Little Spouse On The Prairie: Of Mice And Men
We live, as many High Plains listeners know, in a very old rambling house. Living in a structure that some might call decrepit, though I much prefer the term, “historical,” does have drawbacks. In addition to the astronomical heating bills, the six toilets to clean, and the ever-present sifting of dust from the 1930’s that shakes out of the lathe and plaster when the wind blows in Kansas (and the wind always blows in Kansas), we sometimes have to contend with mice.
Despite my childhood interest in pet hamsters, gerbils, and rats, I have developed a deep-seated aversion to the little critters in adulthood. Oh, I’m still good for a Stuart Little read or a cup of hot chocolate with Despereaux or Reepacheap. But, when it comes to non-talking rodents, I prefer them dead, as opposed to living anywhere in the High Plains listening area.
About a week after the birth of my youngest child, I stumbled down from the third-floor nursery to our bedroom on the second floor after a midnight feeding with little Clementine. I detoured to the master bathroom and had just seated myself comfortably when, from under our claw-footed tub, emerged a very small, gray mouse. For a moment, we regarded one another, this tiny trespasser and I, before I screamed at the top of my lungs, causing the mouse to scurry back under the bathtub.
Joel normally sleeps in a comatose state, but it had been well over 20 years since he’d had a new baby at home, and he’d forgotten about the constant midnight breath checks between diaper changes and feedings. Gosh, it was probably a good eight or nine days into Clementine’s life before he was finally able to regain his ability to lose consciousness on contact with a pillow.
Upon hearing my bloodcurdling scream, he jolted awake. I ran into the bedroom just in time to witness his launch. Having been reading up on the care of newborns, I was quite familiar with an infant’s sudden reaction to a loud noise or quick movement known as the startle reflex. But I had never witnessed this response in anyone weighing approximately 230 pounds. When Joel’s long arms and legs flailed abruptly out and his back and buttocks levitated quickly, his hands and feet struck our carved headboard and footboard. One might think that a person who rises straight up from the bed would settle directly back on the mattress, but apparently when a man begins clawing the air and arching his back while levitated, sideways motion results.
The upshot is, when he came down several seconds later, he did not settle peacefully back onto the mattress (which as you may remember was one of those nice new memory foam ones). Rather, he landed unceremoniously in a heap on the floor, rolled to his hands and knees, then scrambled on all fours past me into the bathroom. He was mumbling something to the effect of, “Where is she? Where is she?”
Naturally, I assumed that he was referring to the mouse, since with her tiny stature and delicate little nose, she had struck me as, most certainly, a girl-mouse. So, in the interest of effective and immediate crisis intervention, I screamed, “She’s under the tub!”
It wasn’t until much later, after treating the open wounds and icing the swelling on Joel’s hands and feet that it dawned on me that he had actually been referring to our baby daughter, Clementine. I wondered how on earth he thought that a seven-day-old baby could possibly crawl under the bathtub, but then, I’d never been adept at understanding Joel’s cryptic communication.
Determined to sleep away from the rodent-infested rooms, I had just taken Clementine downstairs to the guest room, when I heard a crash. Running out to the hallway, I realized a catastrophe must have occurred because the chandelier in the dining room was even swaying from the impact of whatever was going on above.
Soon, Joel came limping down carrying a bloodied towel. In a tussle with the mouse, he had managed to stomp the poor little thing with his bare size-12 foot. Though he was rather proud of his achievement, I was appalled. How could he do such a heartless thing to an innocent creature? Good thing I was already in the guest room because I wasn’t sure I could sleep with my cruel husband on that particular night.
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