The Intruder: A Tale of Idiocy and Heroism, pt. 1.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw him. Which is odd, because if we’re being totally honest here, I’d have to say hardly noticed him, let alone recognized him for what he was. At first. It all started on a normal Saturday afternoon filled with the normal Saturday back-and-forth; basically that of balancing appropriate laziness and slothery with at least a little bit of grown-up responsibility. I was half-heartedly doing some mindless damned thing or other that required me to move my arse from the kitchen to the breakfast room for whatever reason, and as I sighed at the familiar cacophony of our two children gleefully dismantling the adjacent playroom with utter weekend abandon, I saw something.
I saw him.
At least . . . maybe I did. Maybe not. It was, after all, Saturday. So, I stopped. And I kind of half-stared. At the back of our breakfast room is a small, dented chest freezer. Beside that dented chest freezer is our small, black recycling bin. I can say with total authority and confidence that nothing even remotely interesting has ever occurred in that particular bit of square footage in our home. Despite this, my nervous system was, in that moment, emphatically trying to grab me by the throat and shake me out of my haze and force me to lock my gaze into that exact spot. So I did. And I saw nothing. So I shrugged my subconscious shoulders. But my nerves wouldn’t back off. They squeezed tighter. So, I rewound the tape in my bleary brain and watched the playback. What that grainy playback showed me was this: a tiny ball of grey fuzzy material; most probably organic and warm, sticking out between that black recycle bin and the dented chest freezer. There one moment and gone the next. My weekending brain hesitated. My nervous system, getting fed up with doing all the work and finally losing its shit completely, screamed the following translation:
Mouse! That’s a mouse butt, you fool!!
Wait. What? immediately, I was awake.
“OOOOOHHhhhhh, hoooooooohh!” I yelled to no one in particular for some dumb reason.
The house suddenly fell silent. I heard the dull padding of three pairs of feet closing the distance behind me.
“What?” said my wife and seven-year-old son more or less simultaneously.
“What Daddy?” said my three-year-old daughter.
“Rodent.” I said stupidly. “There.” I pointed to the boring space between the black recycling bin and the dented chest freezer.
“Nuh-uh!” said my wife, which was followed by the simultaneous sounds of her opening the utensil drawer and my son high-tailing it out the room in a decidedly quick manner. That kid can be seriously quick-footed when inspired. “A rat??” he yelled from the safety of his newfound distance. “Daddy, a rat???”
“Uh.” I said, as if it that would help. “Don’t know. “ I just stood there, hairs bristling up my neck, as my wife passed me quickly, wielding something or other in her hand.
“Where?” she asked. I pointed and maybe said something, but can’t remember. It was, after all, Saturday. And there was a weird intruder in our house.
My wife went to work on the area. The bravery of this woman was astonishing. I basically stood and gaped from my safe distance as she dismantled the back of our breakfast room, all damned business, looking for the little whatever-the-hell-he-was.
“Daddy???” My squealing son, from the other room. His voice pitches high when the nerves kick in. And he bounces up and down, too. On the wooden floors. It sounds like drums when he does that. “Is he still there? What was it??” Boom, boom, boom.
My wife, determined as she was, had nothing left to move around or look under so she stood up. “Huh. Well, whatever it was–“
I swear to God I felt it in the marrow of my bones before I saw it and I’m pretty sure I was already out the kitchen door before my actual brain actually registered that the little grey ball of whatever was suddenly scuttling in an undeniably bold manner directly towards the very place where I stood. I’m pretty sure I was already in the family room before I realized that I was trailing an impressive man-scream in my wake.
My son was already out of the room, well ahead of his wailing father.
“Is it a mouse, Daddy? Is it sooo cuuute??” asked my daughter.
“Where did it go??” My wife from the other room.
“I don’t know.” Me, hyperventilating.
“Well, which direction was it running?”
“Towards my feet!” I wasn’t being very helpful.
And then, just like that, he was gone. Everyone in our house scrambled to go put on leather shoes of some sort. Except for my daughter, she kept her shoes and socks off, as usual. After all, it’s easier to bite one’s toenails in this way.
We waited for him to make another appearance. He did not. We hovered uncomfortably. He still did not re-appear. So, in his absence, we decided to calculate what few details we had about him:
1. He was fairly small, therefore probably not a rat. Probably.
2. From my perspective (which was not trustworthy at all, frankly) he seemed to be missing part of his tail.
3. He was bold as HELL.
4. He was last seen heading towards my toes which were bordering the breakfast room and the kitchen, so we could only assume that he made it into the kitchen without issue.
5. If it was a mouse, he was apparently very cute. My daughter thought this was an important point.
When an hour or two had passed and the intruder made no more appearances, our afternoon/evening began to return to some sense of normalcy. We all expected to see him again, but we did not. But we were all thinking about him, and in the case of my son, talking about him incessantly. In addition to bouncy, he also gets chatty when he’s nervous about a certain subject. As the family sat cross-legged in our dinner chairs as to avoid potential unexpected foot contact with the scurrying critter as we ate our dinner, our son proceeded to A) tell us everything he knew about mice several times over (which wasn’t a whole lot) and B) to interrogate his weary parents for every tiny detail about mice and general mousehood that we could possibly know. Additionally, he must have asked “How did that little bugger get in here, anyway?” no less than five times. Our lack of concrete information did not seem to give him much comfort for some reason.
Eventually, the excitement subsided, and eventually the house went to sleep. I fully admit to doing everything in my power to avoid going into the kitchen for any reason whatsoever that night. A nighttime encounter with the creature seemed a full one thousand times more unsettling than it was in the afternoon. I slept with socks on.
Around 6:15 the next morning, I heard the familiar sound of my son shuffling down from his loft bed, and padding sleepily towards the family room. I heard him rummaging through our basket of library books for his morning reading session. Thankfully, our three-year-old daughter (who is decidedly louder in the mornings) was still asleep. I heard my son quietly turning pages, and I fell back into that first thin layer of Sunday morning sleep.
I heard him, but I decided to not hear him. For five more minutes at least.
Someone standing by my bedside. Someone whispering loudly. “Daaaad!! Dad, I saw the mouse!”
My eyes wide open. Oh, yeah. That.
“I saw the mouse and he definitely had a tail.”
“Where was he?”
“In the family room.”
“What was he doing?”
“He scurried right out from under the couch, right past my feet and scurried into the kitchen!”
“So you’re saying he scurried.”
So the household was awake. And despite the renewed presence of the intruder, we tried our darndest to conduct Sunday business as usual. My wife, taking over cooking duties like she tends to do on weekends with no complaint whatsoever from me, goes about the business of making pancakes. I sit down on the floor of the family room with my kids and attempt a game of Ladybug. I can see my wife scuttling about the kitchen through the doorway of the family room. It isn’t 2 minutes before she gasps and stops dead in her tracks. I’m on my feet in 1/8 of a second. “He went from under the fridge to the pantry,” my wife says, spatula in hand, ready for action. “He’s not exactly shy, is he? The little sh–“
Another two minutes pass. My son and I unconvincingly try to pretend that we are not completely weirded out and nervy. Everything out of the corner of my eye seems to be furry and tiny and moving. I have goosebumps protruding out from under my skin like a million tiny needles. Finally, I settle down a bit only to really see something move once again from the direction of the fridge to the direction of the pantry. This time, he looks darker and I swear there is a tail.
“I think I just saw another one. He couldn’t be moving in that direction unless he teleported back to the fridge.”
Two words crossed my mind. An Infestation. And they were swarming us. In broad daylight.
For whatever reason, we decided that it was still OK to eat our Sunday breakfast in the breakfast room, despite the fact that the breakfast room and adjacent kitchen seemed to be the epicenter of the coming rodential ambush.
“It’s a mouse, it’s not going to hurt you.” My wife, ever the voice of reason. Still, that 20 minute breakfast was nothing but an agonizing endurance fest of the nerves. whereas my son told us the story of the mouse scurrying out from under the couch he was reading on three times over and made the brave and final admission that despite all rational arguments to the contrary, he was, final fact, afraid of mice and that he did not know why.
I finally gathered the courage to stand and begin clearing the table, and as I passed the lunch bar, I nearly stepped on the mouse and we did a stupid yippy little dance around each other as I tried not to drop everything in my hands. Somehow I succeeded, and the little gray ball of yuck darted into the family room and out of sight.
But my wife had had enough. Like a soldier on the front lines, she removed one of her slippers as the thing reversed its course and came directly at us, back into the kitchen at full speed. My wife aimed and threw. Pow. Direct hit. Didn’t stop him. Like a flash, back into the family room.
“Oh, honey please don’t kill it.” I said from my position of total immobility and non-authority. The statement surprised me as it emerged from my mouth.
“Mommy, don’t kill it, he is soooo cuuute!”
A huge slam from the family room. And a squeal like I have never heard filled the house and droned on for what seemed like 10 minutes. My son and I stare at each other, unable to find the balls to go examine the carnage that certainly awaited us in the next room. The sound of moving furniture across wooden floors. Hesitantly, I ask:
“Did you get him?”
“BRING ME A BOWL!!”
A bowl?? Oh, God.
So I stupidly grab the first thing that comes to mind when she says “bowl”. I grab a heavy, 15-year-old ceramic soup bowl that we brought home from our year-long stay in Korea, and I tiptoe out into the family room only to see my wife crouched on all fours near the furthest corner of the room. I hand her the bowl.
“What is this??”
“Not a soup bowl–“
A scutter from an unseen spot in the corner. I am back in the kitchen before I even realized I had moved a muscle.
“So you didn’t kill him?” I ask from far away.
“No, just scared him. I didn’t want him to get out into the bedrooms.”
THUNK! The sound of the heavy bowl hitting the wooden floors. A sigh and the sound of my wife standing up. “Got him. And ohmygod is he cute!”
I peek around the corner to see the bowl upside down on the floor. I assume correctly that the mouse is underneath.
“OK,” she says with relief. “ I have to go take a shower for Church.”
And she goes and does exactly that.
My kids and I gather around and stare at the bowl that has become an unlikely mousetrap.
Silence. Then the sound of my wife turning on the shower.
The hero had left the battle.