Sunday, October 18, 2009

Levi in Possum Alley

The first omen that I should leave Chicago literally dropped from the sky on New Years Day, 2005. It had snowed heavily the night before, and I was hung over, but nevertheless my ward, and best friend, Levi, a seventy-pound, golden-haired, shepherd hybrid, wanted to rise early to greet the New Year with a brisk walk. Always a little gentleman, Levi is characterized by a marked persistence, so by 7:30 AM on that first day of the year, I was in my boots and coat, and Levi and I were trudging through the snow packed streets of Rogers Park. The neighborhood was uncharacteristically peaceful, its denizens sleeping off the final celebration of 2004, and the thick, white, blanket which nature had lain the night before muffled even the ambient sounds.

Completing our walk, Levi and I turned and walked east down the alley leading to my building. Levi, who had heretofore lived his entire life in the wilds of the American Southwest, was delighting in the sensations afforded him by the thick, virgin, snow, which was as yet unsullied by the inevitable grime the city would soon cause to settle on its otherworldly whiteness. He bounded, porpoise-like, with each step. He opened his mouth and played bulldozer, joyously scooping in great mouthfuls of this strange new form of fluffy water. My head throbbed from the previous night's exertions, yet I couldn't help but smile indulgently at my boy, wishing that I were able to match his enthusiasm, and get down on my hands and knees to innocently taste and feel that which nature had so amply provided us.

My reverie was interrupted by something I initially saw only fleetingly, in my periphery. The accompanying sound was more distinct, a dull thud, as if perhaps someone had thrown a Hefty bag full of meat off their third floor balcony.

I looked in front of me and took several seconds to process what I saw. It was a large possum, lying on its side, glaring malevolently at us with its gleaming, beady, eyes, breathing heavily through its toothy mouth. Levi, whom I would have expected to go into catch-and-kill mode, stopped and merely stared curiously at the strange creature, which had dropped from the sky in front of us.

There aren't many things uglier than a possum, under any circumstances. I think there may be nothing uglier than a possum in the crystal light of a winter morning, on a bed of virgin snow in an empty city alley. It looked like the possum weighed about forty pounds and was probably two and a half feet long, inclusive of its naked, scaly, tail. The possum righted itself painfully, making heaving, hissing, sounds as it moved. Levi and I were about five feet away, standing stone still, looking at the thing. It started towards us, moving about six inches, and then, nonchalantly, turned and waddled away, retreating into the stairwell of the closest building.

I looked upward, trying to determine from whence the possum came. There was a garage roof nearby, but the snow on it was undisturbed. There were some trees as well, but none of them had branches protruding out far enough to have served as a launching point for the possum's descent. In the end it was a mystery. It was a sign from the universe, 2005 beginning with possums dropping from the clear blue sky. I consulted my friends, but none of them could tell me what this incident meant. Whatever its portent, it seems that when a year begins with a near miss from a plummeting marsupial, attention must be paid.

2005 continued for several months with no clear signs from above. Whenever Levi and I walked by the spot of the sighting, a place I came to refer to as "Possum Alley," my pulse and pace quickened. I never saw the possum again. Then, in late May, at about 2:00 in the morning, we passed the spot, and Levi suddenly lunged to the left, lengthening his retractable leash, and diving between two dumpsters. I assumed he was going after some chicken bones or other quasi-edible treat. I pulled him back sharply, and in the alley's dim light saw that he had caught something, an animal, and was holding it by its mid-section. I thought initially it might have been the possum, but it was too small for that. For a brief second I feared he had snared a cat, but, after dropping the creature, I saw, to my horror, that Levi had grabbed hold of an enormous, City of Chicago, rat.

The rat was stunned by its narrow escape from the jaws of death, and, like its predecessor, the possum, it stopped to look at me, lurched forward a few steps, and then turned and limped, slowly, into the same stairwell to which the possum had retreated. An urban gentleman, out enjoying his nightly crack cocaine and malt liquor in Possum Alley, appeared from the darkness, shaking his head. "Dat dog fast," he said, admiringly. "Yes, yes he is," I replied, shaken, as Levi and I returned to our studio apartment.

As humans, and particularly as writers, we struggle to impose meaning on the events of our lives. I don't know exactly what the two encounters I had in Possum Alley might mean. Perhaps the events were random, meaningless. After months of consideration, I've come to believe that the falling possum was totemistic, a visit from my spirit animal. As for the giant rat, well, that was just a horror. These two incidents, along with a number of other factors, conspired to make me decide to leave Chicago and return to the American Southwest, from whence we came.

© 2009, All Rights Reserved, Rich Sands
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Anonymous said...


I like the Levi Story. Chicago and surrounding areas do have some ineresting alleys.

tashabud said...

Hi Rich,
Don't they have those kinds of animals in the Southwest as well?

I enjoyed reading this story. I've made a point to read at least one post per visit at your blog site, starting from your very first post. Reading your posts is like watching soap opera. I loved everything that I've read so far.


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