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I had a guinea pig named Fluffy that survived a 500-year flood in Southwest Georgia by surfing his tray as it floated through the rooms of our house until it came to rest in my parent’s closet on a high shelf. 

Let me be clear: Fluffy didn’t make it.  He starved to death, there on the shelf as the water took two weeks to recede. 

I used to think he was dumb because I would take the metal cage topper off his tray and Fluffy wouldn’t go on adventures like I’d imagined he’d do.  I imagined him hopping down to the kitchen linoleum, walking a tightrope lamp cord to a nearby window, and escaping to the outside world, fulfilling his life’s destiny of returning to the jungles of his ancestors in Peru.  I’d come home from school and he’d be there, in his tray, staring off or working his teeth over the bell-shaped seed clusters he cherished, and I remember telling my mom, “I think Fluffy is dumb.”

However, I started thinking he may not be so dumb when I found out he had ESP.  He’d know when my dad was approaching in his Ford Bronco from miles away and start squeaking.  I’d hear him squeak, somehow knowing dad was coming, and I’d look out the window, down the long loblolly-covered country and sure enough dad would be coming around the bend.  Dad would give Fluffy big, folded sheets of iceberg lettuce and Fluffy had become a real lettuce whore, so much so he had formed a whole set of psychokinetic skills around it and my dad and the Bronco.

He wasn’t always a freak, though, sometimes Fluffy would sit on my shoulder like a pirate’s parrot and we’d watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.  Mom would dress Fluffy in craft doll clothes for no other reason than to see what a guinea pig would look like in jean overalls and a straw Dorfman hat.  He had an Amish quality to his appearance in those moments that I’ll never forget and a true sadness I could never forgive my mom for.  His mouth would be going and going over nothing, joking to himself in these high-pitched squeaks that I loved, looking askance as it were at Pat and Vana and Trebek and our whole quiet home.

After all the water emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, and we assessed the damage, we found my dad’s Bronco in a sinkhole in the yard.  The house was crusted with mud up to the eaves.  Nine feet of water.  And I found Fluffy laying on his side, still as he was sleeping, but just as soft and beautifully brown and white, and ultimately not sleeping.

When we swam out that night in 1994, I remember thinking of Fluffy only once we’d started swimming away, and only for a minute, and by the time I’d started floating backwards, drifting sideways in the current, holding onto my dad’s belt, I looked back at the house painted the same silver as starlight, and I imagined I would be back, that we’d all be back to normal soon, but the house, the little thing, grew smaller and smaller in the distance until I looked back again later and maybe it was the darkness of a cloud obscuring the moon, but it was gone, all of it.