One early morning during the winter of 2016, a boy prepared to ride his bright blue bicycle down the black driveway of his home on Old Oak Lane in Aldie, Virginia. The driveway’s length was the open road to him. It was as far as he needed to go. His starting ramp was the incline that began at the threshold of the garage attached to his two story brick home. If he lost his balance as he rode down the curving driveway, the lawn that ran along either side of it was available to soften his fall. His goal that morning was to make it to the street without falling off of his bike.
The boy almost made it. The family’s overstuffed garbage and recycling cans sat on the curb waiting to be relieved of their contents. Until the boy rode beside them, they obscured a curious situation on the street in front of his house. A skunk was waddling around with a yogurt container stuck on its head. When the garbage and recycling cans were no longer obscuring the skunk from the boy, he saw it and crushed the brake levers. Not being used to sudden stops, he lost his balance. He and his bicycle fell sideways onto the asphalt. His right elbow struck the ground first sparing the rest of his body from harder impact. The pain traveled from his elbow up his arm, through his chest, up his neck, and exploded outward in the form of tears and a loud cry.
The boy rebounded off the ground and ran toward his front door. Then, he stopped and stood on his front lawn facing in the direction of the door. He remembered the skunk. At that moment, he was both pushed to his mother and pulled away. He wanted to go to his mother to find comfort. At the same time, he was held outside by the skunk. He thought that his mother might not let him back out if she found out about the skunk. Even if he said nothing to her, the skunk might be gone when he returned. He slowly turned around winning the fight against his need to be comforted. He tried to rub away the pain himself.
The boy walked to the curb and studied the skunk and its trouble. The skunk appeared to have stopped trying to remove the container from its head. It seemed to accept the blindness. As the boy observed the helpless animal, an impulse to hurt it spread through his brain like toxic smoke spreads in a burning room. His eyes automatically moved across his home’s landscaping searching for a stick or a rock. His attention was drawn to a smooth river stone the size of a golf ball. As he reached down to pick it up, he felt pain shoot up from his elbow. The pain registered in his heart as if it had come from a skunk struck by a rock. The toxic black smoke cleared from his brain. He closed his reaching fingers into a fist, stood up, and ran to a neighbor’s house.
The boy pressed the doorbell button like a radio operator using Morse code. A woman with grey hair tied in a bun and dressed in sweats opened the door and looked for an adult. Her eyebrows switched from angles of annoyance to those of amusement when she looked down and saw the boy. Without a greeting, he pointed toward the skunk and looked in its direction himself. He was going to ask his neighbor for help, but then noticed the skunk waddling toward the woods. In the woods, the skunk would be beyond the boy’s reach.
The boy ran to the wood’s threshold. He was going to discourage the skunk from entering the woods somehow. The boy planted himself between the skunk and the trees. He thought about yelling, but fear made him mute. The skunk appeared to have heard him anyway and froze. When the skunk stopped, the boy realized that he had executed his entire plan and did not know what to do next. He held his breath. The skunk was so still that the boy thought it held its breath too. The boy was determined to win the contest, but he did not. Like a drowning man, he sucked in a breath of air so loudly that the skunk changed its posture. The skunk arched its back, lifted its tail, and stomped its feet.
As the adrenaline shot through the boy’s body, he looked up. He saw a man dressed like a security guard approaching the skunk. The man communicated silently with the boy. He patted an imaginary floating pillow with his hands to signal to be calm. He pressed his index finger to the center of his lips to tell the boy to remain quiet. He waved the boy toward the front lawn of his neighbor. The boy tiptoed to it obediently and stood there watching.
The skunk stood in its warning stance on the street. The officer approached the skunk slowly. He carried a tool that the boy had not noticed. He used that grabbing tool to remove the container from the skunks head. Then, he stood still as a statue. The boy waited for the skunk to spray the man. Able to see again, the skunk looked around him like someone suddenly woken from sleep. It did not spray. The boy watched the skunk waddle back into the woods. The officer walked back to his truck and left without a word. The boy picked up the yogurt container that the officer had removed from the skunks head. He set it in the middle of his driveway and tried to run over it with his bike.
Inspired by “A Good Deed Goes Unpunished.” The Washington Post 1 Jan. 2017. C3. Print.