Uncle Dave’s taking Tyson and Maki on a special trip to the park with cousin Dylan and so Reservoir Mum and I are out front helping him to buckle the kids into their booster seats when I notice a man – early twenties, black jeans, designer jacket – standing on our nature strip, tapping at his iPhone, rubbing the back of his neck nervously, and staring across the road at a black sports car.
That particular car’s been parked there on and off for several months but I’ve never seen the owner and I’m wondering if this guy thinks the cars been stolen and dumped – because that’s what I thought after it had been parked in the same spot for several weeks – and so after waving goodbye to Tyson and Maki I walk over to say G’day and that’s when I spot the dead possum on the road, right beside the driver’s side door.
‘Oh shit,’ I say, glancing at his phone to see that he’s texted a picture of it to someone. ‘A dead possum.’
‘Do you know what it is?’ he asks, cupping the back of his neck again, drawing my attention to the thick gold bracelet on his wrist and his heavily stylised hair.
‘Um… a dead possum,’ I say again. ‘Must have been hit by a car.’
‘What should we do?’ he asks.
‘Probably should trace the outline with some white chalk and call the authorities,’ I say, sniffing a little, expecting a laugh but surprised to see him nodding seriously. The look of utter revulsion on his face is suggestive of someone who’s found a dead huntsman in their hamburger, or accidently stumbled into a John Farnham concert. ‘So… yeah… is that your car?’
‘Yes,’ he says, at the same time that he breaks into a semi-sprint, taking a wide birth around the possum to enter the car through the passenger side door. Reservoir Mum and I watch him shuffle over the centre console into the driver’s side. He peeks hesitantly through the window, down at the possum, fumbles the key into the ignition and lurches forward, fishtailing up the road and out of site.
‘He was really scared of that dead possum,’ I say.
‘He was,’ RM laughs, before pausing and saying. ‘Poor thing.’
I’m about to ask if she’s talking about the man or the possum but then our next door neighbour Monica – who’s almost ninety – shuffles over to join us.
‘There’s a dead possum on the road,’ I say.
‘Oh yes,’ she says. ‘A dead possum.’
‘I suppose I should grab the shovel and scoop it up and take it out the back to the reserve and bury it or something,’ I say, in a strong unusually loud voice that I’m only using to stop myself dry-retching.
‘Yes,’ Monica says. ‘If you leave it there the kids will start picking at it and get germs.’
‘Yeah,’ RM says. ‘Plus, cars will keep running over it and spread it all over the road.’
‘Oh my God,’ I dry-whisper-retch.
‘And cats and dogs will probably try to eat it,’ Monica says. ‘They do that.’
‘Okay,’ I megaphone. ‘I’ll just grab the shovel real quick then and scoop it up and bury it and that’ll be that…’
‘This will be your good deed for the day,’ Monica says, just as eight-year-old Lewis runs onto the nature strip and screams, ‘What’s that?’
‘It’s a dead possum,’ I say. ‘I’m going to get rid of it.’
‘Awesome! It looks like a cat!’
‘It’s not a cat,’ I say, as I open the gate and head down the side of the house for the shovel; as Lewis runs back inside screaming, ‘I’m going to tell Archie!’
Of course I can’t find the fricken shovel anywhere and in the minutes it takes me to finally locate it – in the broom closet in the laundry – I’ve heard two cars drive past and the squealy wheels of the local bus so that I’m heading back up the hall to the front door imagining the local germy kids picking at a possum mess that stretches meters long, surrounded by ravenous cats and dogs and so I’m very relieved, initially, to see that the dead possum is on its own and still in one piece, and that Reservoir Mum and Monica are back inside.
The squealing wheels come again and when I look to the right I can see a bus coming from the other direction and so I cross the road to scoop the dead possum up before it gets a thorough squishing and it’s only then that I notice it’s moved from its original position – I’m almost certain that the twisted little critter was lying mostly on its stomach before and now it’s mostly on it’s back – but I assume it must have been clipped by one of the cars I heard whizzing by and with the bus hurtling towards us I lay the blade of the shovel flat on the bitumen and scoop the possum up in one fluid movement.
The bus zooms past and I’m walking to the side gate and my stomach churns again because, man, this possum is surprisingly heavy and I’m trying not to look at it, or to think about the bacon and eggs and sauce I ate this morning, and I’m almost into the backyard, preparing to scoot out the back gate and into the Reserve when the shovel suddenly bucks and gyrates and wobbles in my hands. Horror causes my vision to blur around the edges and pigeon-holes my full attention onto the one possum claw that curls, spasms, unwinds, returns to lifelessness.
My scream is a silent one as the shovel falls from my grasp. I feel like I’m at the bottom of a dark well looking up the long shaft and watching the possum spinning in the distant circle of light as it floats into the sky…
‘Dad!’ Lewis yells from the backyard. ‘Archie wants to see the awesome dead possum.’
‘Wait,’ I say regaining my senses to find I’m leaning against the fence, standing over the possum, which is lying lifeless in the mud next to the shovel.
‘What are you doing?’ RM yells. ‘The boys are waiting.’
‘I’m just… I’m writing a eulogy… just keep the boys there for a minute.’
I’m upset and either the weather’s turned for the worst or its my mentality darkening the skies and lifting the winds and bending the branches of the giant gum trees over my head and every last sinew and fiber in my body wants to just get this possum in the ground and be done with it but I watched a horror movie called The Conjuring last night, on Netflix, and I’m certain right now that if I take the risk and put this fury little fella in the ground before he’s fully dead that he’ll be in my room tonight, covered in mud, baring his teeth, eyes glowing red, flexing those claws and climbing into bed to impregnate me with the devil’s own spawn.
‘Dad?’ Archie yells. ‘Can I look at it now?’
‘I’m not finished,’ I yell back, trying to convey an aura of nonchalance but so wracked by the trauma of the situation that I sound like I’ve just watched the 2008 Grand Final for the first time, all over again, and it’s as I reach for the shovel and lift it into the air over the mostly dead possum’s head that I pause and try to think of a less violent way to put it out of it’s misery. But all I can think of is a parachute failing, a vat of boiling pea and ham soup, and Dr Nitschke, and so I bring the shovel down so hard it snaps the handle.
‘Wow,’ Archie says, as I walk past him with the possum back on the shovel. ‘It looks like a cat.’
‘It was a possum,’ I say, a little teary, as I open the back gate and walk through. ‘It was… a good possum.’
I trudge manfully towards a row of trees on the cusp of a rise in the reserve and dig as deep as I’m willing to in a suburb such as ours – where it’s quite likely to uncover a much more grisly kind of carcass, or some drugs, or a shopping trolley – and suddenly the wind fades and the trees hold still and the significance of the occasion – and the lingering dread of The Conjuring – move me to mark the passing of my possum with the eulogy I was pretending to write up the side of the house.
‘Hey Pos,’ I say, getting down on one knee in front of his grave. ‘How did this even happen? I was going to just wave goodbye to Tyson and Maki and let Archie and Lewis play computers and then… I don’t know… listen to Madonna and bug out for a while.’ I pause to regain my composure and – as if the skies are crying with me – a light drizzle starts to fall. ‘You didn’t deserve to go out like this Pos…. to get hit by a car like that… when you were in your prime… to have your photo taken and to have your honour… besmirched by that well dressed young man. To get hit in the head with a shovel… or to be… oh my god… Jesus… to be called a fucken cat… by my own kids… I should confiscate their iPads or… um… Amen.’
I take another moment to look at the freshly dug grave and I know I’ll think about Pos every time I walk the dog out here or kick the footy with the boys and after slinging the broken shovel over my shoulder and walking back to house I find RM there, emptying the guinea pig tray along our fence line.
‘Are you okay?’ RM asks, looking at my eyes.
‘It moved,’ I whisper, the grass below me shimmering through a film of tears. ‘So I had to smite it with my shovel.’
‘Oh, the poor thing,’ RM says.
I nod, still too overwhelmed to ask if she’s talking about me or Pos but after whispering that I’m going to wash my hands and have some time alone listening to Hung Up by Madonna, on repeat, she touches me on the shoulder, smiles to let me know she loves me and says, ‘Okay’.