Eumaios and the Skunks (Part 1)

Michael O. Varhola

Michael O. Varhola

From where he stood several feet away, Eumaios saw the two skunks waddle up into the light of the dying cooking fire and, after sniffing around a few seconds, discover the remains of his dinner. He had planned to read a few minutes before turning in and had walked to the woodpile to retrieve enough chunks of dry juniper to revive the blaze sufficiently to see by it but, as the animals began to jostle each other, he leaned against the crumbling wall of the ruined villa where he lived and decided to watch them instead.

Whereas most animals employed their claws, fangs, or other natural weapons the same ways against their own kind as against other creatures, skunks dealt with others one way but had a unique method of fighting amongst themselves. If one of the dozen cats that cohabitated with him on the abandoned farmstead had molested either of the skunks, it would have gone up on its tiptoes, arched its back, and presented the offender with its puckered rectum, all of which was adequate to discourage most antagonists — and a blast of acrid musk would drive off almost all the rest. When competing for food with another of its kind, however, a skunk would instead try to keep eating whatever it was interested in, dig its little clawed feet into the ground, and then lean into the other animal and push in an attempt to shove it out of the way. Eumaios enjoyed watching such spirited but nonlethal spectacles, which were as stylized as any Human wrestling match he had ever seen, during which the tails of the animals would intertwine and they would look like a single mass of writhing, black-and-white fur. 

Eumaios's skunks battled each other like this for a few minutes and then one of the little beasts seized the denuded drumstick of the feral hen the man had been eating and broke away, stamping off and dramatically swinging the leg bone back and forth in its mouth like a tiny club. Once it had gone about five feet it lay down, clutched the bone in its forepaws, and began to gnaw on it, while its companion furtively searched the area around the fire for anything else edible, stopping and sniffing for several seconds before moving a few feet and repeating the process. Three or four of Eumaios's cats watched