Playing possum, with a real live possum
Don’t try this at home, like I did.
“AHHHH!” my seven-year-old screamed. “DADDY!”
I continued washing dishes. Josie communicates through screams. She has a promising future as a B movie queen or a town cryer. This sounded like a scream of fright, not injury or protest.
Probably a spider, I thought.
“IT’S ALIVE DADDY!”
Yep, just a spider. I can speak Scream. Next I’ll learn Swedish; it sounds a lot like Scream.
“AND IT TURNED ITS HEAD!”
“DADDY! IT’S GOT A LOT OF TEETH!”
I walked into the living room to fight the big-headed, multi-fanged arachnid. Josie pointed to a basket of stuffed animals. I peered in; a live possum smiled back.
“It does have a lot of teeth,” I marveled.
“I was getting a stuffed animal,” Josie panted, “and it MOVED! It’s ALIVE!”
The possum grinned wider, amused that the human took this long to figure it out.
“I TOUCHED IT!” Josie wailed. “What is it? What did I touch?”
“A rattlesnake. It’s very poisonous.”
“DAD! WHAT IS IT?”
“It’s a possum, Josie.”
The possum smiled more, delighted our zoology knowledge included his species.
“How did it get here?”
“Probably through the dog door,” I guessed.
At the mention of dog, our brain-dead labradoodle appeared. She sniffed the possum, took a few seconds to process the presence of an intruder, then barked her head off.
The possum hissed and exposed all fifty sharp teeth. He seemed to have lost his sense of humor.
“Josie, hold the dog before she gets her nose chewed off.”
“POSSUMS ARE DANGEROUS?” Josie shrieked.
“Only when cornered and threatened,” I shouted over the hysterical dog. “There’s no reason to be concerned right now.”
“WHAT SHOULD WE DO?”
I was about to ask you the same question, I thought. They don’t teach Possum Home Invasion at parenting school.
“We don’t need Mom to solve this,” I said sourly.
“Yes we do! This is serious!”
The possum hissed in agreement. I wanted just one living creature to believe I wasn’t an incompetent parent. Maybe I’d get a fish.
“I have a plan!” I announced.
The possum had his own plan; he repositioned himself to bolt. I imagined spending the next ten hours with a flashlight and baseball bat searching for him in every room. Or prying him off of my daughter’s face, like Alien.
“Josie, take the dog and lock yourself in the bathroom where it’s safe,” I ordered.
For the first and only time in my daughter’s life, she obeyed without question.
I picked up the basket of animals and fast-walked to the door to the backyard. I had to hold the basket in one arm, close to my chest, as I opened the door with my free hand. This brought the possum within a foot of my face. He smiled again … though smiling might mean something less cheerful to a marsupial being carried by a creature 20 times its size.
“Aren’t you supposed to play dead?” I muttered.
The possum hissed. Either he talks in his sleep or he didn’t appreciate the stereotyping.
In the backyard I turned over the basket, dumping out a dozen stuffed animals and one live one. The possum stared up at me, then bit a koala’s face to show he meant business. I took a several steps back, before other innocent stuffed animals got hurt. The possum kept his eyes and smile on me as he hustled into the bushes.
Possum relocated. Zero fatalities. Time to celebrate Competent Parent moment.
“Allie!” I yelled into the phone. “Guess what just happened!”
“Does it involve an injury?”
“No — that’s the amazing thing! Guess what happened?” I gushed.
“Josie fell out of a tree and you caught her?” Allie asked nervously.
“No! Guess again!”
“She crashed her bike and landed on soft grass?”
“No! You’ll never guess this!”
“Then why do you keep insisting I try?” Allie asked.
“We had a live possum sleeping in the stuffed animals basket!”
“I can’t believe you thought I’d guess that …”
“Not the point,” I continued. “Josie woke him up, I took him outside, and no one got bitten. Except a stuffed koala.”
“An acceptable loss … how big was it?”
“The stuffed koala?”
“Oh.” I laughed. “Not big. Between five and ten pounds.”
“That’s an infant just separated from its mother,” Allie said sadly. “It can’t survive on it own. We should take it to a wildlife rescue. Do you still have the possum?”
“Of course not! I put him back in nature so he can go on doing his natural possum thing, as God and possum-kind intended.”
“Go catch it,” Allie said. “It’s scared and without its mother. I’ll take it to a shelter when I get home.”
I looked at the dense bushes where the possum had fled. I wondered if I’d get more injuries from the sharp branches, the possum’s jaws, or some new surprise hiding inside. Allie sensed my hesitation.
“Marshall … please get the possum. But be careful. I want you to do this intelligently.”
“Thanks honey. I was thinking about doing this the dumbest way possible.”
Allie sighed. I’m fluent in Sigh as well as Scream. This one meant you’re annoying me and reducing your chances of sex tonight.
“I’ll give it a try,” I muttered.
A half hour later Allie stomped into the backyard. I sat in a beach chair facing the bushes, wearing leather work gloves, with a broom and duffel bag at my feet. I was also drinking a beer.
“What the hell?” Allie snapped.
“I’m waiting for it to come out,” I shrugged. “Then I’ll sweep it into this bag. It’s a lot safer than reaching in. You wanted the smart and safe play, remember?”
“We both know it’ll never come out,” Allie said angrily. “Fine. We aren’t reaching in there. So I guess it stays outdoors. The possum’s not the issue.”
“What’s wrong now?”
“You left Josie hiding in the bathroom this entire time.”