Talking To Trees

A doctor, so angry at the inconvenience of being called in to suture a suicidal prisoner’s wrists, said, “I’ll make sure he doesn’t do that again,” and sewed him up without anesthetic. That doctor was employed by the state to cut medical costs. He still is. No one knew that my wife lost her job for taking her protest to the top, for blowing the whistle, that she set out for an early-morning run the next day to leave it all behind, to start fresh, especially not the mother raccoon at the roadside standing on her haunches as my wife chugged by. Not aggressive, not in defense, but more, standing over her unmoving baby, with her deft front paws fidgeting, useless, the animal said, What can I do? You know and I know that only when times are desperate do appearances like this occur. They stared at each other for a few seconds, and then the coon turned and sauntered off. The baby’s belly moved. Because she could, because that’s how she is, my wife peeled off an outer layer, the new, long-sleeved cotton T-shirt that all the way around said, SAUCONY, and wrapped the baby in it. And she spoke to the dark white-pine row where she sensed the mother watched. “I’ll do what I can.” And then she ran, all the way watching the baby, its closed eyes inside the fur rings ringed again with wet, as were the mouth, the nose, all signs of living rolled with dirt. Home, she grabbed the cordless phone off the kitchen wall, shut herself in the downstairs bathroom, put down the toilet seat, and sat with the baby coon between her feet. The animal-control officer, local vets, wildlife agencies, state agencies — those who answered — said, “Rabies.” Rabies. Consumed with fear of the disease, she thought. Their hesitation to care is itself consumptive. “Kill it, cut off its head, and turn it in for state testing,” they said. The last response like that, she snapped, “It’s a fucking baby raccoon, for Christ’s sake.” Immediately placed on hold, she stood, saw herself in the vanity mirror, and asked, “What’s the use?” Which is when another person on the other end spoke: “What you’ve described sounds like internal injuries. The animal will be euthanized anyway. Bring it in as soon as possible,” he said, as if all mankind depended on it — meaning, she knew, the same as the others before, only measured, more official, conscious. Worse. As if all of mankind depended on it, she took the baby back. Its body breathing unevenly at her feet, she faced the pines and began calling, coaxing the disappeared mother back. Which is when the first car sped by, one of many neighbor commuters who later made a point of telling me, “I saw your wife talking to trees.” To which I said, “Absolutely. Don’t you?”