"Musk" by Josh Olsen

I spent my last day of unemployment doing what I could to pull my own weight - errands, household chores, preparing dinner. I burned up a few afternoon hours making stracotto, also known as Italian pot roast, and helped myself to a couple glasses of the dry red wine used for braising. I’m a “big guy” - I can drive after two glasses of wine - and so I still picked up my daughter from work, but on the way back, less than a few blocks away from home, I stopped the car for an injured skunk in the middle of the road.


It was early evening, but there was still plenty of sunlight, so I thought to myself, there’s no way that can be a live skunk, as though it might be an animatronic toy or a black cat with a white painted stripe, like in a Pepe Le Pew cartoon, but sure enough it was. A woman by the side of the road tried to wave me by. “Go around!” she said, clearly annoyed that I’d stopped, but I was afraid of getting sprayed, even if I was in a moving vehicle. I didn’t want to accidentally run it over, either, but then I thought maybe that’s the best thing I could do. I should put the suffering thing out of its misery, rather than sit there and watch, along with an ever-growing audience of cellphone voyeurs, while the skunk coiled and writhed in the street. Someone laid on their horn, and I noticed the line of automobiles that had accumulated behind me. “Why did you stop?” my daughter asked in a Xanax haze, seemingly unaware of the animal in front of us. “There’s a goddamn skunk in the middle of the road,” I said. “I think it’s hurt.” My daughter was still recovering from various injuries of the past year, as well, wounds that were her story to tell, when she was ready to tell them. She was 18 years old now, an adult, while I barely felt like one, myself. More and more frequently, when we’re in public together, we get weird looks and the occasional question. “And your relationship is …?” My mother and I used to get these looks and questions, too, being less than 18 years apart, but while my mother beamed at the thought that she and I were mistaken for siblings or, you know, something else, I’m disturbed by the implication that my daughter and I may be something “more.” “Can’t you just go around?” Gabriella asked while concentrating on her phone, but instead, I decided to maneuver a y-turn, and a passenger in the vehicle directly to my rear shot me the bird.


For the rest of the night, I couldn’t shake the sadness I felt for that wounded skunk. I hoped that before it died, or before somebody ended its pain, that it had the opportunity to express its glands one final time, and when I drove down that same street the very next morning, on my way to work for the first time in eight weeks, it was devoid of traffic, human and animal alike, but there lingered a faint whiff of musk.