Fiction · 01/22/2020

Trebuchet

He says he wants to build a raccoon trebuchet, and I ask what exactly that would look like. I’m imagining bungee cords and repurposed bicycle wheels. A snapping sound.

It’s the perfect solution to your problem, he says, and I bet they have plenty of tasty garbage. He traces an arc in the air with his finger, over the dirt lot behind my house and toward the fence, that border between our older, dumpier neighborhood and the newer, nicer development called Wilton Heights, which remains — by my estimation — quite possibly the whitest name ever assigned to a subdivision.

I look at him, his expression one of secret pride, pupils blue and opaque. They resemble
neighboring tide pools, their contents refracted and bent by light, and I wonder what it would mean to really look into those waters: the calcium growths, the shells of mussels, shifting anemones. The potential of a shifted view. A kind of future. Lately, I’ve started wondering if they would only reflect back what I want to see and never what is actually there, which may or may not be desire.

Would it hurt the raccoon?

He laughs.

That night, I google “trebuchet” and look at pictures of ancient wooden catapults, things that Boy Scouts replicate with popsicle sticks to better understand engineering. Something manly. It reminds me of reading Homer in high school and feeling omniscient. An immortal narrator, a thousand years too old. Sing, muse, of the sad man at the computer! I was vegan for a cool two months last year, and I strike a bargain now with my inner animal ally: a raccoon launched per month of veganism. Two raccoons. I had a hall pass for catapulting two raccoons. I would only harm/humiliate two raccoons.

(And, if I’m being honest, the idea of firing vermin projectiles into those manicured backyards really does hold a deep, inexpressible appeal.)

Later, he comes over to watch one of our gay shows on Netflix, as he always does. This evening ritual had been going on for some months now, a stretch of hours that usually saw us sitting on opposite sides of the couch and gradually inching closer together, glaciers sliding over a continent of toxic masculinity towards this, whatever this was. A union of ice? Jeans pressed on jeans. I tell him that I’m in and visions of the other neighborhood — White Mountain, Stepford, Caucasian Station — fill up my mind, its cul-de-sacs spiraling into pandemonium as fuzzy destruction rains from above.

We just had to find the raccoons and, of course, build a trebuchet. What would it take?

I think I have a better option, he says.

I follow him outside and around to the back of his truck, finding his boxy trap there, all wires and clasps. Inside, the biggest, most uncouth raccoon I have ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on is rolled up in a furry ball. The domino mask around the creature’s eyes seems to float in the dark, outlined in white fur and anchored by two wet orbs. A bandit in the night. Was this the raccoon who had menaced the trash on our block these last few weeks? If anything, he looked bored by this, our seeming triumph, as if he already knew us. As if he had been watching me and knew the most dangerous thing I had done that year was illegally stream a season of Love Island.

Why don’t we skip the catapult, he says, and Trojan Horse it?

Wow, I say. You really know how to make a boy feel special.

He laughs.

Also this isn’t better, I joke. (But really, this raccoon warfare is serious business.)

We get in the truck and drive to the center of Bleached-Anus Heights. The middle of the neighborhood sports a forested green space, thick with tall pines that hide us from the glowing bay windows of surrounding houses. After the clasp is unleashed and the trap’s wire door flies open, the critter bolts from the truck bed and disappears in the darkness. He was afraid, surely, and that did give me a pang of guilt, but soon he would discover all the area had to offer: half-eaten organic bananas, Clif Bar wrappers, avocado remnants, shells from locally-laid eggs. Open concept floor-plans, glass tile backsplashes, hardwood floors. All that goodness. Did he have a family? He could always find them again, here on our side of the dirt lot.

On the way home, we stop by Dairy Queen next to the highway and get our own treats, laughing ourselves into a stupor.

What a night, he says. What a night.

I nod back to him, licking up soft serve.

So, I say between licks. What should we do now?

Cone finished, he wipes his fingers with a napkin.

I don’t know… What do you wanna do?

Driving back to my house with full bellies, we don’t talk much. He keeps his eyes on the road, and I roll down the passenger window. Imaginary bungee cords, a snapping sound. I stretch out my arm and feel the cool, suburban air course around my sticky fingers, saying nothing but wondering what it would be like to fly through the air like something shot, something dangerous and fur-covered. Like a mossy rock for slinging, or a dart in a dive bar. Like a person unbound from life’s accumulating damages. At a red light, our eyes meet again, only for a second. Like hunger, too, I think. Sing, muse, of hunger, oh hunger! — and damn, the heavy promise of its opposite.

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Jeremiah Moriarty’s writing has previously appeared in Hobart, Cosmonauts Avenue, Wigleaf, The Cortland Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Tammy, and elsewhere. His work has been a finalist for The Iowa Review Award and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and PEN / Robert J. Dau Prize. He lives in Minneapolis and tweets @miahmoriarty.