Edition 24: Beaver Resplendent by Sally Basmajian
Don’t be fooled. The selection of the Canadian national animal was the product of stiff competition. I thought Sally Basmajian’s story is such a fun finish to the edition. As tied third in the 2015 Story Quest Competition, the unlikely partnership of humour, alternate history and talking animals tickled the judges’ fancy. After all, who doesn’t like a talking animal? SY
A beaver, a lynx, a moose and a wolf walk into a bar.
Whaddaya mean you’ve heard this joke before? That’s impossible, mister. I happen to be the aforementioned wolf and I know I never said nothin’ to nobody. And I’m pretty damn sure that Bucky, Kitty, and Bullifer never spilled the beans, neither.
I’m only telling you now since I’m the last one of us guys still alive. This here’s a whaddaya-call-it scoop and you just said you’re a reporter so it looks like bingo, bongo, tag, you’re it. It’ll be up to you now: go forth and enlighten the masses and all that.
And, by the way, this ain’t no funny business. This here’s Canadian history, mon ami. We ain’t an amusing bunch. So, shut up and let me get on with the story.
A beaver, a lynx, a moose and a very attractive, highly intelligent wolf walk into a bar. The year is 1975; the place is the back room of a dive on the fun side of the Ottawa River.
No, sir, I ain’t gonna give you the precise location. Wherever this bar may be, and I will leave that for you to work out, Sherlock, us four guys are the finalists in the 1975 Official Animal of Canada contest. This is the night when we will hammer out who among us will assume the position.
Hey, wise ass. You wanna take this here Canadian history seriously? When I say, “assume the position”, I ain’t talking inter-species porn. Get your filthy mind outta the gutter.
And, you’d better watch your mouth. Or better yet, watch mine. See these incisors? Now, think about your flabby white ass. Who do you really think is going to win if we decide to tangle?
That’s better. Now, to proceed.
I, Lupin the Wolf, can feel in my bones that I am about to become the Official Animal of Canada. Think of the boasting rights! Consider the serious babe action I could get if wolves become Canada’s iconic animal all because of me. Wowser.
Anyhoo, it’s pretty damn awesome that the beaver, lynx, moose, and irresistibly witty wolf have made it this far in the selection process. Other species were considered, of course. But, they were all kicked out earlier.
An initial contender with real promise was the killer whale. She was always spouting (yeah, yeah; keep yucking it up and see where that will get you) that she ranged throughout Canada’s three immense oceans and was the most attractive of all of us, what with her jaunty black and white colour motif and her nimble underwater gyrations. But, she couldn’t come to any of our meetings, being stuck in the water like she was, and we kept making her mad by saying that no fish should be considered for the honour.
Ha! You should have seen her react to being called a fish. “I’m a mighty mammal”, yada yada yada. Whatever. All I know is that killer whales sure ain’t got no sense of humour. We were just glad that we were all well back on the shore so she couldn’t make a beavlynwolmoose meal of us.
You don’t get it, Mensa boy? Let me elucidate. A beavlynwolmoose meal would be kind of like a wild version of the humans’ stupidest ever invention called turducken, which, by the way, is obscene and must have been invented by and for fat people.
Come to think of it, the killer whale is also quite a fatty. She would have been a horrible example to Canadians who should be watching their cholesterol and choosing a less impulsive animal to be their representative. Just saying.
Then, we had the polar bear. Oh me, oh my, the splendid white guardian of the north, the beloved Arctic champion, the most photogenic creature of us all. He had taken first place in the species sub-category finals, and I think that the Council of Bears blew it in making this decision. Good old Grizz would have had a better chance, what with his range and all. The polar bear ain’t called ursus maritimus for nothing—he was just about as geographically challenged as the killer whale, and our zero tolerance policy was if you miss a meeting, you miss your chances.
So, ixnay on the sea-faring ear-bay. Polar dude was out.
The only other serious contender was the caribou. But, man, have you ever talked with a caribou? I mean, seriously, what a moron. Oh, look at my impressive antlers. Oh, you should see me attack my competitors with this incredible rack. Oh, look, there’s some lichen; I must lick it. Honestly, the IQ of this animal makes the moose look like a genius, so we went with Column B/Moose instead.
Besides, the caribou already had unfair fame via his appearance on the Canadian quarter. Whose bonehead idea was that, anyway?
That leaves the hard-working beaver, the crafty lynx, the slightly intellectually-challenged but impressively tall moose, and me, the best damn looking, keen of smell, family-oriented, charming, fluently bi-lingual wolf. Really, it so obviously should be me.
Okay, so the four of us are now in a back room of the bar. It’s a very Canadian kind of place, with British beer on tap, genuine Italian pizza with poutine on the side, American licence plates tacked to the wall, and a wait staff that can curse fluently in both official languages.
Bucky the Beaver slaps his tail and we come to attention. Here’s the gist of what the little fellow has to say, and remember, he’s an orthodontist-avoiding rodent:
“Shay, fellowsh. We are here to demonshtrate why we should be choshen as Canada’sh Offishial Animal, eh. I represhent the hard-working, ingenioush folksh who shtruggle to make a differenche in thish great land. My shpechiesh”—He almost choked on that word—“ish family-oriented, engineering-minded, and vegetarian. We never eat humansh, eh, and I think thish ish very important to mosht Canadiansh. Plush, although we would never want to go back to the bad old daysh, eh, Canadiansh are grateful to ush for our ancheshtorsh’ involuntary donation of peltsh, the shale of which helped early shettlersh thrive in thish hoshtile environment.”
Pretty stirring speech, I’ll give him that. Crafty of him to use the we-don’t-eat-humans theme, and then go for the pity vote, dwelling on the history of being killed for fur. Too bad the emotional impact is ruined by us having to wipe off our faces from all those sprayed sibilants. Yucky stuff, beaver spit.
Saliva now toweled off with a vast number of the bar’s classy paper serviettes, Kitty the Lynx and me give each other sly glances. How are we going to counter Bucky’s speech?
Bullifer the Moose just keeps chowing down on spinach pizza, long strands of greenery draped out of both sides of his cavernous mouth. Kitty and me can’t tell what he is thinking, which is likely nothing but “Yummmmmmmmy.” He’ll be no help, anyways, being a card-carrying vegetarian himself.
Kitty sits pertly on the edge of her chair. She fluffs out her white-tipped fur and then raises a giant, wide-toed paw for silence, subtly popping out one vicious-looking claw after another. It’s a scary and effective tactic. She has our undivided attention.
“Fellas,” she rumbles in her sexy lynx way, “I am Canada’s ideal animal. I want you to take a close look at me.”
Of course we all do. Kitty is impossible to resist when she lays on the charm.
But as we gaze into her golden eyes, at least a couple of us flinch. Kitty is a predator through and through, and, with a couple of tasty, defenceless vegetarians sitting across the table from her, we can all tell exactly what she is thinking. Bullifer takes a couple of steps back from the table in alarm, and Bucky raises his tail for some mighty slapping action if she decides to try anything.
“Come on, fellas,” Kitty purrs. “You’re completely safe. You know I’m just an innocent little pussy cat.”
As if. She must think we were all born yesterday.
“Look at me,” she says, “the breathtakingly beautiful and powerful Canadian lynx. I am glamorous and a perfect symbol of this glorious land. I am a goddess of a hunter (but don’t worry, Bucky and Bullifer—I prefer snowshoe hares) and I alone symbolize the unique Canadian ability to survive in harsh environments while still looking stunningly sexy.”
She has a point. I hate to admit it but she really does win hands down when it comes to sex appeal. Gorgeous, frosted fur, luminous eyes, great manicure, provocatively tipped ears and a perky, fashionably short tail. She’s babe-alicious, even if you’re not a cat.
Bucky is eying her, comparing her assets to his, I guess. He’s going to have to come up with something good. I mean, seriously, his dumpy little beaver body and ridiculously flat tail ain’t got nothing on Kitty’s overall package.
“Shexshy, yesh, but you’re shuch a loner. Not really a Canadian trait, eh? And your range ishn’t ash broad ash mine, Kitty. Can’t find your lot out in much of the Maritimesh, now, can we? And, aren’t you shometimesh called the ‘crossh-border cat’?”
Wow, serious blow from the Beav. He may be right—Kitty’s kind does tend to drift across the U.S. border more than some of the rest of us. And she is a loner. Bit of a snob. No doubt about that.
Beav realizes he has won his point. He cocks an eye at old Bullifer, who is continuing to mow down on spinach pizza.
“I like spinach. I want more,” Bullifer says with a full mouth.
It’s pretty damn disgusting. I ask you, do you see me sitting here with food hanging down my chin? On that basis alone, I can’t figure out why the moose is even being considered.
Bucky looks at Bullifer kindly, and asks, “And if I promish you endlessh amountsh of shpinach and delightful, juichy marsh plantsh, will you vote for me?”
“Yes, Bucky. I like greens. They are nice. You are nice. You are my friend.”
Things are now tense. Kitty and me can barely restrain ourselves from taking out these namby-pamby, vegetarian cheaters.
But Bullifer says, “Really, Kitty Lynx and Lupin Wolfie. I don’t want to be Canada’s official animal. Too much pressure. Bucky Beaver would be better. His kin are everywhere. He works hard. And, sorry, but he doesn’t eat meat. He has my vote.”
That complicated a speech, coming from a moose, is impressive, even if Kitty and me don’t happen to share his rationale. It looks like the die is cast. I won’t vote for Kitty. She won’t vote for me. Bucky, that overgrown, flat-tailed rat, has the majority.
But of course I have to try. My extended wolf pack is depending on me.
I clear my throat and say, “Guys, Girl…take a good look at me. I am the cry of the wild. I am the family man of the remote. I live off the land, this great land of Canada. You could not choose a better representative.”
“You eat garbage,” interrupts Bullifer.
“Do not,” I smartly counter.
“Do so; seen you do it,” says the annoying moose. “Old rotting stuff. Yucky.”
“If you mean carrion,” I say with as much dignity as I can muster, “yes, occasionally. But only now and then. Sometimes it’s surprisingly good eating.”
Bullifer does not look convinced. He goes back to chewing his spinach.
Cheeky little Bucky says, “There are more wolvesh in Russhia than in Canada. And wolvesh are totally gone in mosht of the Maritime provinchesh, eh. You aren’t geographically represhentative at all.”
Oh, oh. They are ganging up on me. I turn in desperation to Kitty, but she has her compact out and is using one of her curved, elegant claws to fluff up her cheek ruffs. Obviously, she will be no help.
I give it one last try.
“I am the howl in Canada’s night. I am the forebear of our people’s best friend, the dog. I am Native, I am European, I am…”
“You are full of shit,” Kitty says, grumpily. “Certainly no better than I am and not nearly as good looking, either. I am voting for the Beav. Case closed. Now, another saucer of cream would be appreciated. Bucky, you owe me; your treat.”
I look from one furry face to the next. Bucky is all smug and self-righteous. Somehow in the short time we have been meeting he has built an entire miniature beaver dam out of matchsticks. Bullifer is calmly and stupidly chomping on his dangling, slimy spinach. Kitty is batting her eyes at a waiter and tweaking her stumpy little tail in a suggestive manner.
There’s nothing more I can do. I slink towards the exit, tail between my legs. How can I explain this to the missus? How will I ever hold on to my Alpha status now? Things are going to be tense back at the pack, that’s for sure.
So, that’s the way it happened, mister. In 1975, you clueless Canadians got yourselves a chubby, annoying, yellow-toothed beaver as your mascot. You could have had a sleek, physically fit, magnificent wolfThink of the logo possibilities you have sacrificed.
Yeah, you do that while I think of the commercial endorsements and pack status that I have lost.
What’s that? You’ll buy me another drink if I tell you another story? Sure, pal, I can tell you the one about how the loon ended up on the one dollar coin. Now that was a travesty, for sure. Can you believe that a crazy, loony-tunes bird got the gig over every other Canadian form of wildlife we have? Quite the tale, quite the tale.
It all starts, as most of these things do, with some folks who walk into a bar…
Sally Basmajian is a lapsed broadcast executive. She has recently taken up writing and has had some success, winning prizes in the 2014 and 2015 Rising Spirits Awards for fantasy and non-fiction and placing in the 2015 Canadian Stories and ScreaminMama creative non-fiction contests. In 2015, her stories have also appeared in the UnCommon Bodies Anthology, CommuterLit, The Fable Online, Psychology Tomorrow, and more. She has a love/hate relationship with her almost completed first novel, a fantasy for young adults, and a much more affectionate one with her husband and her sheltie, who loves long walks in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada.