“I had this . . . I don’t know what you’d call it. Not a pet. It was this squirrel that lived in a tree in my back yard. We’d feed it, you know? Bait it in, get it used to us. We had it pretty tame eventually. That squirrel would come right up on the porch and eat nuts out of my hands. He’d grab it in his mouth, then run off a few feet and hold it between his little front paws and nibble at it. It was the coolest thing.
“This one time, the squirrel came up on the porch and I gave him a nut, and he didn’t run away with it. He perched on the arm of my chair and ate it right there. Damnedest thing I ever saw. Heh! . . .
“I reached my hand out to pet him, stroke him on the back. He felt me touch him, and he turned around and bit me. Grabbed the tip of my finger between them paws and bit into me like I was an acorn. And it hurt, I don’t mind telling you. Those teeth, those claws, they were like needles. He bit me and jumped off the porch, scampered back up the trunk of that tree.
“Next time I was out on the porch and I saw that squirrel was a few weeks later, when everybody else was out at parent-teacher night at my brother’s school. He come down out of his tree and ran in toward me, and I held out a nut for him. He came and took it just like always, hopped up on the porch railing and started eating. I had this .22 pistol my father give me for my birthday like a year before. I had it sitting on my lap, hoping I’d see that squirrel eventually. I pointed it and blew that little fucker away. Finger I pulled the trigger with was the same one he bit me on.
“I picked him up by his tail and tossed him into the field at the end of our yard. Just dead weight. Fur and meat. I throwed him out there amongst the corn stalks and he was gone. Never saw him again. . . . Gimme another one of these.
“My thanks to you, sir. . . . You ever have the thought that murders are actually out there happening? Like, for real, not how they are in the movies or on TV or in books. Think about it all day and it still won’t seem real. Then all of a sudden it’ll come home to you. People are killing other people. And you know what? It’s not that big of a deal. When you look at things as they really are instead of as we want them to be, a person’s not that much different than a squirrel.
“One of us dies and she’s just hair and meat. Dead weight. Even looks the same with a round from that .22 in her head. Wouldn’t expect it to be any other way, really. People are no better than squirrels. They’ll take what you give them as long as you don’t ask them for anything. But you ask something for your trouble, even something that won’t cost them a damn thing . . . they’ll turn on you. And not give it a thought. Not an iota of guilt.
“So neither will I.”
He finished his drink and left, didn’t say another word. It was the first and last time I ever saw him. I never got his name, and I didn’t care. It was enough that he was gone.