Damocles, the possum


Some people believe that possums have magic powers. I can vouch for this, because I stand here, with the shop’s blue, neon light washing over me, and stare at a possum slowly coming to life.

First, the possum blinks open one, beady eye to ensure he’s safe. Next, with a rigormortic paw he rubs his other eye and twitches his nose to fully capture the exciting scents coming from the pizza shop. Then, he stiffly unfurls his tail from around the electric wire, from which he’s hung upside down electrocuted, dead, for over a week. And, finally, he shakes himself before slowly scampering across the wire to slide down the nearest pole.

The possum’s keen sense of smell sends him in my direction but he hasn’t zoomed in on me yet. I know it’s only a matter of time, because it’s my job to attract attention.

It was all my boss, Dion’s, idea really, to have me hang two advertising placards over my shoulders and jig around in front of the Carlingford shop to draw customers. I’m often cold, wet and hungry, especially in winter, but Dion insists I’m good for business. So, here I am, surprised into silence as I stare at the previously-dead possum who now stops at my dancing feet.

“Damocles,” bows the possum, introducing himself.

“How d’you do?” I reply.

Damocles studies me, then peers into the brightly lit shop. “Any chance of some grub?” he whispers. “I’m starved.”

I open my mouth to tell him that my boss doesn’t give freebies, but he’s looking so trusting that, from my pocket, I dig out the apple I’ve saved for my dinner and toss it to him. In between bites, he describes how he took his nightly stroll along the wire when he was hosed, and died from electrocution.

I want so badly to bend down and comfort Damocles as I listen to his sad story, because I recognise this cruel deed as belonging to my employer.

“I’ve had plenty of time to think while I’ve hung upside down,” says Damocles, whose determined voice brings me back to the present. “I’ve got to do something on behalf of all the possums in the world!” Then, before I can respond, he vanishes, with only the apple core sitting on the toe of my boot to tell me I’m not imagining things.

In the hush of the night I wait, wondering what’s going to happen next.

Then out of the shop exit some of the regular customers with family-size boxes of pizza. They open their steaming pizzas as they cross the road, eager to eat some. Then I hear them exclaim, “Yuck, there’s some animal fur on top. We’re never going into that shop again! And what’s more, we’re going to tell everyone we know.”

I hear a chuckle and look up to see Damocles back on his wire, his thin furless body looking like a naked sword, hanging by a single hair of his tail.