Todd Wells

A Shakespearean Tragedy on a Paraguayan Ranch

 

An embarrassed look wrinkled Peter's face. "You might hear noise coming from the roof at night. Some possums have tried to nest there recently." But he emphasized, "They are entirely harmless and they will want to avoid you."

 

I laughed. "It's fine. We didn't come here to avoid animals." I had just arrived at a ranch near Concepcion, Paraguay with my three young children. While possums hadn't been on the radar, I had prepped the kids for the trip with books and videos about tapirs and river otters and funnel-web tarantulas. We were primed for fauna.

 

We unpacked in our cabin, a wood structure with a sleeping area on the main floor for me and a small loft for the kids. There was also a screened-in patio in front. By tropical standards it was comfortable, and we quickly acclimated to the lizards and frogs sharing the space with us.

 

But Peter's prediction proved accurate. Our second night in the cabin we were in the patio when my oldest daughter yelped, "Possum!" I followed the trajectory of her index finger into the rafter, where a cute, black-and-white striped possum was watching us. With pointy ears and dark fur around the eyes, it was a Keebler elf gone goth. It also looked uncomfortably shy; like the math team ace forced to attend the school dance. We oohed and ahhed and went to bed. Peter was right that the possum wanted to avoid us, as we didn't see it again.

 

The possums do cause trouble for Peter. They chew their way into the small attics in the cabins and scurry about, making both holes and noise. Occasionally, he told me, he has to trap them.

 

"Don't they just come back?" I asked.

 

Peter smiled, again a little embarrassed. He nodded towards the big, glass aquarium. "The python really likes them, so, no, they don't come back." I was learning fast that sentimentality on a farm has a half-life of about two seconds. In our short time there we had watched a vine snake eat a bat, a pig make the journey from last oink to pork chops, and a trespassing duck get shot-gunned. As for the python, while we hadn't seen it gobble anything yet, one morning my kids pointed out the big lump in its middle, which we learned later was an ex-rabbit. Even I once played the role of grim reaper, inadvertently flushing down the toilet a frog who was hiding under the rim.

 

Despite the specter of death everywhere, I took a live-and-let-live approach to the possums, after all, they weren't bothering us and they were cute. For ten days I hardly noticed them. There was the occasional light scratching in the middle of the night, and once I saw a tail disappear into the slats above the shower when I turned on the bathroom light. Otherwise I barely knew they were there. So I kept quiet.

 

But then the possums turned it up a notch. On night eleven they started with the familiar scratching, but soon turned to thumping, and then banging. I couldn't tell if they were fighting, or building an addition to the cabin.

 

The noise kept me up, and even the kids, who can sleep through my loudest and most violent entreaties to wake up and get ready for school, complained about the racket. I had a decision to make. I felt that the possums and I had an unspoken agreement where they don't bother us and I don't snitch, turning them into snake lunch. But they were pushing it with the previous night's fracas.

 

I decided to casually mention to Peter that I had heard the possums, but not to go so far as to complain. Peter asked if they were just scratching, or if they were making that other sound. Other sound? Like a tiger growling, sort of, Peter elaborated.

 

I told him that no, there were no tigers. Peter said that was good, because the tiger sound means they're mating. I wasn't sure why mating possums would be worse than the non-mating variety, but I didn't ask.

 

That night at ten o'clock the carpentry started up again. It wasn't as loud as the night before, so I thought maybe they were just doing some punch list stuff and would soon be done. Nope. Five minutes later the growling started, and while I don't want to quibble, I would say the sounds were closer to the moaning of an angry zombie than anything that might come out of a tiger.

 

The next morning, with a heavy heart, and yawning from being kept awake listening to two hours of possum sex, I told Peter. He thought it was funny, but was soon extracting a pair of possums from the attic with a catchpole. A couple blows to the head with a big stick later, the python's breakfast was ready.

 

I felt bad, ruining it for the young lovers, but with the Romeo and Juliet theme too obvious to miss, I thought, maybe it's not so sad after all: I get to sleep, the python gets to eat, and the possums' love has now been made eternal - everyone wins.

 

 

 

Todd Wells lives in Chicago. He has three children and one wife. He dabbles in time-travel, in that he plays bass in a 1980s cover band. Previous scribblings have appeared on the pages of Theme of Absence, Asymmetry, Every Day Fiction, and Mysterical-E. More? Yes, of course. Go here: traveldiaryofamadman.com