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The Yankee Express

Luke’s Birthday Gash

Above, handsome birthday boy at 2 years old on Jan. 31, 2024, Luke is ready to celebrate. Below, Luke and Mandy await birthday pupcakes!

By Amy LeClaire

Luke’s two-year-old birthday was as interesting as he is. January 31, the last day of the month, came with a memorable twist. I woke up with inspiration for my pup’s party. The Golden girls of the ’hood had been invited. Party hats sat on the kitchen table. Pup cakes chilled in the fridge. The only problem was – the birthday boy had a peculiar itch. 

“What’s the matter, Luke?” 

He used his back leg to scratch the fur below his chin, on the right side of his neck. Something in the location of that itch had me concerned. 

“Oh my gosh!” A closer look at his neck revealed a gash about three inches long, one that felt braided and raised, almost as though a small twig was attached to his skin. My mind raced through suspects. Had yesterday’s roughhousing with Rosie caused the bruise? Not likely, I thought to myself. The gash was too deep for a dog’s nails. Besides, it was already closed and dry.  How had I missed this? The gash was wild, undomestic. Wild. The word floated through my mind, and that’s when the culprit emerged. 

“Jim!” Luke followed me to the bottom of the stairs to help investigate the conflict that was his wild birthday gash. “I think that possum in our yard scratched Luke!” Luke’s Daddy trotted down the stairs with bedhead. “Are you ready to play, Daddy?” My heart sank to Luke’s innocence. His exuberance can be problematic, yet his intentions are so good. Here’s the story.

Luke had recently managed a remarkably long staring contest with a possum who sat stunned at our front steps one night. “Leave him, Luke.” My son swiftly guided him back indoors. The full story now crystalized in my mind. That very possum stared at Luke with small beady eyes and a triangular face. “You have a big head.” Luke stared back. “You’re ugly.” His face creased with desire. “Let’s wrestle and call it a day.” The plot thickened. 

Days turned into weeks. We thought the possum had found a new home to visit, perhaps one without a beast four times his size. Well, apparently, that possum had the brain of a bird. He returned. Jim looked out the kitchen window. The fur on Luke’s back was raised. He was obsessed with something and non-compliant. “Luke! Come!” Something wild settled in the air. Luke rarely ignored us. A visit to the backyard confirmed suspicion. The possum lay dead beside our deck. “Let’s go in the house, Luke!” A guilty dog was led inside. Meanwhile, Daddy grabbed the shovel to finish Luke’s dirty work. Little did he know of the shocker to come. The possum was gone! He had played possum! Of course he had! Possums literally play possum. I later learned that the behavior is involuntary and triggered by fear or stress. Still, a marsupial native to America and whose name is technically spelled opossum (possums are native to Australia)* was becoming an itch that couldn’t be scratched.

“That possum needs to go. Luke could have lost an eye with those claws.” I muttered a mother’s curse and grabbed my car keys. The story’s ending emerged like a scene from a low budget thriller while I drove to the animal hospital. That possum, having felt harassed, was pushing Luke’s buttons. Small yet tenacious, the possum has evolved with survival skills to match its claws. Rarely does the possum carry rabies. I turned my blaring music down and thought about this some more. Resurrected from a fake death, and unbeknownst to my family, the marsupial returned to the shrubs at the border of our back yard. Luke had been jutting his head in and out of the shrubs a few days ago. Now it all made sense. Pleasantly surprised to see that his feisty friend was alive and well, Luke couldn’t’ resist another shot at play. One more sniff. One more poke. Until the possum, enshrouded by a shrub that became his bodyguard, lashed out at Luke’s neck with knife-sharp claws.

“I think a possum scratched Luke.”

Dr. Yen wiped her glasses. “I just want to kiss you all over!” Luke slurped his vet’s face, then tap danced around her. 

“It could be.”

“What about a rough playdate?”

“It could be.”

“A sharp stick?”

“It could be.” 

“Watch for redness, swelling or discharge. Luke is going to be fine.”

I spent a few hundred dollars on could-be’s and a few shots but had the assurance I needed. Luke was going to be fine. The sting of the possum saga faded with that of the veterinarian bill. It was time to party! 

The rest of the day unfolded with the fanfare of a two-year-old dog’s birthday party. I lit the candle of his cupcake. He sat smiling like a dolphin; chin raised to the jubilee of the birthday song. “Happy Birthday to Luuuuke. Happy Birthday to you!” Friends and family clapped and belted out the song as though Luke was the only dog on the planet. He knew the moment was all about him. “It’s my birthday!” His eyes bloomed while I blew out the candle, tore off the wrapper, and fed him a freshly baked, all-natural pumpkin cupcake that took all of three seconds to eat. Like a child denied sugar, he wore the cupcake like a second skin, savoring the taste and licking its residue from his paws. He wore frosting on his nose and chin. Most of all, he wore what it looks like to be a dog loved.   

*The opossum, in this story, was referred to as a possum for syllabic reasons, and for a smoother read.  

Write to Amy – [email protected]

Follow Luke on IG – livingwithlukevalentino