The Raccoon

Mr. Balog had a strange habit. Whenever he was finished smoking a
cigarette he did not thoughtlessly flip its remainders onto the
pavements of a sidewalk, or if at hand extinguish it in an ashtray
which was later going to be emptied by the tender hand of a waitress or
his own hairy mitts. No, Mr. Balog would carefully store the leftovers
of each of his smokes in a huge jar. Several of these jars – mostly
glassy ones but also some old coffee cans made out of aluminium – were
placed in every room of the unspectacular two story house he inhabited.
These jars were meant to be perennial. They were never emptied and
produced the uncomfortable smell of cold ashes, a gloomy smell that was
omnipresent in every corner of the house, piercing the curtains and the
bed sheets and even the water in the aquarium.

Mr. Balog had started
his unusual collection some years ago. He was proud that since then, he
had rarely missed out on one of the butts. If he left home he made sure
that he brought along a little plastic bag (his little portable pocket
ash tray had been stolen one horrible day), in which the butts of the
cigarettes he smoked at work or on the street could find temporary
shelter until they were joined with the others. The plastic bag was, of
course, not really a suitable instrument for these purposes; you had to
be careful that there was not the slightest bit of burning amber left
if you did not want to burn a whole in your pocket or set yourself
afire. You had to be careful. And Mr. Balog was a very careful man. He
was sure that his plan would eventually work out. Sometimes, after
having finished a smoke and having placed the remainders in one of his
big jars, he would pause for a second, contemplating. The cancer must
be on its way by now, he thought, what a relief.

To decipher the divine plan of the merciful and all-loving creator had
always been the preliminary aim of Mrs. Balog. She was a very religious
person. She had taken her husband’s slide into depression stoically, as
part of an unchangeable project that was beyond her comprehension, yet
had a meaning justified from above.

Towards her husband she felt the
indifference of a professional killer towards his victim; plainly it
did not really matter if he was there or not. Still she wanted him to
quit smoking, as if the eternal peace of her soul would depend on that
project. If she would have found herself one to one with the creator
she would have mentioned only that wish: Dear Lord almighty, cure my
husband from that evil. It was not really the gloomy smell inside her
house that bothered her, nor the idea that her husband might be carried
away some day by some wildly growing carcinoma of his lungs. If she
wanted him to quit smoking, it was because of her selfishness, which
had been charted by the intensive study of women’s magazines in which
smoking was marked as a hazardous and semi-criminal undertaking.

And it
was not at all suitable to walk around in public with a husband that
smoked like a fiend. Especially on Sundays, right before and after the
ceremonies. In church no one wanted to sit next to him for he smelled
so bad. And he would not even throw away his butts like any other
normal person! That cheap disgusting moron.
If anything at all, Mrs. Balog had the gift of a sharp, though
selective, observation. She was able to think through spatial
arrangements and draw right conclusions. Certain situations remained
engraved in her mind, like a photo shot of a crime scene, and she would
then investigate on the meaning of certain features as if they were
valuable pieces of evidence. Hence, she would never forget that
afternoon when she unexpectedly came home early from shopping. The
house was filled with solemn silence; a mild light embraced her, gently
drawing her shadowy doppelgänger on the crumbled wallpapers. No trace
of smoke was to be seen. The whole place was in a state of enchanted
suspense. Then she saw her husband. Mr. Balog was kneeling in front of
the small aquarium, motionless. He gazed at the little catfish like a
child at an unexpected piece of favourite candy. Faint blue
reflections. Silence. He does not smoke, she thought.

After having discovered the therapeutic impact that the observation of
aquarium fish had on her husband’s smoking habits Mrs. Balog had sprung
into action. After all, that aquarium was not more than a probably
temporary gift of her niece – who had just recently decided to roam the
country side with a random fellow and thus did not happen to have the
physical presence to look after her fish. Even though it was dubious
that the niece would ever be seen again, and it was even more unlikely
that she would reformulate the property claims on a shabby fish bowl,
just exactly that vision haunted Mrs. Balog in her dreams. And, if you
come to think of it such an aquarium was way too small for the grand
utopia Mrs. Balog was about to transform into reality.

Thus, she
quickly bought a huge spade with an iron blade, along with some plastic
sheets, usually used for covering up plants that need some shelter
before the early winter frosts. Admittedly, it took a couple of harsh
days of frantic work, until the hole on the scarce lawn in the backyard
proved to be deep enough so that a little hedge hock who had accidently
stumbled inside could not climb out again by its own force. Admittedly,
it was a dirty and rotten work ways beyond her feminine dignity; yet
she lived through it. On the next sunday, after the ceremony, almost
exactly one week after her marvellous discovery, Mrs. Balog managed to
persuade her husband to enter the backyard – an area of their common
property he usually avoided since it was associated with unnecessary
torments: mowing the lawn, were there was none to be seen, watering
plants were no plants would ever grow, and the like.

Upon entering the
ragged space Mr. Balog noticed the change immediately. In disbelief he
stared at the neatly arranged pond, in which about fifty goldfish
joyfully swam in circles, sometimes breaking the surface of the murky
water with the back of their fins. For You honey, Mrs. Balog whispered.

What followed were the happiest days in his life. He would sit for
hours in the backyard, on the little camping chair, staring at his
fish; affectionately feeding them dried tubifex and eagerly engaged in
silent, solemn discourse. He did not smoke anymore; and when walking to
the ceremony with his wife they went hand in hand like two young

Death came sudden and quick. At night it came, quietly slouching out of
the nearby forest, wearing a black mask and a striped tail. It did not
spare one of the fish. Even Jaschi, Mr. Balog’s favourite, was found in
the morning with a chewed off head and a body damaged almost beyond
recognition. Among fifty other carcasses, he was floating belly up in
the pond. That night, Mr. Balog went to bed early. When I wake up, I
will be in another world, he thought. And the gentle, dignified smile
rushing over his lips remained forever engraved on his sad countenance.

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