As Lola was driving back from the beach she noticed a farmer’s truck parked in the weeds alongside the road, a sign with drippy red lettering leaning against the fender. It said:
Make your own fur coat!
Breeding normally required two animals, of course, but the female she bought was pregnant, so she was already saving half the cost. The farmer boxed up the chinchilla and put it on her back seat. How it got out she didn’t know, but she hadn’t driven very far when she noticed it between her feet, peering up at her with its beady black eyes. She screamed, it screamed, and the car veered off the road and ran into a ditch. Fortunately, the ditch was shallow, and with some spinning of tires she managed to free herself. When she got home, one side of her car was splattered with mud, the frightened chinchilla nowhere to be found. She searched everywhere, under the seats, in the glove box, no chinchilla. The next day she told this story as she was typing up a requisition, and Bethany Ann who was filing her fingernails at the next desk said her boyfriend Jimmy had a snake get loose in his truck. And not just some old garden snake. A yellow ring neck.
“Is that poisonous?”
“Poisonous! It’s only the most poisonous snake in the world. Worse than a cobra. Jimmy had to wear his steel-toe boots every day, cause if it bit him they’d have to saw off his leg.”
“Why saw it off?” said Billy Ray, who did all the filing and had a crush on Bethany Ann. “They could just put a tourniquet around his neck.”
Bethany Ann narrowed her eyes. “You should’ve been a doctor, Billy Ray, smart boy like you.”
Billy Ray grinned and winked.
“Did he ever find it?” Lola asked.
“Yeah, eventually. Coiled up in the glove box. Imagine finding a yellow ring neck coiled up in your glove compartment. I’d’ve died.”
Lola stopped typing and looked over at her. “I already checked the glove box. Wasn’t in there.”
“You’re lucky you didn’t get bit.”
“For God’s sake, it’s just a chinchilla.”
“Let me clue you in, sugar. Chinchillas ain’t nothing but rats, and rats are even worse than snakes. They’ll squeeze in anywhere and eat anything. You remember how a wharf rat ate that baby’s lips in New Jersey? Ate ‘em plum off.”
“I never heard that—”
“And wasn’t much left of his nose and ears. Just those little nubs.”
“Good grief, Bethany Ann.”
“Hey, I’m just saying. Read the Enquirer if you wanna get educated.”
Lola found this conversation troubling, and for the rest of the day was plagued with images of a rat-like chinchilla yanking foam from her seats, or worse, chomping on bundles of wires with its rat teeth, destroying vital automotive organs. That evening she used the mirror of her compact to inspect the undercarriage. What she saw there was as mysterious to her as the wrong side of the moon, but she found no trace of chinchilla except for a few hairs lodged in the tail pipe. She plucked them and rolled them in her fingers. Dark brown and gray—could these be chinchilla hairs? Could an animal have squeezed in there? Could it even live in there? She knelt and squinted into the black depths of the pipe. The sudden thought of a snarling beast jumping out and biting her nose sent her sprawling on the asphalt where she tore the seat of her almost-new Catalina slacks and skinned her elbows.
Fuming now, she stomped inside her house, dabbed her wounds with a paper towel dipped in mustard, then placed a call to her sister in Alabama. Could a chinchilla live in your tailpipe, she wanted to know. Her sister referred the question to her husband, who hunted coons every weekend and therefore knew where small animals could or couldn’t live. Lola heard the muffled exchange, then her sister came back on and repeated the gist of what her husband had said, that no fucking way could anything live in your exhaust system, and furthermore, was she an idiot? Lola said thank you and next time she’d ask somebody else.
On Tuesday she found more hair in the tail pipe, and her car began to moan like the garbage truck that hauled away her trash. The chinchilla was destroying her car!
She drove to the Sell Quick on Fraser Street and bought a trap designed for catching mice inside walls. It had a pull-string so you could pull it out, and had a slim design so it would slip in a narrow hole. Still, it didn’t quite fit in the pipe, but she was able to pound it in with a brick. Later, she drove to an outlet mall on the interstate to buy a new pair of slacks. In the parking lot she checked again—no chinchilla, but the shiny white plastic of the trap had turned a velvety black and the pull-string was gone. She didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but she suspected the chinchilla had eaten it.
At the food court she bought a lunch of barbequed chicken fingers and Mountain Dew, and sat at one of the tables. It was nearly noon, noisy and crowded, and she’d barely taken her knife and fork from its plastic wrapper when a man with a tray asked if she minded. She saw there weren’t any open tables so she nodded—one of those grudging half-nods that told anyone with a lick of sense they could sit there, but no way were they sitting together.
“You work at the paper mill in Georgetown, don’t you,” he said after a while. “In the office?”
“What?” Lola said, glancing up. “Were you speaking to me?”
“I’m sorry. My name’s Henry.” He extended his hand across the table. “Henry Dutton.”
“I don’t believe I know you,” she said coldly, and turned back to her food.
He made no further effort at conversation, and Lola refused to look in his direction until he left. Mr. Dutton might have been nice enough, but one never knew. He might be the sort to cut her up and pickle her ovaries in a jar, what a drycleaner had done in New Orleans, according to Bethany Ann. Lola became so distracted by this encounter that she forgot about the chinchilla. Not until two days later, coming out of the Wal-Mart Supercenter did she remember to check. To her dismay the trap was gone, and now there was even more hair. When she turned onto her street in Georgetown, her car’s moaning turned brassy, like a pair of trombones. She twisted the radio all the way up, jerked the wheel and made a U-turn. She drove to the edge of town where she finally rolled into tall yellow grass in front of a white clapboard house with a wooden cross planted in the yard. When she cut the engine, silence roared in her ears.
Read the rest in Expecting Goodness
Edited by C. Michael Curtis