It was gorgeous outside – or at least it looked that way from my decidedly indoor job. Imprisoned at the circulation desk, quivering with longing like a dog ordered to stay, I gazed forlornly at the city park just outside the library’s glass double doors. Every patron greeted me with some variation of “Have you been out in this perfect weather?”
I would be. Oh, yes, I would be.
The clock rolled over to my lunch break like a starting pistol. I was off, just me and my purple lunch box against the world. On the far side of a small pond replete with ducks, empty picnic tables waited for me under a little-used pavilion in a quiet clearing, a full fifteen minute walk from the library. I set off down the tree-lined path.
It was sunny, but not too hot, with a light breeze rippling the water. Squirrels chased each other through the greenery. I identified what I thought was a red-winged blackbird’s call, then visually confirmed my guess, congratulating myself on my ornithological skills. I belonged in this verdant world. I was mother freaking nature.
At the pavilion, I swiped the dust off a picnic table, slung down my lunch box, and artfully arrayed my little feast on a floral-patterned paper towel: turkey sandwich, pickles, and one foil-wrapped dark chocolate square. “I shall eat you last,” I said to the chocolate, popping the tab on a can of Dr. Pepper and tossing the empty sandwich baggie in a nearby trash can...
Which growled at me.
Hang on, I thought. I know lots of stuff about birds and nature and things; therefore, I know that is not the trash can’s natural call.
I stood listening for a moment. It happened again.
“What the-” I said, peeking inside. (As much as I would like to believe I have more sense than horror movie victims, it’s just not so.) A flurry of claws and teeth flew toward me.
I screamed, clambering on top of the picnic table and spilling my soda. The trash can vibrated, chattering wildly, then rattled to a stop.
What was that? I wondered.
Standing on the table, I peeked over the rim of the can. The trapped creature made another growling leap, sending me nearly over the far edge of the table in my haste to back away. Cause of death: subject fell off a picnic table. Let’s not do that, I thought. On hands and knees, heart pounding, I leaned over the table’s edge, holding my phone up and out to snap a picture of the imprisoned beast.
On my phone’s tiny screen, a small and rather sad raccoon gazed soulfully out at me. I couldn’t believe my own cowardice. Who trembles in fear at a little raccoon? “Hang on, Ranger Rick!” I said, stepping to the ground. “I’ll get you out of there.”
The raccoon growled with renewed fervor, incensed at the sound of my voice. I scrambled onto the table once more as the trash can rocked back and forth in wide arcs, as though the raccoon was throwing himself at the walls.
There’s a 99% chance this is a perfectly ordinary woodland creature, I thought. If I knock that trash can over, he will flee from my human presence with nary a backward glance. The sweet strains of “Born Free” will accompany his furry exodus.
However, there is a 1% chance this is a rabid raccoon-demon with a burning hatred of all humankind. He’s seen my face and he knows my scent and if I release him, there is no sanctuary in this world or the next that can protect me from his fury.
Those were not good odds.
Cross-legged on the table-top, I dialed the library. “Aren’t you at lunch?” Karen said when I identified myself.
“I’m in the park,” I said, as the raccoon cussed me out. “I need the number for animal control.”
“We don’t have animal control in Andover! We’re too small!” she said sweetly.
Trying to keep the desperate edge out of my voice, I said, “Who do you call when you’ve got a raccoon in a trash can?”
A long silence followed, broken only by the local wildlife’s displeasure with my company. Finally, Karen said, “Couldn’t you just tip it over?”
“He looks angry!”
I heard poorly muffled laughter. “Maybe you should try the fire department.”
After several failed attempts due to trembling fingers, I managed to dial the number. The fire department’s dispatcher apparently lost interest when I wasn’t on fire. Sounding bored, she said, “We don’t really rescue wild animals.”
“Forget the animal!” I said. “Come rescue me!”
“Maybe you could tip it over?”
“That’s not going to work!”
“Try the police station,” she suggested.
The raccoon was screaming by now, which didn’t make dialing any easier. Before the oblivious officer could finish saying “Andover Police Department,” I poured out the whole sorry tale in a single breath.
“-and-she-said-to-tip-it-over-but-the-raccoon-is-angry-so-I-can’t-tip-it-over!” I said, then “Hello?” when I received no response.
“So, you don’t want to tip the trash can over?” the bemused officer said.
“Are you hearing any of this?!” I shrieked. As if on cue, the raccoon chose this moment to voice his discontent.
“Okay!” said the officer. “No worries. We’ll send someone around to have a look.”
“Thank you!” I said, feeling better as I hung up. Then I realized I was still crouched on the picnic table in fear of the malevolent raccoon. Sighing, I reached to the far side of the table for my sandwich. “That went well, I think,” I told the raccoon. I tossed a chunk of sandwich in the trash can, then, as an afterthought, added a couple of pickles.
When I finished eating, I slid off the table as quietly as possible, stuffing my trash in my lunch box to throw away later, and started the walk back to the library. On my way, I passed a police car, circling the park to reach the picnic tables on the other side. I smiled, waved, and kept walking. I was ready to get back to my nice indoor job.
I am so tired of being outside, I thought.