opossum is the animal. She was protecting Toni’s garden! Toni started up and wondered if she could stop Ryan, hoped that if he was going to trap her, he’d use a no-kill trap. She swooned with the thought of using magic, was sure that she was losing her mind in her old age. She rushed outside to find Ryan, drinking on her porch swing, dressed for bed. “I just want to see,” he said, “how she living.”
“Just leave her, Ryan.”
“Are you scared of me?”
“No. I don’t want to kill the possum.”
“I still want my money?”
“I have forty dollars. I’ll give you that and a bag for vegetables. Just leave the possum.”
Ryan chuckled and shook his head at her. “Batty as Bunny,” he said, then took a sip of whatever he was drinking. But he took the money and the bag that Toni handed to him. “I hope you sleep tonight,” he said.
“Good night,” she said. Inside, she readied for bed and before her eyes were completely closed, she dreamt of her daughter and the two grandbabies that she only heard rumors about.