I knew things weren’t going well when Bucky stopped giving kisses.
We weren’t looking for a third ferret when we saw this critter, five and a half years ago. This fat, mellow, sweet little 1-year-old critter, who ambled around the playpen at the ferret shelter clucking to himself like a tiny little hen, with a white stripe down the top of his gray head and little white feet like baby socks. This critter who nibbled my fingers and swished his fluffy tail at me. This critter who set about cleaning and grooming Mr. A vigorously and thoroughly, licking his arm from wrist to elbow. This critter who’d come in with a bunch of other ferrets to an intake officer who liked Shakespeare, and thus …
This critter who was named Mercutio. Mercutio, the death-dealing badass from Romeo and Juliet.
He wasn’t home with us five minutes before we realized he was no Mercutio.
The stripe christened him for us: Bucky Badger, but we most often referred to him as Cheddar Bob, the dumbass friend in 8 Mile who shoots himself in the leg with his own gun while showing off for Eminem. Bucky had bad eyesight and was slightly deaf, and as such would wander into things, jump off stuff he had no business being on top of in the first place, and fling his food all over the cage floor so he didn’t have to aim for the bowl.
Not the sharpest tool in the shed, our Bucky, but definitely the most affectionate. He would lick my fingers, try to stick his nose in my ear, and when Mr. A let him he’d kiss and kiss and kiss. He was a people ferret. He’d rather have played with us than with any of his brothers or Claire. He would chase me back and forth and around the dining room table endlessly the minute I let him out of his cage, beg for treats like a tiny puppy, and attack my shoes and socks to get my attention.
He ballooned up in winter and grew a glorious coat each year, and he loved stuffed animals. My little brother gave me an ugly stuffy and I gave it to Bucky, and he adopted it and played house with it like it was his dolly:
When Kick was born he added her to his kissing list, licking her little newborn feet and sniffing her non-threateningly. She loved to watch him from over the baby gate between the dining room and office where the ferret cage is, and he was very patient with her not-always-gentle petting, would just dance and chatter away when she got too rambunctious or insistent.
He was going blind by this point, but it took us a while to notice. Cheddar Bob was just more clumsy at first, we thought. Getting old.
He went downhill incredibly fast. He had been slowing down this past year, but when his back legs got weak we discovered he had cancer, and when his meds didn’t work we found out he had liver disease as well. Special feedings failed to fatten him up, and I wound up wearing more of the meds than he took. As recently as two weeks ago he was still getting out of the cage now and again to wander around the room, but over the weekend he had a series of seizures, and stopped getting up almost entirely. He couldn’t eat on his own, or drink. And he stopped giving kisses.
He wanted to be affectionate, but he just couldn’t summon the energy. He sighed, exhausted, and laid his head on my hand. I shook his favorite toy at him and let him sniff it, but the joy was going out of him. Last night he slept in my lap, lulled with peanut butter and all the other treats he could possibly want, and we told him where Fox and Joe and Stripe and Tilly and Puck and Riot would be waiting, and what to do when he got there. Mr. A tucked him gently into his carrier this morning and took him to the vet.
We’re keeping a close eye on Claire, but so far she seems unfazed by her new only-child status. I wish I could say I was accepting it as easily as she is. We haven’t had just one ferret in more than 10 years, since we unthinkingly bought Fox from a pet store and started down this joyous, fuzzy, ridiculous road. The house seems emptier now than it has in a long time. They’re such little things, to leave such large spaces behind.