America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
By Tal Abbady
Once upon a past millennium, a group of North American Beavers who lived in the Upper Forest got together every year for their widely broadcast awards show.
The Beavers lorded over millions of Squirrels in the Lower Forest and received awards for being themselves.
This was necessary because they were otherwise prone to a form of instantaneous obsolescence called L´hitraot (Hebrew for See You Later, pronounced Leetra-ot), wherein the animal´s bodily contents and its Essential Self would vanish without warning, leaving behind the flaccid, dispossessed fur with the tail still attached. The fact that a L´hitraot could strike at any time caused the Beavers incapacitating anxiety.
The Squirrels, though they were mere subjects, secretly devised the awards shows themselves because they depended on the Beavers to preserve the entire forest´s delicate eco-system through a network of felled trees, river dams and Beaver ponds. These obstructions of wet bark and pooled water also made it difficult for bands of cannibal squirrels, whom nobody ruled over and who were always hungry, to hunt down the law-abiding squirrels for food. It was known, but generally not commented on, that famine plagued the Lower Forest.
The squirrels also lacked entertainment. They knew the Beavers were uppity creatures who swelled at the slightest compliment. They also found the Beavers´ shiny coats narcotizing to look at, and figured a little Beaver pageantry would go a long way to raise morale in the Lower Forest.
The Beavers weren´t exactly sure how the awards show came about. One day, five of them were diving for water lilies and bumped into a muddy entranceway into a huge lodge gutted of the usual dead leaves and underbark and decked instead with auditorium-style seats, red carpeting and an awards presenter onstage – all stealthily engineered by a group of squirrels who feared too many L´hitraots were decimating the Beaver population. These first beavers pioneered the awards process by instinctively sitting down and waiting for their names to be called out.
Then the presenter said, "And the award for Best Pickerel Weed Gatherer goes to…," and the winner stood up to roaring applause.
That was the first annual Beaver Awards Show.
The Beaver Awards had a self-generating effect and were presented for merits such as "Fastest Webbed Feet" or "Best Streambed Builder." Each recipient would scamper onstage in tears, and would, within seconds of holding the award, look newly glossed and freshly present. Then the recipient would deliver an acceptance speech that was broadcast throughout the forest via satellite hookup.
Within a year, the Beaver Awards helped reduce the number of L´hitraots by nearly 80 percent, but did not eradicate them.
When a beaver went without an award, it would worry, because it meant that a L´hitraot was close at hand.
Unheralded beavers were known to be L´hitraotted right at the awards ceremony itself –their round forms suddenly withering as though someone had opened the inflation valve on a child´s floaty. In such cases, the disappeared beaver´s managers would have to act quickly to grab the abandoned fur and tail and have them encased in protective plastic. Otherwise, a police-eluding gang of hawkers, believed by many to include the top, prize-collecting beavers themselves, would sell the tails to the squirrels, who used them to make soup.
Sometimes, a L´hitraotted beaver would manage, through a Lifetime Achievement Award given in absentia, to re-substantiate itself right in the protective plastic where its fur had been preserved for this unlikely occurrence. Then the beaver would be unzipped from the plastic shroud and crawl to the stage to make its acceptance speech, usually shaky and tentative from its surprise resurrection. Such beavers, however, often struggled to hang on to their frail reconstitutions and suffered another, final L´hitraot right away, sometimes mid-acceptance speech. Their managers would often be L´hitraotted along with them. Whenever this happened, it meant that several families of squirrels would have enough soup to last them a month.
One year, a Beaver who hadn´t won an award in a while managed to get the job of awards presenter. This was considered an act of charity by the awards employment committee, because everyone knew this Beaver would likely get hit with a L´hitraot at any moment and already had a half-vanished look to it.The Beaver´s single remaining manager had even prepared the plastic.
On the night of the awards, the Beaver, shaking with terror because it sensed a L´hitraot was near, clutched the microphone and announced the first award: to Itself, for possessing the best castor sacs and anal glands around, and for having squeezed from these a special oil used to heighten the flavor of the Beavers´ favorite dessert – Beaver Musk ice cream. The Beavers applauded wildly, and the awards presenter looked suddenly refreshed and clearly visible.
Then the presenter gleefully announced that awards would be given to every Beaver in the audience, and that, in fact, the show´s organizers had managed to program fifty years´ worth of awards in one broadcast. The Beavers, if they wanted to ensure their perpetuity, were not to leave the auditorium for the next five decades. Each one would receive multiple awards. The curse of the L´hitraot was beaten!
With no wetlands and chewed birch to provide hiding places, and no Beaver tail to keep their soup crocks filled, the Squirrels were in a bad way. Soon, rogue armies of cannibal squirrels invaded, and all-out savagery broke out in the Lower Forest.
Every few months, though, all sides declared a cease-fire to watch an hour or so of the perpetual Beaver Awards Show.
After twenty years, a Beaver who wanted a break from winning awards and needed to stretch its legs ventured out of the Awards Auditorium through a side-door. After pushing through years of old mud and accumulated leaves, it found itself in the Lower Forest.
There, it ran into a Squirrel.
"Shalom," the Squirrel said.
"Shalom," said the Beaver. "What´s with all the dead squirrels lying around?"
"Twenty years of war and famine," the Squirrel said.
"That´s terrible," the Beaver said.
"And no Beaver tail to make soup," added the squirrel.
This last comment unnerved the Beaver, but it said nothing. It listened while the squirrel spoke of how most of its family had been killed off, and that it had killed off many squirrel families as well, but thank God they had the Awards Show to watch on the occasional ceasefire.
Then the Beaver started to feel dizzy and insubstantial and figured it better get back to the Awards Show.
"I have to go," the Beaver said, "but I could down a few trees and dig some tunnels before I go, make a few nooks and crannies for you to hide from the enemy."
"Great," the squirrel said.
Just as the Beaver stuck its incisors in the nearest birch tree, it went poof and disinflated, leaving behind a sack of fur and soup-worthy tail.
The Squirrel cut up the tail into hundreds of pieces and sold it off to all the warring factions, easing the famine a bit and creating a spirit of camaraderie among the squirrels, so much so that a group of them, even enemies, got together to watch the show during dinner one night.
"And tonight´s Lifetime Achievement Award goes to!" the presenter said. The Beavers glanced at each other but no Beaver stood up, causing panicked looks all around in the auditorium. The Squirrels felt their soup bowls and stomachs vibrate noisily for a moment, but thought nothing of it and kept eating, waiting for the show to go on. And it did.
7 June 2014
Tal Abbady's work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Daily News, gonomad.com and other publications. She teaches at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid.