Matthew Suarez 3 p.m., Dec. 11
I tried not to like Maynard. I tried to hold a grudge against him. Anything less, I felt,would be disloyal to Tundra and Elaine. April, and April alone, cared for Maynard. I refused to have anything to do with him. But each day when April freed him from his cage at the top of the stairs for two hours of exercise inside the house, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His legs were short and his spine arched and undulated as though he suffered from a severe case of weasel scoliosis. He hurried from room to room sniffing and inspecting everything fleetingly as if he were trying to compress a lifetime of discoveries into his 120 minutes of freedom before April forced him back into his cage. He slithered beneath furniture and glided over obstacles effortlessly, like a fur-covered serpent, his legs almost seemed superfluous. He was obsessed with April’s socks, and he stole them relentlessly from her drawer and then hid them in the closet behind the hamper.
April took him for rides in the basket on the front of her Beach Cruiser bicycle, but only a few times. Even though she used a bungee cord to secure a rectangular metal cake pan to the top of the bicycle basket, Maynard still managed to squeeze his sausage shaped body through the metal mesh. After escaping from the basket, Maynard would try to drop to the ground, but he usually bounced off the bicycle’s front tire, causing him to pinwheel end-over-end off the rotating rubber into a hedge or gutter. After about the fifth time of having to stop and collect Maynard from the street, April knew the rides weren’t worth the effort.
Tundra and Elaine didn’t like Maynard. They didn’t like the musky way his sable fur smelled, and they didn’t like the way he moved unnaturally through the house. Whenever April released Maynard, the cats would jump onto something high so that Maynard couldn’t get near them. But they continued to watch him with fascination and disgust.
One day when April let Maynard out for his daily exercise Tundra seemed to be watching him with special interest, as if he’d finally reached a decision concerning the ferret. April left the house. She had to run a quick errand to the Apple Tree grocery store so she could buy garlic and onions for lasagna. Maynard peeked around the banister and then descended the stairs like water. Tundra skulked after him. It wasn’t too difficult to figure out what was on Tundra’s mind, and I should have acted more quickly. But my resolve to side with Tundra and Elaine, right or wrong, over Maynard was absolute. Maynard entered the kitchen and Tundra continued to follow, getting closer and closer. Paying no attention to Tundra, Maynard busily sniffed the side of the oven. And then Tundra struck. Pinning Maynard to the tile with his paws, Tundra moved in for the kill with his teeth. Thinking quickly, I threw a sofa cushion and hit Tundra on the back. He released Maynard and ran away, but not before shooting me a, Hey, you're the one who doesn't like him, look. I walked into the kitchen and picked Maynard up. It was only the third time I’d ever touched him. Serves you right, I thought. I carried him upstairs and put him in his cage. I threw Tundra out into the yard and congratulated myself for saving the day. I could already hear the adulation from April and Portia, and a wide smile of self-absorption crossed my face as I basked in the fantasy praise of pretty girls. I imagined me as Archie and April and Portia as Betty and Veronica; in my mind, both of them with their eyes closed, were kissing me passionately on either cheek at the same time while little cartoon hearts floated in circles above us.
A few minutes later I passed Maynard’s cage and noticed him shivering. I took him out of his cage and inspected him for wounds; there were none. Maynard continued to shiver, and then he looked at me with a frightened and vulnerable look in his beady little eyes. I sighed. Had I been too quick to judge him? Maybe he wasn’t such a bad little guy after all. Maynard continued to study me. He put his front paws on my wrist and almost seemed to pat it in appreciation for my having saved his life. I’d always viewed the brown mask outlining Maynard’s eyes as proof that God Himself understood the true nature of ferrets and had decided to brand them with the everlasting mark of the perfidious bandit. Now, however, his mask, his musky odor, his habit of digging furiously at the carpet, they all seemed endearing. Maynard’s body wasn’t vibrating as violently as it had been, and I took him downstairs to comfort him—but just for a second! I told myself. I stroked his back and spoke his name over and over. When April came home, she found me feeding Maynard Ritz Crackers and Cheez Whiz.
Portia never did make room in her life for Maynard, but that was okay. April and I found that ferret ownership was not only illegal, but rewarding.
Maynard on Halloween