Night of the Hunted
I don’t like winter. I don’t like it anywhere, but if I had to say where I dislike it the least, aside from certain semi-tropical paradises, it would be the Far West Village. I have a small studio there, with no internet or cable. And very few people know the number of the land-line phone, which begins with 212, which is why I keep it.
Until a few months ago I never imagined I would have such a place. A writing retreat. My second “second” home.
Years ago, Bob and I had a small cottage in the Hamptons, just off Three Mile Harbor Road in Springs. It was a 1,150 square foot rectangle with no particular grace or charm. There were two bedrooms, and the small, windowless bathroom was wallpapered in enormous pink and red Mario Buatta flowers. But the grounds…. There was a hidden glade in the back, and the front sloped gently toward the water. We had lily of the valley, tiny purple wildflowers, crocuses, daffodils, thick honeysuckle vines, and a butterfly bush. The sunsets over the harbor were glorious.
But that house was a bitch to get to, due to Friday night traffic on the L.I.E., then inching along Route 27, town after town. The mandatory stop for groceries at Jerry Della Femina’s Red Horse Market, for a six-pack of Corona, a cooked chicken, some fruits and vegetables plus a brownie or two, cost eighty bucks. But everything was so good.
It all seemed worth it, once we were home. Such tranquility, with a fire roaring and classical music playing on our AIWA combination tape/radio/CD player.
So tranquil, until one night. As we pulled into our non-driveway, a grotesque creature moved extremely slowly across the snowy path in front of us. Its long, rat-like tail glowed an eerie pale pink in the headlights, and we stared at it in horror.
“What the hell?” I said.
“Probably a pregnant rat,” my scientist husband said.
“It’s two feet long,” I said, transfixed, watching the last of the tail disappear into the woods. For a moment, I thought that life as we knew it was over. We were tired and hungry, yet too cautious to leave the car until we were certain it was gone, at least for the night.
“It could be rabid,” Bob said.
Oh no, not that. I’ve always been afraid of rabid animals, not that I’ve seen any, except in the movies. But I’ve read how they drool and leap onto their victims and bite them, and how if untreated, those bites lead to agonizing death. So we sat in the car for a while longer, the engine running and the high beams on, as the smell of our roast chicken permeated the car.
“I don’t think it’s coming back,” Bob said. “I’ll run ahead. You stay in the car until I signal that the coast is clear.” I thought he was wonderfully brave as he ran down the snow covered flagstone path to the sliding glass front door, carrying the shopping bags. He fumbled with the key while I sat in the car and watched the woods for the creature to re-emerge. It didn’t, and soon Bob waved me forward. I quickly turned off the engine and the lights, and with my heart pounding, raced to the house.
“We made it,” I gasped, hugging Bob tightly to me, as though we had just escaped Freddie Krueger on Elm Street. We turned up the heat, took off our coats and sat at our computer to do some research.
“It’s an opossum,” Bob said, after a few minutes. He sounded disappointed.
“Really? How could people eat such an ugly animal?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bob said.
“I’m not,” I said. “They make possum stew from road kill. In the South.”
“You’re making that up.”
So, before we put our supper together we looked up some ‘possum recipes. There were tons of them, mostly served with yams.
“See?” I said.
I never saw another opossum since that night, but I know they’re not far. They hang out in Prospect Park, along with raccoons. That’s why I never go there. They’re also in Green-Wood Cemetery. Bob and I have a pre-paid niche for our future, ash-filled urns, but I’m not worried, as ashes can’t get rabies.
We bought the niche because we tend to think ahead. I even have my inscription ready. Thanks for stopping by. Ours is in a large wall of niches inside a white building, directly below that of Richard Yates, author of “Revolutionary Road.” We should be eternally safe from wildlife, though one never can be absolutely sure. I read somewhere that several years ago, a raccoon entered an apartment in Park Slope and squeezed into a cutlery drawer. I’m not sure I could survive an encounter with an armed and rabid raccoon.
That’s why I love our studio in the Far West Village. No long drive stuck in traffic. Just a lovely walk past the worn cobblestone streets of the Meat Packing district, nary an opossum in sight.
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