A dead squirrel, unmarked by obvious injury, lies in the street. I pull up to the curb. A turkey vulture, shy and dark, looks up at me. It had been gauging the edibility of the squirrel. It preferred to dine unobserved. I gave it a moment or two to collect itself.
It retreated to my neighbor’s roof.
The vet had asked me to call in 45 minutes. It had taken me 40 minutes to drive home. The rabbit stopped eating again this morning. He was shivering and pallid, and bore an expression that unnerved me — as though he was contemplating a nearby entrance to a warren in the Elysian Fields. “And then I saw this long, dark tunnel, and a soothing rabbity voice saying ‘come away from the light, little one!’”
I took him and his thousand-yard stare to the hospital, dropped him off so the vets could puzzle over him.
The vulture was unsettled. My exiting the truck prompted a skittering across the roof. I ran inside, grabbed the camera and the long lens. I managed just three shots, then the bird got skittish and flew to the eucalyptus down the street.
They are such shy beasts, for all their morbid associations, their cadaverous affect. People call them scavengers with lip curled in disdain, disgust. A truly noble carnivore kills its meals, they imply, and then having dismissed the vulture they wander off to the supermarket, to bring home slabs of flesh that have been dead for weeks.
I find them appealing, skilled practitioners of an estimable trade. They bear the proud lines of their cousins the condors, the teratorns, though on a much smaller scale: the ponies of the buzzard world.
The squirrel fell from the overhead wires, I decide. Only twenty feet up, but the pavement is hard. I wonder if it was one I’ve been feeding. I cannot tell the locals apart by sight. I look up at a passing shadow. The vulture makes lazy arcs on a thermal, gaining altitude without apparent effort.
Springs come up in the middle of our street, buckled pavement and puddles where the rest of the asphalt is dry. They streams flow beneath the surface, carve out channels in our soft bedrock. A month ago one of them undercut the water main at the corner, and when the pipe burst the pavement rose eight inches from the pressure.
That soft bedrock is laced with limestone, and the plants in the garden are rich in calcium. That’s the theory. The rabbit has been slowly filling his bladder with stucco. It showed on the x-ray as though he had swallowed a river rock. Subcutaneous lactated Ringers, one tenth liter a day for the next few days, may well flush out that rabbit limestone. It will at the very least give him all the more reason to hate us. It is another variable in the decision looming as to his eventual home. I had wondered if parting from the garden might sadden him more than parting from me. Turns out that may be beside the point. He sloshes in his cage, isotonic solution in a reservoir beneath his skin, and he is eating again.