Katrina, my dad, and the kids took me out to dinner for my 42nd birthday last night. I was forced to wear a big stupid sombrero at our favorite dive while the staff (who has seen our kids come home and grow up) sang for me. It was OK. As part of the festivities, the kids demanded — as they do these days — that I tell various classic family stories that have now passed into myth and legend: the story of Ken, the shovel-nosed shark, and the boat wreck; the story of Poppa, Nana, and the ill-advised twilight hike; the story of Ken being set loose in Mainz to fend for himself by two parents who had discovered a particularly good Reisling, and so on.
On the way home, Abby and Elaina demanded the much loved story of Sig and the skunk. It was just long enough for the drive home. "You have to write the story down," said Abby, "so we can read it whenever we want."
And so I did.
This story concerns your daddy, a skunk, and a dog named Sigmund. Sigmund was daddy's dog when daddy was a boy growing up around these parts. Sigmund was a large black dachshund. He was the sweetest, most friendly, and most gently dispositioned dachshund you are likely to meet, but he was not blessed with an abundance of brains or good sense, even for a dog. It might be said of Sig that he always meant well, bless his heart.
One day Poppa and Nana were away someplace and daddy was at home. Daddy was probably playing primitive computer games like they had back then, or reading something awful. Anyway, about mid-afternoon, daddy heard Sig barking furiously in the back yard.
This in itself was not a notable event. Sig, his excellent disposition aside, was wont to bark at squirrels, at leaves, at the wind, at the ineffable passage of time, and occasionally, so far as daddy could tell, at the crushing realization that he was a long, squat, chunky dog bred to flush badgers out of holes, and yet there were no badgers about, thus frustrating Sig's ability to achieve the Platonic ideal of dachshunditude.
Never mind what those words mean.
Eventually Sig's barking became so loud, so pronounced, so frantic, that daddy was moved to investigate. Daddy opened the back door and looked out on the back lawn behind the kitchen.
There he saw Sigmund and the skunk.
The skunk was lying on the lawn on its back. Its legs were splayed limply. Its tongue dangled from its mouth. It did not move. Daddy suspect that, were he to approach close enough to pry the skunk's eyelids open, there would be a little cartoon X over each eye. Sig was madly circling the skunk at a prudent remove, barking furiously, redolent of skunk spray.
Well, sh .. shucks, daddy thought, now daddy has to dispose of a dead skunk and de-skunk a frantic dachshund.
First things first. Daddy grabbed Sig by the collar and dragged him into the side-yard, which was surrounded by a high-chain link fence with sturdy gates. Daddy shut all of the gates and went to look for a shovel and a bag to dispose of the skunk.
Daddy, as you may know, is unaccustomed to the use of tools, and was having some difficulty locating the shovel when he heard Sig start barking again. Sig's bark was, if possible even more frantic, and now had a new tone, a tone daddy would later conclude was one of incredulity.
Never mind what that means.
Daddy returned to the side hard. There, in the side-yard, was Sig, circling a skunk — the same skunk that had previously been on the lawn outside of the side yard, on the other side of the high chain-link fence and formidable gate.
The skunk's condition had not, so far as daddy cold tell, improved. It remained on its back, limbs splayed, tongue out, immobile, by all appearances dead. Sig had backed into the furthest possible corner of the side-yard and was barking himself hoarse at the skunk.
Now, you might expect that daddy's most pressing question under these circumstances would be how the apparently dead skunk got from the lawn to the fenced-off side yard. But children, you would be wrong. You see, daddy has always had a touch of the philosopher in him, and yearns to know not only the mundane how but the cosmic why of things.
Why would the skunk, safe on the lawn with the frantic dachshund secured behind a fence, contrive to slip past that fence to re-join the dachshund? Was it, as you kids say these days, for the lulz? That strikes me as unlikely; we really didn't know about lulz in those days.
Daddy could have stood there all day pondering such things, which was frequently what he would do when called upon to do physical labor with implements like a shovel. Instead, he resolved to calm the dog, who was becoming hoarse and frankly unbalanced. Daddy grabbed the stinking hound, opened the side door into Nana's office, and locked the dog in Nana's office bathroom, where Nana would sometimes retreat for prolonged periods when the weight of the world was too much with her.
Daddy knew from prior experience that a dog sprayed by a skunk must be washed with tomato juice, which would case a chemical reaction of some sort that daddy would understand better if he paid attention in Chemistry, which he did not, even though you should. But there was no tomato juice to be had. Daddy briefly contemplated using Poppa's V-8, and was spared Sophie's choice between a vengeful father and a odoriferous dog by the fact that there was no V-8 left.
Never mind who Sophie is.
If there was no tomato juice, what could daddy use? Daddy eventually settled upon a large jar of zesty Ragu pasta sauce. Daddy figured that it was tomato-based, and that the chunks of mushroom and garlic should not prove a substantial impediment to its chemical effectiveness. Daddy manhandled the unwilling dachshund into the tub in Nana's office bathroom and commenced to bathe the dog in tepid water and Ragu. Sigmund, as was his normal practice, reacted to the stress of the experience with prolonged and profound flatulence. Soon Nana's bathroom was splattered with red like an abattoir and smelled of skunk, Italian food, and farts.
I can't continue the story until you calm down. No, you can't use that word just because daddy did. Oh, go ahead and tell your mother!
Anyway, daddy dried the dog and deposited him, exhausted and somewhat stunned by the experience, into his bed. Daddy then retrieved the trash bag from the kitchen and the shovel from the garage and returned to the side yard to make a proper end of the skunk.
Of course the skunk was gone.
Daddy returned the shovel to the garage and decided that there were, perhaps, things that daddy was not meant to know, that there are more things about skunks and dachshunds than are dreamt of in daddy's philosophy.
But does the tale end there? No, you are correct — it does not. Late that evening, when Poppa was snoring thunderously on the couch and Daddy was abed, dreaming of starlets who are now likely in their sixties, there was a blood-curdling scream. Nana had left the house in her bare feet to empty the trash and, in the dark trash area on the other side of the garage, stepped upon the now sincerely and unequivocally deceased skunk, who had apparently traveled there and expired after escaping the fenced-in side yard.
After that, it became daddy's job to take out the trash.
Daddy examined the side-yard fence with great care and never found any holes in it. To this day, daddy wonders how the skunk defied the gates — but it is the why that keeps him awake at night. Who knows what lurks in the hearts of skunks?
So remember, children: things are not always what they seem. What you think is impossible may in fact be possible. Barriers may be defeated. Also, watch your step.
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