The squirrel leg Tony Russo discovered between the slats of his picnic table.

Things had been going well before the misstep. Before the misstep, he was untouchable, stealthy, and acrobatic. Now here he was, in the podunk town of his birth, eating through his own leg in blind hope of surviving before the dogs came to feast. After the first few bites, the pain was transcendent, a drug almost, so far beyond experience he wasn’t sure it quite could be categorized in terms of pain and pleasure. As they said on the rough side of town, “It is what it is.”

He pulled free with one less foot than he’d had an hour ago and scampered–slouched, really, his scampering days were behind him–for the break in the fence. He might live or he might die but, as always, it was on his terms.

That is, I imagine, what my squirrel noir book would end like. It also is how I imagine the life of the squirrel whose leg I found sticking up from between the slats of my picnic table met his end. ┬áThe funny thing is the leg wasn’t too hard to dislodge. Of course, it was no longer holding muscle, skin, and hair. It was just as the photo shows, a little rodent leg bone.

It’s on my desk now, which is weird. I mean, if I found a dead squirrel in my yard, I wouldn’t put it on my desk. I might scoop it up in a plastic bag and throw it out. More likely I’d bury it out by the park. More for ecological reasons than out of respect for the dead. It feels wrong to wrap what normally would decay in plastic and take up space in the landfill.

But, now that I think of it, putting it on my desk was one of the most natural things to do with a found bone, other than making it into a necklace or earring or other piece of jewelry. Bones, I think, call to us in a very primitive way and always have. Maybe it’s tied to a subconscious need to dominate death, but I like to think it appeals to our aesthetic leanings. Bones are beautiful and elemental. Especially when we can make a connection with their former owner.

The squirrel leg I found could just as easily have been left there by a predator. The squirrel could have suffered a little tiny squirrel heart attack and plummeted from the tree. The fall might have killed him, or he might have been dead before he hit the ground. In any case, his leg might have fallen into the slat and been torn from his body when a turkey vulture swooped down for the carcass. Turkey vultures are abundant here, preying on the misfortunes of cats and pigeons, mostly, but also, one imagines, squirrels. It is a solid, if boring, theory.

But, upon review of the facts, the likely case is there never was a squirrel on the picnic table. I recall as I write this that I found the bone sole up. That is, if it were attached to a squirrel’s body when it became lodged in the table, the squirrel would have to have been beneath the table, hanging upside down by one foot. This would be fantastic in every sense of the word, but also unlikely. The most likely case is the bone, not the leg fell from the tree above and became wedged. Whether I shall continue to find bones dripping from a carcass somewhere in the tree above is the new mystery.

But if I do, now, I probably won’t keep them. It’s somehow less cool to find a hand bone that has fallen from a tree than a leg one believes to have been gnawed off. Of course, if I find the skull, I’m totally keeping that. No one can resist a skull.