The Groundhog

The Groundhog

“Did I tell you my groundhog story?” Kate asked.

It was early February.  We were sitting out a snowstorm in the kitchen of her enormous house.  She lived right on the edge of the Park.

“No,” I said, “but I already know we have at least another six weeks of winter.”

“I am not talking about Punxatawny Phil.”

“Oh Good.  I am sick of talking about the snow.”

“Did you ever see Riley’s garden?”  Riley was her eight year old boy.

“No.  I didn’t know he had a garden.”

“Yeah somehow he got interested in gardens in the middle of baseball, football and tennis.  He planted a bunch of cucumbers and pumpkins and tomatoes out in the backyard and I got such a kick out of it.  He loved to go out there every morning and see what had come up.  He was so cute.”

“Nice.”

“Nice until you go out in the morning with him and he breaks into tears cause everything is eaten.”

“You mean the deer?”

“We have deer and raccoons and foxes and all those things.  It’s Wild Kingdom out there by the park.”

“What did you do?”

“I put a god damn 12 foot fence around the garden.”

“That is serious protection.  A fortress.”

“I felt so damn cocky.  We even put a little flag on a pole in the middle of it and with the words ‘You Can’t Eat Me.’”

“How did that work?”

“It didn’t work.”

“What do you mean?  Surely the deer are not jumping over 12 foot fences these days.”

“It turns out it was groundhogs.”

“Like in Caddyshack?”

“And voles and moles.  They just would burrow underneath the fence.  They would come up in the garden and every morning all of Riley’s cucumbers would be gone.  I couldn’t stand it.  He would look in there at his cucumbers and start to cry and it felt like I hadn’t done my job as a mom.”

“So what did you do?”

“I did what any mom who grew up in Alabama would do.”

“Is this going to involve weapons?”

“Damn straight.”

“I predict this won’t end well.”

“You’ll see. Anyway, one day I was up in the bedroom. I had just taken a shower. I looked out the window and there was a groundhog the size of a dog sitting inside the garden fence eating the garden.  I ran in the other room and grabbed my rifle and went outside in my bathrobe.”

“Excuse me, grabbed my rifle?”

“Sorry. I grabbed my god damn rifle. I walked way into the back yard and snuck behind a tree. I quickly squeezed off a shot but I wasn’t ready and I missed.  The groundhog lumbered to the back of the garden and disappeared down a hole.  I was cursing a blue streak.”

“Do you actually own a rifle?”

“Shit yes.  I told you I grew up in Alabama.  I can shoot a rifle.  I am a little rusty is all.  As it happens, the next day a friend of mine came over here and I told her what happened and she laughed at me and said it was ridiculous to use a rifle to do what was clearly a job for a shotgun.  So she brought me over a shotgun and left me a box of shells.”

“A shotgun?  Are you crazy?  You live in Philadelphia.  You can’t go shooting a shotgun in your backyard!”

“Yeah, I was a little concerned about that but I figured I would just be careful.  Anyway, about two days later I was going out for lunch when I saw that groundhog again.  I was wearing white jeans and a little white linen top and I was late. But screw that, I was going to get that groundhog.  I ran upstairs. I got the shotgun. I loaded two shells in it and I snuck out the back door.”

“Here it comes.”

“I was feeling a little nervous.  I hadn’t shot a shotgun in 20 years.  And I had to worry because of the park back there.  I didn’t want to blow a hole in a hiker.”

“Didn’t you think a shotgun was a little overkill for a garden in Philadelphia?”

“No fucking way.  I was going to take out that groundhog.  I snuck out the backdoor and I worked my way up to this shrub in the middle of the yard and I hid behind it.  I was about 50 feet from the garden and I had a pretty clear shot through the branches of the shrub.  I was about to shoot but I was worried that the blast would be too big from that distance, so I got on my stomach and started to crawl through the grass.  I did really well, even though I got grass stains all over.  I didn’t give a shit. I got to within about 10 feet of the garden and the groundhog was just sitting there.  I very slowly raised the shotgun, but before I could line up my shot he slipped into a little bush in the garden, just like he was hiding from me.  But it wasn’t a very good job of hiding, because I could see his eyes right through the leaves in the bush.  So I raised up the shotgun and marked my shot.  I was sweating like crazy.  I kept looking around to make sure there were no kids coming through the park and no guy coming to the house to service the pool, but I was determined.”

“So what happened?”

“I pulled the trigger, that’s what fucking happened.  The sound was the loudest thing I have ever heard.”

“What happened to the groundhog, did you get him?”

“Let me say this.  That little bush that he was hiding behind was blown clean off the face of the earth.”

“And how about the groundhog?”

“He flew up in the air and came down like a wet towel.”

“Was he dead?”

“My friend, that groundhog was as dead as a groundhog can get.”

“What did you do with him?”

“Well I freaked out.  The sound was so loud I was convinced that the police would be surrounding the house in minutes.  So I ran back into the house and hid the shotgun underneath my bed.  I started to wash my hands, but I was shaking too hard to do a very good job.  I was a wreck. I was sweating and shivering. I could hear cars circling my house and people talking on microphones and walkie-talkies to each other.”

“Did you get arrested?”

“No, it was all in my mind.  Nobody came.”

“Then what?”

“I was still freaked out.  I went out there and the groundhog was smashed on the ground.  It was the size of a small pig.  All brown and furry and covered with red blood.  It was pretty ghastly.”

“So what did you do?”

“I figured I had to get rid of it because I didn’t want to be discovered with the evidence when the police got there.  So I went back in the house and looked around for something to get rid of it with.  All I could find was John’s gym bag.”

“You put the groundhog in John’s gym bag?”

“Yeah I didn’t even take out his gym shorts.”

“I bet he was thrilled.”

“I never told him.  He is still looking for it.”

“So what did you do with the bag.”

“I was late for this lunch and so I changed my clothes and threw the bag in the back of the SUV and drove to lunch looking for a trash can all the way.”

“Why didn’t you just take him into the park?”

“I’m not sure I was thinking very clearly.  I saw a dumpster and I just pulled over and flung the whole gym bag into the dumpster.”

“That’s pretty gross.”

“And then for days I kept worrying that someone would open the bag.  John is so neurotic that he has his name on the inside of his shorts.  I kept thinking that any night there would be a knock on the door and there would be the Philadelphia Police carrying the gym bag and the dead groundhog and they would arrest John for shooting a shotgun in the city.”

“Riley had to feel pretty good though.”

“Why is that?”

“Well his mom stood up and defended his garden against small animals, that’s got to be comforting to an eight year old boy.”

“Yeah.  You gotta draw the line somewhere.”

– Jay Duret

jayduret@yahoo.com