One day, from the station’s yard, Zach calls me over to take a look at something. His tone suggests a mixture of amusement, annoyance. I leap up from my desk: it is a welcome distraction. We crunch across the gravel lot in the late morning sunshine. One of the work trucks, parked near the pressure washer, has its hood up, and a curious mound of green pokes out above the engine.
“What the…” I begin, not sure what I’m looking at.
“Rat’s nest,” says Zach. “I was about to wash this thing and decided to check under the hood. It hadn’t been driven for a while—been sitting in the yard for weeks. So I opened ’er up. Some damned rat grabbed a bunch of halogeton and stuffed it up there. That’s a fire hazard. If I’d a started this truck, we’d have an inferno on our hands.”
“Right. Wow. What’re you gonna do?”
“First I’m gonna blow this shit out with the pressure washer. Then I’m gonna set some traps. You got any peanut butter?”
I donate some Adam’s Natural, Salted Crunchy to the rat trap. “I hope these aren’t redneck rats,” Zach says as I hand him the jar. “They might turn up their noses to this hippie crap. They’d be saying, ‘Where’s the sugar? Where’s the hydrogenated oil? This ain’t no Jiffy, that’s for sure.’”
A day passes—the traps are empty. The hippie crap lies untouched on the bait square. Another snarl of plant clippings appears under the hood—fresh, just snipped. Zach blows that shit out with the pressure washer. “Those fuckers,” he says.
“This morning I saw a couple antelope ground squirrels near the truck,” I offer. “There were like three, and they ran away when I walked up. Could they be building the nests?”
“Possibly. It could be them, who knows. We’ll give it another day with the traps. Then, I don’t know. Maybe we can install one of those plastic owls on the fence there.”
The next afternoon, Zach walks into the center holding a trap in one latex-gloved hand. He looks remorseful. “Hey, we got one,” he says, but all the vitriol’s gone out of his voice. Pinched beneath the kill bar, splayed out in a postmortem Superman pose, is an antelope ground squirrel. It looks frozen in a moment of sublime apprehension. It looks young, naïve, innocent. It looks as if it had died not knowing a single thing in the world.
“It happened so fast, he didn’t feel a thing,” Zach says quickly. He feels bad about it. Equally complicit, I feel bad, too. “Just, ‘WHAM!’ Didn’t even know what hit him. I wanted it to be a rat, you know, but…well, it wasn’t.” He throws trap and trapped into the trash.
The next morning there is no new nest, no fresh clippings. The squirrels have taken the hint.