Unseasonably warm, the late October breeze sent golden leaves spiraling from the canopy. Russell plucked one sticking from the crown of his hair. The wind made him wish he’d braided its considerable length. It wasn’t as if Cory were here to appreciate the loose waves.
Russell sighed. When would every little thing cease to remind him of Cory’s absence? And where was that confounded white squirrel?
The flashy albino drew him out of the house in the first place. With his camera perched on one knee, he hoped to get a photograph for a friend. Having spotted the animal numerous times, especially around this time of day, Russell expected to need a lot less patience. He imagined being inside by this point to download images of the squirrel skipping across the top of the retaining wall.
The wall – Cory’s idea. Russell never feared collapse of the railroad ties that formerly buttressed the backyard. Cory’s very imaginative mind sometimes tended to conjure the worst. At least that was the case with his dark half, as Cory named the depressive side of his nature. He pictured the whole ranch-style house sliding down the hill.
Russell bolted to his feet, free hand slapping his thigh as if that could shake his thoughts loose. His grip on the camera practically threatened to crack the housing.
A burst of twittering surprised the tension from his shoulders. A pair of dark-eyed juncos flitted amongst the twigs and leaf debris beneath some shrubs. Smiling, Russell recalled that the petite birds had been his grandmother’s favorite. As often happened, he found himself thinking how she would have liked Cory.
“Ah!” Russell screamed into the trees. “Enough!”
Even the air reacted, he thought, seeming to hold its breath in the ensuing silence. Russell croaked, the closest he came to laughter lately.
“So much for Liz’s photograph. Nothing living is going to come within a hundred feet of me now.”
Russell turned to enter the house when a pale shimmer materialized in the corner of his vision. Russell eased back into his chair, barely blinking at the white squirrel hopping and pausing ever closer to the retaining wall.
Thumbing the camera on, he focused and zoomed in. Russell pressed the shutter button, holding it down so a whole series of snapshots recorded during the animal’s trajectory across the grounds.
Humming, Russell anticipated Liz’s pleasure upon discover of his success. His talk of the albino in residence inspired her to write a poem, and now she could post the poetry piece on her blog alongside a picture.
Russell fired up his computer. The process of sorting blurred images from possible keepers wouldn’t take long. Liz could put up her post within minutes if she sat at her own work station when he sent the email.
On the second-to-last image, Russell hitched in a breath. A figure knelt before the squirrel at the wall’s far end. Filmy and translucent, an unmistakable image of Cory appeared, open fingers seeming to lure the little animal. In the last shot, a more substantial looking Cory gave a half smile at the camera, the left side of his face smashed to ruins. The long fingers Russell knew so well reached toward him, almost like they might emerge from the screen.
A week later, puzzled County Coroner Patricia Ames announced to Russell’s family that what looked to be a strong and healthy heart appeared to have simply stopped beating. A tragic mystery, Dr. Ames mused, especially considering the rather recent death of Rob Sever, Russell Watson’s domestic partner.
Mr. Sever’s fatal car wreck confused authorities. Why a grown man would disconnect the air bags concerned them, and they still didn’t know what caused Mr. Sever to swerve off the road. Popular opinion said an animal probably darted in the vehicle’s path, but the passenger couldn’t recall due to a mild concussion and no small amount of emotional trauma. Ultimately, the cause was deemed accidental.
Dr. Ames found it sadly ironic how Russell Watson survived that accident only to drop dead mere months later. She closed the file on her desk and turned out the light.
I actually wrote a poem about a white squirrel in my backyard, ultimately inspiring this tidbit. If you'd like to read, please follow the link below: