Our dog Spike has fallen in love with a possum. Her first love was the white cat from across the street that moved away recently. We didn’t tell Spike because we knew it would upset her. We just pretended the white cat wasn’t home every time we went out walking. Eventually, Spike moved on in life, until she met the giant brushtail that thinks it owns our house.
It happened like this. I left a rubbish bag of fruit on the front verandah. The possum came down and ripped the bag apart with his claws, intending to gorge himself. Spike screamed and scratched at the screen door in a manner we haven’t seen since the early white cat days. The possum looked up, hissed and ran off. Spike spent two hours panting like a marathon runner as she scratched and licked the floor where the possum had been.
I worry about Spike’s mental health. She’s a gentle, loving cavoodle who suffered puppyhood trauma (we don’t talk about). Sometimes she thinks she’s a human, other times a cat, now a possum. But the creature she most certainly isn’t, in her own mind, is a dog. It’s a word we’ve stopped using in the house as it only upsets her. Even the neighbours agree Spike is more like us than a canine. The psychologist neighbour has started a reparenting program, carrying Spike around during the day in a sling so that she develops a secure attachment, perhaps hoping it might make up for the early trauma. Maybe it will also help Spike move on from her new relationship, which isn’t doing her any good at all. Frankly, we were happier with the white cat, who at least had a pedigree.
The possum is a thug, no other word for it. When we moved in to our tiny Queenslander five years ago, we did all the green things. We set up a worm farm where we could compost. I left the lid ajar and in one night, the possum ate all the fruit and vegetable scraps, leaving only a few worms. We planted herbs. Hah! I came out in the morning to half-inch stalks where the herbs had been. I half expected to see the possum lounging in the easy chair belching basil. Men came and put expensive woollen insulation in the roof. The possum shredded it for his bed in the eaves, throwing bits down on to the verandah to mock us.
You might wonder why we haven’t got rid of the possum, using one of the approved methods. It’s because our family has always loved possums, although after my herbs disappeared for the third time, I did send away to New Zealand for possum wool gloves – my own little statement about what pests they are – much to the family’s horror. “How do they get the fur off the possum?” my son asked. “They wait for the possum to die,” I lied. The gloves are very warm.
The possum spends the day in the eaves, weeing down the walls at will, occasionally fighting with other possums who try to move in. They thunder after one another in the roof and it sends Spike into a frenzy. She becomes so excited I’m starting to wonder if she might need a little something from the vet to calm her. But when I mention this to my husband, he looks at me as if he thinks I might need a little something to calm me. At night, if Spike spots the possum, she goes insane.
Finally, I do suggest we get rid of the possum and I find a possum man who relocates them to a nice place in the bush for a fee. But you can’t tell a ten year old the possum man is coming. Or if you do, you’re very stupid. Because the ten year old says, and you should have predicted this, “But this is the possum’s home. We can’t send him away.”
And so the possum remains, a little pink hand hanging down from the gap in the eaves as he sleeps away the days on his fat stomach, his brush out behind him. I wave my gloves around threateningly. He rolls over and snores loudly. He’s not scared, and Spike screams with joy at the smell he gives off.