A Squirrel's Tail
As I was walking home the other day, I came across a squirrel's tail lying in the middle of the road. Not the whole tail, just the last few inches of it. It appeared to be severed neatly--no blood, no mess--and lay there very simply, black squirrel fur moving slightly in the breeze, and no squirrel tail-amputee anywhere in sight.
I was somwhat disturbed.
I couldn't help but wonder what had done that, had sliced off most of a squirrel's tail so very nicely and left no squirrel or other evidence to tell the rest of the tale. I remember that I'd learned--whether I was told this or read it somewhere or made it up entirely, I don't quite know--that a squirrel will shake its tail when its body is quite still to attract any predators to the tail rather than the juicy squirrel-meat of its body. And if one is a squirrel, or any other tailed animal, losing one's tail seems quite preferable to losing one's life. Lizards seem to quite agree.
And yet I tried to imagine it: some sort of predatory bird, perhaps, swooping down and missing that lovely meal of a squirrel and catching only the tail in its sharp talons. How exactly, I wondered, could a bird's talon sever a tail? There must be a way, certainly, but I couldn't quite envision the mechanics of it. Of course, it might have been a cat, not a bird, that had left this little bristle-brush treat in the street for me to discover; but again, I couldn't quite imagine how that tail would have come off so very cleanly. I pondered this for quite some time. This, too, was a somewhat disturbing train of thought in its own way.
And then it occurred to me: I was only disturbed because I understood it to be a squirrel's tail. Because I saw that it was a squirrel's tail, and believe that squirrel's tails should be on squirrels rather than on streets. However, it could have been something quite different; a strange bit of decorative grass spraypainted black, for example, or an offcut from a fur coat, fake or otherwise. And these things would not have been worth my notice, and certainly not worth mentioning.
By this time I was home, and in the process of unlocking the door and taking off my shoes and my jacket, I quite forgot about the squirrel's tail or the thing that might look unnervingly like a squirrel's tail, and didn't think about it again until just now. Perhaps that was a good thing.