Opossum – Julie Stewart

I saw the body lying in the road. Two feet away, a small pink object, her baby. Another foot away, a smaller object, darker, smeared on the pavement. Her heart.

I found a stick and walked into the road and, using the stick like a surgical tool, lifted the torn flesh of her belly. Inside were two more babies, eyes sealed shut, still suckling.

I returned home for a snow shovel and returned to her body. I had to push hard to get the metal under her. She and the shovel were heavier than I imagined they would be. I held them steady, not wanting her to tip out. I set her down beside the creek; I returned for her thrown baby. I brought that small body over and lay it down beside her. Lastly, I retrieved her heart.

I had not planned to tell my daughter about the dead opossum and her babies. I blurted it out on our drive home from school.

“You can rescue them,” she said.

I didn’t respond.

“Can we rescue them, Mamma?”

She is sixteen, but when she wants something, she still calls me mamma.

She said, “There are people who raise orphaned babies.”

“Rachel,” I said, “that was six hours ago.”

She said, “Babies don’t know to let go even if their mother is dead.”

I showed her the place where I had laid the body, surrounded by Queen Anne’s Lace. Rachel used the same stick I had to push the mother’s leg aside, and there they were, kneading and nosing at her belly.

At home Rachel searched for wildlife rescuers. She left messages. Wearing my garden gloves and a navy blue bandana around her face, outlaw style, she left the house and returned with one small baby, wrenched from the teat and wrapped in an old towel. She lay in a shoebox under a light we’d used to warm baby chicks. An hour later, the rescuer called back to say that without fur, the baby was unlikely to survive.

Rachel checked on the baby every half hour until it was nearly dark outside. I found her huddled under a blanket on her favorite chair in the living room. No lamps had been switched on.

“Is it still alive?” I asked, sitting down beside her.

“Barely.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Will you walk down there with me? I want it to die beside its mother.” She was crying.

“Of course,” I said.

Rachel retrieved the baby, holding it in cupped hands held to her chest.

We walked the half block to the place with the Queen Anne’s Lace. Rachel lowered her hands. The baby’s tail was curled around her pinky. She knelt and unfurling its tail, let the baby slide into the grass beside its gutted mother. It squirmed over the ground toward her. Rachel broke a branch off of a redbud sapling and laid it over them. We walked home, talking, though I don’t remember what was said.

Julie StewartJulie Ann Stewart earned her MFA from Spalding University in 2010. She has had pieces published in PoemMemoirStory, Tishman Review, and Punch Drunk Press. She lives in Indianapolis.