A dead squirrel rattled in a box as Lucy entered the thrift shop. Taxidermied, Colin would have corrected her. The box contained their life together: the squirrel, some purple plates and bowls they had put aside for date night, and a leather backpack and red blanket they had used for traveling. Colin was a taxidermist, so he had left some tools behind: his ear openers, some vacuum bags, and his serrated fleshing knife — among some other devices she found unsettling. She had told him to pick the tools up, which would be the last she would see of him.
Lucy placed the box by the cashier as soon as she entered. The cashier, with her bleached-out perm, looked at the squirrel above the sight line of her glasses.
“What the hell is that?” the cashier said in a husky and deep smoker’s voice.
“Please just take it,” Lucy said with a sardonic tone.
“What kind of a donation is a dead squirrel, little lady?”
“People love this kind of stuff!” Lucy pulled the dead squirrel from the box. “Someone wants this in their living room. Just take it, please?”
“I’ll have to look through the box first, missy.”
The cashier briefly looked at Lucy’s phone case in her hand: a jelly-soft skunk that winks if not held upright, with a big bushy tail hanging off of it.
The woman continued unpacking the box, pulling out the backpack and red blanket first. She seemed to admire the leather as she ran her finger across the surface.
Lucy remembered their date on the Day of the Dead. They had sat on the blanket in the cemetery that night, with some candles and good tunes.
“Want to come to this Climate Change Protest with me, tomorrow?” Colin had asked. “I have a sign that is as incomprehensible as it is confrontational.”
The purple plates and bowls rattled Lucy back to the present. Lucy had a simple at-home dinner ritual. When they broke up, Colin had asked her, “What about spaghetti Fridays?”
“Good, it’s good.” The cashier dismissed her with an apathetic wave.
Lucy pulled out her phone. Her roommate, Elena, was looking for someone to replace an exchange student named Maria who left for the summer, so Lucy wanted to see if the interviews had started. Lucy suspected Maria left because of Colin, that and she was pretty staunchly vegan. She always hid in her room when he was over.
When she emerged once to go to the bathroom, Colin whispered: “Who is that?”
“You’ve talked to her before. My other roommate.” Lucy folded her arms, glanced at Colin polishing his latest creation — a gecko.
“Does she never leave her room? Does she have a problem?”
Maria could probably hear them through their paper-thin walls. She bolted from the bathroom, did not make eye contact as she went down the hall. Loud, rambunctious metal music started to blare from Maria’s room. Lucy facepalmed.
“She’s weird.” Colin held the gecko up to inspect it. “I’ll name you Boo-berry.”
“She’s vegan.” Lucy whispered.
“Oh, so she thinks she’s better than me?” Colin joked.
In the present, Elena messaged her: The last guy was a nooo-goo. Knife collection and everything. They only had one more candidate lined up for today, but Lucy felt pretty positive about it.
Lucy passed through the aisles of odd, mismatched glass, ventured through the stacks of unorganized paperback romance novels, and finally reached the vast sea of wire hangers and women’s clothing.
Lucy’s eyes found a cute navy sailor jacket with big golden buttons. As Lucy admired it on herself, right behind her, a skin-and-bone woman muttered as she stuffed her backpack full of stolen clothes.
On the other side of town, Colin emerged from his basement with his latest masterpiece. He triumphantly held up a perfectly taxidermied skunk in the sunlight. He grinned when he imagined Lucy cooing over it. He knew the way to a woman’s heart was through cute, fuzzy animals. And since her landlord denied her a living puppy, Colin would give her the next best thing.
Colin had nearly crashed his car when he saw this little guy, run-over on the side of the street this morning. He had stood over it, tears of joy in his eyes. His neighbour was standing by the window, phone slowly rising to his cheek to call the cops. When Colin looked up to the sky to thank the Gods, his neighbour had recognized him and closed the blinds.
“It’s a good day,” Colin had said as he scooped up the skunk.
In the present, Colin immediately left for Lucy’s house, his prized gift tucked away in a fancy box next to him. She had texted him this morning about the tools he’d left at her place, and Colin felt the do-or-die pressure of his romantic plan.
Elena was on the front porch, leading another girl into the house, but they both stopped to watch as Colin parked. He walked onto the threshold, box in hand.
“Hey, Colin.” Elena paused and eyed him suspiciously. “What are you doing here?”
“Lucy said I left some tools here.”
“Oh, yeah,” Elena replied. “They’re in the kitchen.”
The two girls went to the living room and Colin beelined into the kitchen. He opened the freezer door and rearranged enough freezer space for his gift. He had to remove the box, but the skunk fit snug between a bag of frozen broccoli and a box of waffles. He was already thinking of improvised punch lines for when Lucy opened the freezer door and phoned him in delight.
Colin grabbed the bag of his tools and hurried out without saying goodbye to Elena. He left the house with a huge grin on his face, angels singing in his head.
Lucy wandered into the graveyard of six-CD-disc-changing stereos. She saw a cute turquoise vintage vacuum cleaner with a cream handle. It was only ten dollars! She hadn’t had a vacuum since she lived with her parents. She could also finally suck up all the weird animal hair Colin had left behind in her house.
Lucy lugged it over to the cashier, who had now put the squirrel in a mini cowboy hat riding on top of a plastic snake in the display near the pay screen. As Lucy was paying, her phone kept ringing, but she ignored it. She held onto the vacuum and walked to the bus stop.
Lucy boarded the bus and put the vacuum next to her. She was about to check her phone when an older man raised his voice at her: “Does your vacuum need a seat?”
“No.” Lucy pulled it between her legs.
The man sat down, displeased at the little space the vacuum provided for his legs. Lucy saw that she had six missed calls from Elena. She wanted nothing more than to ignore the disgruntled man, so she called Elena back.
“DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE FROZEN SKUNK?” Elena shouted.
“No?” Lucy replied, thoroughly confused.
“Our only good candidate ran out screaming!”
Lucy drew the phone away from her ear. “Uhh…?”
“There’s a skunk in our freezer, Lucy. I offered her some iced tea, and when I opened the freezer door to get ice, she called us all freaks and ran out of the house! Are you mad at me or something?!”
“No! It’s not mine! I’m going to talk to Colin,” Lucy shouted and hung up.
Lucy angry-dialed Colin’s number, the bushy tail on her phone swinging.
“Hello?” Colin said in his slow voice.
“Did you leave a dead skunk in my freezer?”
The old man next to her immediately shot a look.
“Taxidermied. But it’s your favourite — ”
“You freaked out a girl who was viewing our house! With your DEAD SKUNK.”
“It was a surprise. Please, Lucy — ”
“We’re done. Done! Do you hear me?” Lucy hung up the phone.
The old man got up to get another seat. He went over to a twenty-something man across from them, looking down at his phone
“Can I have this seat?”
The man shook his head and returned his attention to his phone.
“You kids and your weird hobbies: glued to your phones, real jerks!” the old man shouted.
The young man stared up at him, unfazed. As the old man opened his mouth for the next slew of insults, the younger man slowly pulled up his pant leg, revealing a prosthetic leg. The old man stopped his ranting and turned down the aisle, embarrassed.
While this was going on, Lucy remembered why she had broken up with Colin. He had a heart of gold, which kept her there longer than she should have, but everything else about him was so, so not okay: Where the hell was she going to dispose of a frozen skunk?
She put her phone on top of her vacuum and took a breath. The skunk case winked at her.