Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • Long past midnight, I am awakened by tiny, pained squeaks.

    Our new baby squirrel has been taking formula by oral syringe for the two weeks since we found him. It’s time to start him on solid food, chopped apple. I buy organic. I peel them. He eats.

    But now, squeaks.

    Inside the box, he lies hunched on his side, his head curled under.

    I run my finger along his rib cage. Instead of darting away, he quivers and stares up at me with one eye. His whiskers twitch.

    A few minutes later, Joyce begins to stir.

    She mutters, “What’s wrong?”

    I say, “It’s Bug. I think he’s sick.”

    She says, “Are you crying?”

    There might have been a sniffle.

    I am not prepared for the question.

    *
    Flashback to June 2010, a job interview with a major corporation – you’d recognize the name. The Boss Man was decades younger than I, with a fabulous haircut, all bright teeth and narrow eyes and ruthlessness.

    He was closing in.

    He asked, “And what’s your current salary?”

    I was prepared for the question.

    I said, “Oh, I never disclose that. I mean, let’s face it, there’s only one reason an employer would ask, and we both know what the reason is. So I don’t disclose my salary to anybody without a subpoena. If it’s a requirement to apply here, well, good luck with your search.”

    I had waited decades to be on the saying end of that phrase, rather than the listening end. I already had job in journalism. This company had approached me. Why would I give away my salary info? Why volunteer to be low-balled, again?

    *

    Bug is a literary squirrel.

    In Decatur, Georgia, one night about 7:30 in the middle of last month, my friend Nick and his girlfriend Hilary, an artist, are walking from their car to Kavarna Coffee House. We’re on our way to the True Story Reading Series. Joyce and I catch up with Nick and Hilary just as they begin inspecting the wee creature that has fallen into the street.

    He is bleeding from his nose and mouth. Nick and I spot the nest, about 15 feet above. We wrap the squirrel in an old tee shirt from Nick’s car.

    *

    Back to 2010. The corporation came after me harder. The Boss directed me to a website. He said, “Just fill out the application. We’ll go from there.”

    A box labeled CURRENT SALARY had a red star beside it.

    Required.

    I typed a string of nines.

    A woman in something called Talent Management questioned me about the nines. I said, “It was the only way to get to the next step. Really, I never disclose my current salary. If this is necessary” – and so on.

    She said they would contact me for a follow-up interview.

    *

    The True Story reading in Decatur is over. Inside Nick’s old tee shirt, the squirrel has stopped bleeding. We call a wildlife specialist for advice, whose outgoing message on the voice mail sounds rude, irritated. She must deal with idiots all the time. She probably hates people, just on principle.

    Joyce and I take the squirrel home. We Google.

    The pharmacy at Publix provides me with a handful of 1-cc. oral syringes. I squirt Pedialyte into Bug’s to hydrate him, then mix Esbilac puppy milk powder from PetSmart with regular water. Bug sucks it down.

    We are squirrel parents.

    *

    2010. The Big Boss, after months of negotiations, called me on the phone and said, “OK. What’s it going to take for you to come to work for us?”

    I thought for a moment, and blurted a number. A big number.

    He immediately said, “When can you start?”

    A question I wasn’t prepared for.

    And so I ended up making more money than I’ve ever made before in my life, six figures, with vacation and benefits, at an ever-changing job I pretty much detested. After the first year of switchbacks, their cryptic demands, and my anxious futility, I got a raise. At the end of the second year, the company restructured and let go a third of its staff. Including me.

    By the night we found Bug in the street, I had been without a job for eight weeks. All I could think about was how I’d feel when I was homeless. It’s what I’m thinking about right now.

    *

    Bug’s appetite grows, until he’s gulping 6 cc.'s of Esbilac three or four times per day. He needs to start solid food. I try him on bits of apple – organic, peeled – and wake, long past midnight, to the squeaks.

    I lift him out of the box and hold him, willing him to be well.

    Joyce sits up in bed and says, “Two creatures, both fallen from a great height.” I wish she would let me do the metaphors.

    Next morning, I peer under the box lid and call his name. Again. Again.

    His nose pokes out of the rumpled towel. Then his body. Then he’s frisking around, all hungry.

    It must have been gas.

    Bug thrives. The day’s routine, after a half dozen syringes of Esbilac, includes black walnut pieces, followed by – in order of preference – fresh peach, apple, grape and strawberry.

    People look at the Unemployed Me two ways: pityingly, of course, and, when I show them my scratch-covered arms, disgustedly. Many object to squirrels just on principle.

    But certain ones, when I tell the story of Bug, give off a more subtle quality. It’s a need or desire. Something they want … a form of relief, it might be … something they believe I have.

    They never say what they think. They may not even realize what I’ve seen pass across their faces like a shadow.
    Nor do I say what I’m thinking about, apart from the homelessness. It’s the phrase I’m used to hearing about three times a week now, in one context or another. Good luck. Good luck with your search.
    • Share

    Connected stories:

About

Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.