The odor of skunk is very different up close than it is far away. A wee bit-o-skunk is sharp and somewhat lemony…stinky, definitely apprehendable, but not outrageously offensive. Full-skunk, however, clouding thickly outward from the furry hotness of a thoroughly swacked pet dog, is an altogether different experience. It holds back for an instant, then slashes across your senses, hitting much further back, more on the reptilian neurons, with a cutting edge that noses in like the sound “chank-chank” composted with hot lye. There’s no meat to this stench. Nothing rotted. It is knife-edge, bluish-green, maybe bluish-gray, and you cannot stay with it long before gakking.
* * * * *
It is a quiet, very hot, summer night in the San Fernando Valley. I am doing the brotherly thing, house-sitting for my sibling, who is abroad with his family. Suddenly there is a dog commotion in the back yard. I step out and am staggered by the eau de stinkola of a skunk on defense. Flashlight in hand, I venture cautiously into the wilder corners of my brother’s large back yard.
Sarah, his springer spaniel (who should be known by her Native American name, Yaps-at-Squirrels), has cornered a puny black-and-white up against the back fence and is barking furiously, nipping and leaping as stench-grenades fly. Numerous direct hits, yet the dog seems immune to the reeking onslaught. Little Mr. P.U., however, his ammo drying up, is becoming desperate. He feints right, darts left with teeth bared, and Sarah retreats a step. Seeing a chance, the striper jukes for a getaway, but Sarah performs a snap-and-grab. There is one last squirt as dog jaws clamp, followed by spectacularly rapid dogs-head side-to-siding. I hear an audible snackle of neck bones, and the benighted game is over.
Canines 1, Muskmongers 0.
Sarah then makes certain the war is over, pushing and prodding the cadaver for several minutes, making certain in this process to soak up whatever outrageous juices are still available. I, meanwhile, stand dumbly watching, fingers pinching nostrils, incapable of action in the face of chemical warfare.
At last satisfied with her victory, Sarah brings the trophy to me, dropping it at my feet. Better said, where my feet had been prior to my bolting for the house. Nonetheless, the bouquet wafts chafingly through my windows, accenting my hot stuffy room with a sharp acridity.
Eventually I return to triple-bag the dead beast, which, chambers empty, smells less bad than the proudly alive and full-of-it spaniel. I hook the bag carefully outside my car window and close the door, then drive two blocks away to an unattended trash can. The trophy will percolate through Thursday’s predicted swelter awaiting Friday morning’s trashman. I have taken account of prevailing winds.
When I return, the odiferous dog is barking piteously. With the glories of war faded from her walnut brain, she seeks an Odyssean return from battle to the bosomy comforts of hearth and family. She wants love. I barricade myself in the house.
My brother will return from two weeks abroad tomorrow. I will buy several gallons of tomato juice in anticipation. But that is all.
Am I my brother’s dog’s cleaner?