Our family is sitting at the breakfast table, a Saturday morning cartoon. Mom’s sizzling bacon, Robbie’s playing some video game, I’m reading Wonder for the third time, and dad’s staked out by the window with binoculars.
“There you are, you bastard.”
I’m the only one to look up, just in time to see Rocky, as my dad has unaffectionately named him, run like an Olympic gymnast, flip over the deterrent cone, and stick his landing. He proceeds to slide his tiny rodent hands into the feeder, stuff his cheeks full, and flee before my dad even hits the door. I have to be impressed with skills like that.
The escape doesn’t stop Dad, who’s running like Wile E Coyote chasing the RoadRunner, through the backyard brandishing a broom, telling Rocky if he comes back he’s going to be one dead squirrel. God, I hope the neighbors are away.
Bringing today’s episode to an end, Mom yells that breakfast is ready. As we swallow scrambled eggs and crunch toast, we’re blessed with Dad’s tirade about how people think squirrels are so cute, but they’re a menace, and he doesn’t work hard to pay for bird food just to have them eat it, and he feels sorry for the chickadees. As usual we’re ignoring him until he announces “the plan.”
“The plan” involves all of us working as a team. Dad is the self appointed director and we’re the players, even though we never tried out. We have to show Rocky who’s boss. This includes intimidation using prey, since he’s not afraid of humans. Mom is to be seamstress, Robbie and I the actors.
Mom complains, “I don’t have time to make coyote costumes, dear.”
“I’ll cook dinner this week,” Dad counters. “Operation Rocky happens next Saturday.”
Dad’s tone signals the conversation over. I honestly don’t know if Robbie registered any of it, him being eight and all. As for me, I hoped Mom would secretly rebel during a conversation in bed that night, like parents do on TV, or that Rocky would find an easier bird feeder to attack, and all would be right with the world again.
Evidently that conversation never happens and Rocky likes a challenge because it’s a week later, and Dad rustles me out of bed, throws a costume at me and says it’s time. For the love of God.
“Dad, it’s Saturday.” I roll back over.
“Exactly. Be downstairs in ten. This isn’t an option.”
I think the military is the perfect job for Dad as I slip on the brown, furry costume. It scratches my bare legs and smells like moth balls. I wish my parents were normal. Mom’s in the kitchen tying my brother into his costume when I slink in. He looks ridiculous. He turns and laughs.
“You look funny,” he says.
The plan is Robbie and I will hide behind a bush until we hear three knocks in the window, at which point we’ll jump out and chase Rocky, supposedly scaring the bejesus out of him, and he’ll never return.
As we’re heading out the door, Robbie says his allowance should be double this week. I say triple. I tell dad I can’t see a darn thing with the hood on, but he’s mission deaf. I pull it off, and he asks what I’m doing.
Dad puts Robbie and me into position behind the forsythia like we’re soldiers hunkering down in a bunker, and instructs us to be quiet and alert. Presumably Dad retreats to the window with his binoculars.
We wait. And wait. Robbie starts digging a hole with a stick looking for worms. I elbow him, whisper to cut it out. We wait some more. I have to go to the bathroom, have just about had it.
Knock. Knock. Knock. It’s showtime.
“Go, and don’t forget to howl.”
Robbie leaps from behind the bush, his howl sounding more like a bark, and makes for the feeder brandishing his stick like a sword-fighter. I let out a long howl, which I have to admit is almost fun, and run around in circles. I can’t see the enemy, but I’m assuming he’s there somewhere. Robbie isn’t howling anymore, so it’s oddly quiet in the backyard considering a battle is underway.
I stop my idiotic frenzy to peek out from under my hood, slip on the wet grass, step in a hole, lose my balance, fall, hear a crack, cry out in pain. And just like that, I’m a wounded soldier.
Robbie turns. Bumps into the pole holding the feeder. Birdseed flies like coins from a slot machine. Rocky’s on the ground stuffing his face. Cheeks full, he looks me straight in the eye. Pauses. Skitters off. The screen door slams. Mom and Dad rush to my side. Robbie is complaining his costume itches and starts disrobing. Rocky wins again.
At dinner that night, after spending hours at the ER, Dad announces Operation Rocky is officially over. I secretly rejoice, thinking life can go back to normal.
“Ah, man, I wanted to be a star.” Robbie says.
“What are you talking about?”
“Show her, Mom.”
Mom hands me her phone. There on Instagram, in all our coyote glory, my brother and I are forever immortalized. 568 likes already.
I want to die.
Minutes later, I look up from my stir fried rice and see Rocky dancing along the patio railing, two furry friends in tow. I kick Dad under the table with my good foot, nod my head in the direction of the window. Smile.
He looks outside then back to me. We know what each other is thinking. A spin-off, Operation Rocky and Friends, is officially in the works.