Missy Messy Bessie
Bessie was Dad’s secret weapon. Actually, her name was Missy Messy Bessie and it more than adequately described her. She became fifteen pounds of sheer destroyer- evictor of lay-about-teenagers.
Dad brought her home one day from work. He came into the house with a huge grin and a squirming shirt-front. I heard a chittering noise. Then she popped her head out and looked around the small kitchen. While Dad argued with Mom I watched her dark raisin-eyes take in the room. Her bottle-brush tail slowly dropped from under his shirt, silvery grey with jet black stripes. It twitched. Small pointed ears turned, brushing Dad’s bristly chin, his five-o-clock shadow blending with her spiky fur.
Mom’s eyes rolled. “Fine then, you’re looking after it.”
And so Missy Messy Bessie, raccoon extraordinaire, became part of our household. Dad soon roped me into helping him look after her. She didn’t like the cage he built so she moved into the house with us. After a tentative sniff, my brother’s male rabbit, Grumpy (who was temporarily inside due to dogs breaking into his cage), simply ignored her. He was more interested in the cat in residence and constantly tried to mate with the poor creature. The cat hated Grumpy and would sit on the kitchen chair, eyes square and ears flat, hissing at him. With the arrival of Bessie the cat left home.
Bessie was busier than a dozen two-year-olds. She would toss my room leaving behind a mess as she investigated everything with her tiny velvet-paw hands. Traveling along my bookcases she would knock each orderly row on the floor before moving on to my delicate keepsakes and ornaments. With fingers jointed like miniature human hands Bessie could reach into tiny spaces. She would hold a newly found treasure in her paws: sniff it, turn it, lick it, then try to bite it. Then she would be onto the next item. Too bad if it was anything that I liked.
Bessie also had her own special smell. A musky, wet fur mixed with moldy hay underpinned by an organic flavour I was never able to pin down. This smoldering scent grew more powerful when she was angry. It would take over the room and linger long after she had left. It was her signature.
Along with her scent she had a distinctive way of expressing herself - her chittering. This was the noise she would manipulate in varying degrees when she was inquisitive, satisfied, annoyed or very, very angry. Sometimes it was slow cheeps as she settled in for a rare, quiet moment or chirpy as if full of questions. Other times it was demanding and insistent. Occasionally it was strident, full of compressed screeches. The household learned to listen closely and move fast.
When I resisted getting up in the morning, as most teenagers do, Dad would quietly open my bedroom door and drop Bessie in. I would be up and chasing her out within seconds. It also worked when I took too long in the bath. Bessie loved to sit on the rim of the tub and splash in the water, which I didn’t mind, but when she slipped in I jumped out.
One afternoon, in summer’s heat I sat on the couch letting the breeze from the open window cool my neck. Bessie waddled by, bored and looking for trouble, she climbed my pant leg. With her tiny hands she checked my pockets, she checked my lap. Finding nothing of interest she crawled up my front and checked my left nostril followed by my right. Unsatisfied, she hopped on the back of the couch and began to investigate my ear. I had had enough. I brushed her away. She lowered her head and ran at me expressing her displeasure. I pushed her away. She came back. I firmly pushed her away. Undeterred she came back. This time I accidentally, honest it was an accident, pushed her out the open window.
She landed in the shrubbery two floors down and immediately headed up the walkway to the backdoor. Her strident chittering pierced the afternoon’s peacefulness. I left home.