Duke stood at his workbench, put his hand on his hips, and said “Well, I guess I better get to getting.” He gathered his staple gun and wire cutter and put them in the pockets of his dusty green lab apron. Soft jazz plays through a stereo receiver that’s been set to the same station for 23 years. His Grand Canyon coffee cup held the remains of his 2nd morning cup of coffee. He picked up a roll of chicken wire and his Bosch 6 foot ladder, which is now officially taller than he is. (At his last physical, the doctor asked him his height. “I’d say I’m 5’11”, Duke had told him. “Well, you can say whatever you want, but you’re now 5’9”, the doctor replied.) Closing the garage door behind him, Duke took stock of his head of white hair, in what he thought was called a Caesar, but his daughter informed him was now called a Clooney. Ha! he thought. George Clooney copied me, not the other way around.
He unrolled the chicken wire and began stapling it to the side of the garage. The wire slipped and he grabbed it, cutting his rough left thumb. “Goddamn son of a bitch,” he muttered as he wrapped a kerchief around the thumb and climbed the ladder to finish stapling.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something move quickly to the left. It was a raccoon, standing on hind feet, just out of reach. It hadn’t been there a second ago. Bigger than many small dogs, Duke estimated it at almost forty pounds. The raccoon hissed and bared its teeth menacingly.
“Psst! Psst! Get out of here!” Duke said, waving his hand at the raccoon. He pulled pliers out of his waist belt and threw them straight at the animal. The pliers passed through the raccoon and clattered across the roof, falling off the back side. Bad throw, thought Duke, grabbing a pine cone and hurling it straight towards the raccoon. Again it passed through the animal, bouncing harmlessly away. “What the hell?” Duke blurted, noticing for the first time how sleek its coat was. Rather than being bedraggled like most wild animals, it almost seemed to shimmer, which was crazy, he knew. And its eyes – had they been blue a minute ago? Well, I’ll be damned, he thought. I’m having an hallucination. He chuckled and shook his head. Better get down off the ladder before I stroke out, he thought.
He picked up the electrical wire and clipped it carefully to the chicken wire. Once he turned on the power, the raccoons would get a jolt of electricity if they came into contact with the chicken wire. That’ll teach them to poop on my roof, he thought. He wondered what medication was causing his visions. Maybe that new heartburn pill? He glanced again at the raccoon as he started to descend. The animal lowered its front paws to the ground, and crouched. With a burst of speed it jumped straight at Duke’s face, snarling in midair. Duke yelled and instinctively flinched. The ladder slipped out from under his feet and he grabbed frantically as he fell. His hands caught on the rain gutter, and he dangled from the roof. Realizing he didn’t have the strength to pull himself up, Duke instead let go with his hands and fell heavily onto the grass.
When he came to, he didn’t know how long he had been lying there. He was on his side, and his entire body throbbed painfully. A siren wailed nearby; his wife yelled, “Yoo Hoo! He’s back here in the backyard!”
Lying on the ground, Duke saw the raccoon materialize in front of him. Although they were both in the shade, a stray ray of sunshine shone through and illuminated the animal. The light radiated around the creature, creating a brilliant halo that caused Duke’s eyes to water. He’s so beautiful, Duke thought. He wondered why he had ever thought this raccoon was menacing. Duke exhaled peacefully and closed his eyes.
The raccoon shuffled toward Duke, passed through him, and vanished, leaving a trail of warmth in the man’s body. When the paramedics arrived a second later, they had the defibrillator out and ready to go, prepared to charge a static heart back to life. They quickly ascertained that was unnecessary, as the man was breathing and coherent, if a bit delirious due to pain. They loaded him up onto a stretcher and hustled him into the ambulance, while telling his wife that he would be fine.
Neither the paramedics nor Duke’s wife noticed the warm sunny spot in the middle of the backyard shade.