Raccoon problems are chucklesome. When garbage strewn across the driveway and the lawn reveal your raccoon problem, of course, you’re annoyed, but some low-down pit-deep part of you that also lives in garbage is impressed. You admire the raccoon and the ingenuity of its clever little human hands. It wanted the grease-slicked empty burger wrap, the rolled-up menstrual pads, the snotty discarded tissues, and by God, it fucking took what it wanted. No gods. No masters. Just five articulate fingers.
Still, you got yourself a raccoon problem, and you gotta take care of it. Living alone is weighty like that: all tasks tall and small are yours with no respite. The dishes don’t clatterclang their way back into the cupboard alone. The gutters back up and sprout tender stems of mystery until you have a free Saturday and a heart for climbing the ladder. The bed remains cold until you shiver the sheets humid.
That first night you put one of Great Aunt Witolda’s meatballs inside a humane trap, and you turn the lights out and get under your very fresh, very not-garbage covers and close your little eyes to wait for morning. You wake up too early and rush down to see what you’ve caught. A twilight nabber? A midnight swindler?
There is nothing in the trap but a withered meatball, unmolested.
On the second night, you try last week’s leftover chili. On the third, chicken wings divested of their bones. On the fourth, you cook a feast of spring rolls, tom yum goong, haw mok pla, nua yang, kai palo, sankaya. A mountain of jasmine rice. A sea of prik nam pla. You gorge yourself, and the only possible path to recovery is to stare at the wall for several hours. Late that night, you set the food out and speak aloud into the airless dark.
“I made this for you. Please.”
On the fifth day, you have an empty trap and an empty fridge. There is nothing left but a bowl of cherries.
The next morning the trap contains not a black-banded burglar but a gnome. The point of his hat is crushed by the metal mesh, and he rattles the bars breathless. He looks up at you with oil spill eyes, his beard like a thistle twisted and askew, stained red as if with blood and flesh. The hot high scent of cherries about him is sweet as sangria.
You don’t have a raccoon problem—you have a gnome solution.
You take him inside and strip him down, and put him in the bathtub. He struggles and shouts in some guttural language that sounds like rocks kicked between your ears, but you hold him tight and scrub him clean—two, three tubfuls, and his filth leaves a ring against the ceramic. You trim the bramble of his hair and his beard, and you throw away your scissors when the thicket like steel wool destroys them. His clothes are fit for a fire, and you upend your bedroom to find something suitable for him. You appropriate the clean red shirt of an ancient Pooh bear and his dingle dangles, but this is all you have.
“We’ll buy you some more tomorrow,” you tell him.
For now, it’s time for nocturnal gnomes to go to bed. You give him one cherry and lock all the doors and all the windows. You pull the curtains shut and pretend you’re deep in a burrow underground. You set him between your covers and crawl in after him. He makes the perfect armrest. He passes the cherry pit from his lips to yours.
Jasmine Sawers is a Kundiman fellow and graduate of Indiana University's MFA program whose work appears in such journals as Ploughshares, AAWW's The Margins, SmokeLong Quarterly, and more. Sawers serves as Associate Fiction Editor for Fairy Tale Review and debuts a collection of flash through Rose Metal Press in 2022. Originally from Buffalo, Sawers now lives and pets dogs outside St. Louis.
Art by Gabriela Knutson