Natural Selection



226 W 238th St # A, Bronx, NY

Neighborhood: The Catskills

It’s dawn and I’m fighting with a bobcat. For a raccoon, I’m doing pretty well.

The sun is burning through the misty clouds, slowly warming up the forest – the forest, my home, that I love so well. Small birds sing loudly from the branches of trees, their lungs filled with sweet yearning. Crows, who kind of piss me off, watch the forest like it’s their own. Insects – buzz, buzz, buzz, it can get to me – buzz around. Acorns, catkins, flowers, cones – all good food. The soil is moist and acid. A chipmunk, that nervous beast, flits about in the ground cover. A forlorn snake is hoping to eat the chipmunk, and he watches from between the grasses, his silky eyes alert. Energy and resources are moved around and consumed in this community; traded, exchanged, purchased, exhausted, and recycled. In this village, individuals, all my neighbors and acquaintances, are heedful and vigilant, because relationships require diplomacy.

And I wonder, what the hell is going on here? I am lightheaded, weary, dizzy, whereas I am usually sharp. The bobcat, on the other hand, pushes his body low to the ground, raises his rump in the air, ready to continue fighting. He is not unscathed, however. His fur is mangled and scratched, soil, bark, leaves, petals mixed between his spots and tawny hair. Blood is painted on his face, my blood. I have not fought without vigor and pride. But don’t you think that there is enough blood spilled? Life, on the whole, should be peaceful, productive; animals should have a broad margin in their residence on earth. I love the sun too much. I love the early night with the young moon streaked across the lake. I love the taste of snail, and frog. I love a good female. But the stupid cat is coiled, ready to spring, like his life depends upon killing me. What a schmuck!

An hour ago, the sky had been dark, tiny dots of moonlight like the spots on a wood thrush. I was face to face with my woman. The bats had gone home, thank god; and I was randy. I was faced again with the need to spill my seed. There she was, one of my many pretty chubby fine-scented females. We had just screwed, but I suddenly wanted to do it again, for good measure, and clearly so did she. A few snout rubs – a little pungent intimacy buoys the mating – and that was enough. She rocked on her haunches, and in I went, her ribs spilling from side to side. I jimmied and jammied, my whole body crystallized into a swinging horse (I love mixed metaphors, being a raccoon) of pleasure and power. I am feeling the charge, the need, the purpose. She is smelling so ripe and feral. This is life, right? And it’s made for reproduction, right? The more offspring you leave the better your chance of conquering the world! Right? Yes, that’s what it’s all about: Triumph! The triumph of the sperm. (Oh, sweet everyday. Don’t leave me yet, don’t let the bobcat take it from me!) Then, wham, seconds later, I reached the turning point, and she ground her teeth and let out a convicted snort. I felt like I had purged my soul, of everything. Then my soul was tired of her.

So I go out into the night to forage. Perhaps some berries, snails, worms (they are low-grade meals, but cheap, real cheap). Maybe even a frog. A hearty meal for a hearty guy. I feel good. Light. Empty. Unburdened. Carefree. I know the bobcat is around. He’s a touchy dimwitted guy. Macho through and through, everything an insult, always wanting to fight, paranoid as fuck. So I keep my sniffer alert for his smell. I try and keep my distance. I don’t need the trouble. Once, we ran up face to face, both eyeing a moist and delicious frog. Usually, I would back off, let him have his way. You know, in this violent world a little humility and retreat go a long way. But I saw that frog first, and I had been thinking frog all night. Frog was in lodged in my taste buds, and I wanted that old juicy green thing. And then, there’s Mr. Bobcat, all smart-looking and orange, his eyes shining, ears pointed and ridiculous. Well, fuck him, not tonight, I said; tonight, he must bow to me. So we both go for the frog, and of course, in our competition, the frog gets away, and the stupid cat blames it on me, and cuffs me in the head. Just like that. I was going to cuff him back, but I said to myself, not now, not yet. So I withdrew back into the woods, feeling, I must confess, belittled and small.

See, I am at the peak of my life. I have several kids and several females. I live in a luxurious leaf-filled den high up in a sugar maple tree. I am healthy, strong, weigh a good twenty-five pounds. I am fit, keen, all-in-all a robust individual. I know what is good. Eating, mating, soaking in the lazy sun from atop a sycamore tree, the sweet taste of aster and cone flower, the wind rushing through the bluestem and goldenrod, a transparent and buoyant mind, a feeling of belonging. The bobcat must know this. How can’t he? It is painfully obvious. He had just fathered kittens (I watch him, always.) He is young, reckless, careless, so much to live for. He too weighs about twenty-five pounds, and lives in a fine enviable home in a crevice between some rocks. So why? Why the ignorance?

I’m happy as a clam (mixed raccoon metaphors, I never pass them up). I just released my gene material into a strong fleshy female. I’ve got the taste of frog in my mouth, a little saliva at my lips. I am strolling, moving about my sweet forest home, headed for the lake, when I get a strong whiff of the cat.

Now, we are, of course, neighbors in this community. We share the resources, walk the same trails, use the same watering holes, hunt the same terrain, frequent the same trees; hope for good weather and healthy vegetation, know the landscape with equal intimacy. It is, dare I say the obvious, our home! We both keep our distance from that strange bipedal animal that loves to build and build and build (making the beaver look minor-league), making a racket, so much noise. They are a flustered group. Clearly, this species is crazy. I’ve seen it before, in fact. Impatient fuck-all behavior; ass-kicking and ass-whopping. But it don’t last long. It just doesn’t. Something unexpected comes along. And then the party is over. At any rate, these animals like to harass us, both me and the cat (we are connected here), and they do seem to have these incredible – I don’t know the word really – things, things that kill you real quick. Many of my cousins have died because of these things. Same with the cat (and again, we have some deep connection here. If only that idiot would recognize this). So, we both keep our distance from these mad individuals.

I smell the cat, but I’m more interested in the other things I’m smelling. Fish smells, fruits smells, worm smells, seed smells, flower smells, insect smells, shit smells, smells of my cousins, smells of those females (shit, can’t get them off my mind), frog smells. I’m an epicurean of sorts. A good eater, picky but also a generalist. I think, so much life has passed. My mother is dead. Never knew my father. I got several offspring. I have eaten thousands of meals, walked thousands of miles, slept thousands of hours, have lived among these animals for years, like them all, even though I don’t really need their company, have looked up into the stars, have felt the soft rain, have tasted peat moss and beetle, have fought my competitors well, have been smart, all-in-all. I have lived every moment as if it were all of eternity.

And then, suddenly, lost in my reverie, the moon a silky veil, the bobcat is standing above me. My great peace interrupted by fear. Weaknesses, enemies, they ruin it all. We just look at each other. This is it, I sense, the showdown. The stupid, macho, thoughtless, over-sensitive, tacky, show-off cat. We just stare. The sun begins to rise, a few faint streaks splintering the night sky. The space between night and day, so innocent and tender, is here. And I sense bad things.

I just wanted to go home. And the bobcat should want the same. I stepped forward, trying to move around him, but he snarled. Nothing to gain. Nothing to settle. But we fight anyway. Fear, fears, fears, nothing else but your fears. Then, soon, nothing is left. All the ripe sweet inside is blackened and tarred, corroded. Nothing stirs but the infinite draining intensity of your inner battle. It all closes down.

And yet, right here, in front of my eyes the sky was turning orange and blue. Those love-sick birds were singing, the flies buzzing, the bees hovering above flowers, crows landing heavily on branches, lady bugs mating, shrews toiling, the soil rumbling with activity, the trees so tall and elegant. What more do I have to say! Do I have to get corny? The flowers, baby, the pretty birds, serenity, the ocean, the universe. Get it Mr. Bobcat?

But the bobcat was obviously in no mood to back down. I moved again, carefully, trying to give off an air of submission; but he misinterpreted, as always, and hissed and then sprung, landing right next to me. And fuck those instincts. I went up on my hind legs and growled. Nature has filled us up with the impulsive. I have no beef here (another mixed metaphor, there are many). I didn’t need reflex here, I needed my logic. But no, nature is too strong, the blood filled with pre-Cambrian days, where thought was non-existent and your only hope strong genes, strong bones, and sharp instincts. Life is different now. We have discovered luxury and pleasure.

We stared at each other. I then lost my footing, slipped just slightly in the leaves, and this triggered the bobcat, who leaped and landed on my back. We tumbled down, over blueberry bushes, over exposed tree roots, picking up seeds, dirt and fallen flowers in our fur; we rolled down an incline, until we landed in the open space between the pignut hickory and the white oak.

So much was at stake, and all I wanted was to go home. But I also felt a bit berserk. Like, fuck this cat. And then he pounced upon me and sunk his teeth into my hindquarters. I howled. I howled so hard the planet swayed. Death was appearing from across the other side. My answer was a resounding no! I wasn’t done yet. I had much to see and feel. Much to observe. Much time to sit and rest. I pried himself loose and turned on the cat, draping myself over his body, my claws in his belly, my teeth on his neck. But the sucker is quick, I have to say that, his youth, his intemperance, his cat ancestry rising up, and he quickly turned me over. We became one, and I could feel his heart next to mine. Meshed together, we tossed around, grunting, beyond reason. Neither one of us, however, could get the upper hand; and we were exhausted (I know I was), and so we rested.

A gaggle of crows watch from high up in a white pine. These crows, they are smart birds, but they love misery, have this sadistic streak. Turkey vultures too. Bad omen when they fly around. The whole neighborhood, everybody, knew something was amiss. Peace had been suspended, and there was an imperceptible halt to things.

I feel the pain and throb of my cut. It hurts and I want to go home; but things have gone too far. The cat is now confident of its prowess and superiority. We stare at each other with aggression and confusion. The bobcat is coiled and ready to spring. He surges, and I lunge too. Our bodies entwine, and claws work the skin. I feel my hot blood pour down my side. I am ripped apart, split. I seize up, yell with pain, and release my grip on the cat.

What have I done to deserve this? Why? Fuck you all, particularly you, Mr. Bobcat. All this, and I mean everything. Every tiny little everything. All that sparkles and breathes. But death has made it over the mountain, down the slope, through the meadow, round the cold lake, past the frogs (no more frogs), through the hemlocks and hickories – to me. See, I still feel the pulse of life in my heart. Many females to screw and many frogs to eat. I have just understood the meaning of life. It was finally made clear to me. We are zero. I don’t meaning anything to anybody. The trees don’t care. The birds don’t care. The insects don’t care. The sky don’t care. Only I do. Only I imagine my life. And all that I carried before is removed, all the sticky weight of apprehension, anxiety, miscalculation, enterprise, and vanity lifted. I am free. Free, it seems, for one brief second. Don’t say I didn’t comprehend. And now this.

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