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A Beast in the Night
By Tom Bartlett

"So -- what can we help you with today?" she asked, flouncing down in the chair behind her desk. Stacy wore a forest green pantsuit that flared out unflatteringly at the hip, a detail I would normally omit but in this instance feel compelled to record.

"Raccoons," I said.

"Yes, raccoons," she mindlessly agreed while messing with some papers on her desk and glancing distractedly at the blinking red light on her telephone. "We're going to get some traps up there for you."

For you! I loved it. Like it was a personal favor for the leasing office to rid the building of ferocious vermin. Like I was asking them to go out of their way because I had some quirky desire to sleep at night.

"We've been hearing that for weeks," I said.

"Well, it's true."

She smiled broadly as if this were a pretty good comeback.

"I'm not sure you appreciate the urgency of our situation," I said flatly and, I hoped, just a touch menacingly. Menace is tough to pull off unless you have a commanding physical presence or a strong German accent. Unfortunately I am slight of build and non-Teutonic.

"I don't know what to tell you," Stacy said, throwing up her hands in mock helplessness.

"Tell me you will do something."

"We will."


"Of course!"


Stacy launched into a lengthy non-answer that featured words such as "shorthanded" and "backlogged."

"I am not a well man," I said, interrupting her mid-ramble. As I spoke, I began tapping the edge of her desk with my knuckles. "I haven't slept, really slept, in weeks. I can't think straight."

I tapped harder.

"Sometimes, Stacy, it feels like I'm losing my mind. Do you know what that feels like? Do you know what it feels like to lose your mind?"

I was no longer tapping her desk: I was hitting it. The sentimental trinkets and framed photographs of her grinning loved ones bounced with each rhythmic strike.

"Look, I'm not trying to bother you," I said, my voice pseudo-sincere. "That's the last thing I want. I know you're a busy person with many important matters to attend to. Maybe the raccoons don't seem like a big deal to you, Stacy. But they are a big deal to me. A very big deal. The biggest deal. I'm asking - begging - you to make the raccoons go away. I don't want to go crazy. Please don't let me go crazy."

Her eyes were wide and the perkiness had drained from her demeanor. Stacy's mouth hung open for several moments while she gathered herself.

"I will talk to Jim," she said finally.

I would like to report that immediate action was taken, that my desk-thumping tantrum did the trick. But that would not be true. We suffered through several more weeks before the traps were set. Eventually, though, the raccoons were caught and we watched as one of them was lowered in its cage from the roof of our three-story building. It was impossible not to feel sorry for him. After all, he had done nothing to warrant forcible eviction except to behave like a nocturnal animal, which of course he was. But our twinges of fellow-creature sympathy were outweighed by the sheer, gorgeous, unsurpassed bliss of a good night's sleep.

Since then we've moved a couple of times, gotten jobs, purchased a house, and become the kind of people who walk the dog each morning, fret uselessly about world events, and forget to pay our bills on time. Average citizens, in other words. The raccoon episode has naturally begun to fade from our minds, replaced by other memories, some of them pleasant, some of them painful. Life has gone on, as life tends to do.

But I was reminded of the raccoons recently when, late one night, we were awakened by a yowling. It was gentle at first, more like a soft mewl, but the volume steadily increased and the noise became more insistent until the room was filled with a racket that could rouse even the deepest and most dedicated sleeper.

"What do you think it is?" I whispered stupidly.

"I think he's hungry," Kellie replied.

I clicked on the lamp next to the bed while Kellie scooped up our three-week-old son. It was obvious from his half-closed lids that he was tired, but hunger had trumped fatigue in the age-old battle of pressing needs. While I can't say I was thrilled to be conscious at such a dark and godless hour, it was difficult to be upset with the little guy as he suckled merrily away, his tiny hand wrapped around my wife's finger. And, besides, we had no right to complain; this time, it was all our fault.

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