A long time ago, I had some baby possums. Their mother had been killed by a car while crossing the road with her children on her back. A teacher who found them gave the survivors to me. (At the time there were no wildlife rescue centers in the area.) Fortunately, they were more or less weaned. I carried them around in my shirt pockets.
They were lovely then. They had soft silver fur with black rings around their eyes. They had little white-furred hands, and if you gave them a slice of apple they would sit on their haunches, hold it in their hands, and eat it the way people in cartoons eat slices of watermelon. They had prehensile tails, with a little soft white fur on them, and if you forced them to, they would hang from your finger by their tails. They loved to clamber about on your body, checking out your pockets.
Although they trusted me, they showed no signs of loving me or anyone. As they got bigger, their beautiful silver fur grew coarse, which is why you so seldom see possum-fur coats. Their tails coarsened, too, scaly and ratlike. Their 50 teeth became more worrisome to see, although they never bit a person.
While under one of my relatives' care, one of them, Stong, escaped. He trashed a neighbor's cat which foolishly attacked him, and went on his merry way. The other one, Buckley, went to college with me. He learned but little.
Male possums can raise and lower their (large) testicles at will, and it was amusing to watch Buckley waddling over rough terrain, raising his testicles over obstacles. He had a full suite of instincts and was astoundingly good at locating ancient rotten fruit, baby robins in the shrubbery, and other toothsome snacks. He would hiss when I took these things away from him, but not bite. Despite these skills, he feared the forest and would climb my leg in a panic if he thought I was leaving him. If I tried to stroke him, he would flatten his back to avoid my touch. (Thus if you tried to stroke him while he was crossing a testicle-snagging obstacle, he would become quite flat.) He didn't like to be scratched either. He didn't care for dogs and cats. He enjoyed eating, sleeping, and sniffing things.
In addition to Buckley, I took my dog and cat to college (I lived off-campus). Then there was the chicken, whose name I have forgotten, let us say Dave.
My friend Laurel was taking embryology. In the lab there was an incubator full of fertilized chicken eggs developing into chickens, commercial Leghorn crosses. Periodically the class would dissect a few to see how the embryos developed. Some never got dissected and hatched into dear little fuzzy chicks. The professor jovially offered to put them down, but several students said no! they would adopt the fluffballs. Laurel, who lived in a triple, took one. Soon it was time to go home for the summer. Dave was no longer fuzzy – he was starting to get unattractive pinfeathers. Laurel was doubtful that border officials would let her take Dave to her family home in Mexico City, and certain that they would not allow him back across the border.
So since I had a dog and a cat and a possum and lived in the US and was driving home, would I take Dave? Okay. Laurel delivered him to me, with his box, and his chicken feed, and his water dish.
I took him home and all was well. Not that my father was pleased with this addition. At night, I covered Dave's box with a larger inverted box, so he would sleep in darkness serene.
One morning I got up and began to tend the livestock. The dog and cat went out. I let Buckley out to trundle around the room sniffing things. Waddle, sniff, peer, sniff, waddle. I lifted up the top box so Dave would know the sun had risen. But unbeknownst to me, Dave had leapt out of his box and was in the space between the outside of his box and the covering box. When I lifted the covering box Dave dashed brainlessly across the floor and Buckley whirled at the speed of light CLOMP and sank his teeth into Dave's neck, killing him instantly. He hissed when I took Dave away from him.
I felt awful. I let my possum kill Laurel's beloved Dave! (At least I didn't let him eat Dave.) How would I tell her? I didn't have her number in Mexico, so I put it off.
In the fall I was dreading having to tell Laurel. I didn't go looking for her. Finally I saw her coming toward me in the quad. I had to face her. She was bubbling with information about her summer, her new dorm, classes. I listened and said little, racked with misery. Finally I said, "You know your chicken you gave me to -- "
"Do you still have him?"
"No, I'm really really sorry -- "
"Oh thank God! I was dreading having to tell my roommate I had a chicken!"
I did tell her what happened, but she didn't really care, for the love of Dave had receded in his absence. Well damn. I could have let Buckley eat his catch.