The Loneliness of the Siberian Chipmunk

by Michelle Orabona Read author interview June 18, 2018

I had never seen a chipmunk before I met Dave. Now I see the fuckers everywhere. Charlotte said that’s correlation not causation but she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Roger said the chipmunks were always there; I just never noticed them because I don’t really ever pay attention to anything. That’s when I just stopped telling people about the chipmunks.

Chipmunks are small, striped rodents.

Chipmunks typically live about three years.

Chipmunks love raspberries.

Two of those facts I lifted from Wikipedia word for word. One I made up.

Dave rented the basement apartment at my sister’s house for about a year before moving out, leaving a large green sofa behind. It was ugly but comfortable and some days I would go over after work just to fall asleep there. I thought about borrowing Roger’s pick-up and hauling that sofa back to my place, but Charlotte said she wouldn’t have that thing in her living room after all that happened. She never liked Dave. Instead, Roger hauled it out to the curb and some stranger picked it up before the trash men came by.

*

When I was a kid, but old enough so that I probably shouldn’t have been watching cartoons anymore, there was this show on TV about a pair of chipmunk detectives. I still get the theme song stuck in my head from time to time.

Dave was from Pittsburgh, a town I had never been to. When I looked it up on Google Maps it was farther away than I’d thought, but not so far that you couldn’t get there if you really wanted to. Dave never wanted to talk about Pittsburgh. Mostly we talked about what we were going to do next. Next year, next week, tomorrow. Dave kept changing his five-year plan but he always had one.

When she was three we started calling my niece Chipmunk because she would go around the house picking up tiny objects and stuffing them in her cheeks to hide them. This only resulted in one emergency room visit.

We went drinking on Tuesdays. Karaoke night. PJ’s had a special on pitchers that was so good we drank large quantities of terrible beer without shame. Dave couldn’t sing but he liked to watch other people try. He said there’s a lot you can learn about a person at karaoke. I got up on that little stage once and sang “Africa” by Toto but Dave wouldn’t tell me anything about what he learned.

Jessica, my sister’s girl, was fourteen when Dave was living in that basement apartment of theirs. Old enough to be left home alone, smart enough to take care of herself usually. She knew how to make microwave popcorn without burning a single kernel. She said the trick was concentration and she tried to teach me once but I couldn’t really follow. Besides, it was just so much easier to set the timer and walk away.

Alvin and the Chipmunks, the anthropomorphized band, were managed by a guy named Dave. Roger reminded me, when I started talking about the chipmunks.

The day that thing happened, or allegedly happened, Jessica was sitting on the porch, using the remaining daylight to paint her toenails, when Dave walked up the drive and asked if she wanted to watch a movie.

The first time I saw a chipmunk was at the National Zoo. Dave had never seen the place. Charlotte, she was there too, made us stop and look at the lemurs for a while because of that movie. Dave just stood there patiently, thinking the kind of thoughts, I’m sure, the rest of us only come up with when we’re stoned, or drunk, or really, really sad. That’s just Dave. He was always saying all this shit that I would never think of. Real deep shit. Like stuff that blows your fucking mind at three o’clock in the morning.

People were laughing. It was a couple of minutes before I figured out what everyone found so freaking funny. The lemurs were running around the lemur habitat, running away from something: a chipmunk. These lemurs, okay, it’s not like they’re huge but I’m pretty sure a lemur could mess up a chipmunk if it wanted to. And there were four of them. Four lemurs all running away from one chipmunk. Dave said something like ‘I wonder if they’re playing or if they’re actually scared.’ I just stood there, watching the chipmunk chase the lemurs, watching Dave. Charlotte took a video with her phone and then she wanted to go home.

Twenty-four of the 25 species of chipmunk live in North America. Alone in Asia, the Siberian chipmunk is also the only remaining species in the genus, Eutamias. At least according to Wikipedia.

Jessica had never been the prettiest kid or the smartest, but she had always been a good kid. A Girl Scout even after it wasn’t cool anymore. A decent soccer player, decent grades, usually did her chores without too much fuss. I can’t remember her ever lying to me before. And it’s not that I’m saying that she’s lying about this. But you know there are those kind of girls that do make up stuff like this, and sometimes, I like to think that maybe Jessica is one of those kind of girls. And, you know, I wouldn’t even be mad at her if she confessed and let Dave come back.

It wasn’t a Siberian chipmunk we saw with Dave at the zoo that day. But each time I see a chipmunk now I try to count the stripes. I haven’t told Charlotte that, or even Roger. Truth is, I can’t bear to think about the loneliness of the Siberian chipmunk, separated by geological time and geography from their closest relatives. But I guess they’re doing all right on their own.

About the Author:

Originally from Long Island, Michelle Orabona is an MFA candidate at George Mason University in Virginia. She was the recipient of the 2017 Mary Roberts Rinehart Fiction Award and her work has appeared in dogzplot, Eunoia Review, The Journal of Hermeneutic Chaos, and others. Michelle is the assistant fiction editor for phoebe, the fiction editor at hellscape press, and the editor-in-chief of Double Dessert Press. She likes ponies, hates clowns, and thinks life would not be worth living without peanut butter.