The Husband Travels and the Squirrels Are Moving In

What is the one thing a husband is useful having around the house for? I mean the truly most important thing?

To fix things that aren’t working, of course. And possibly to deal with any wildlife in the house.

Leave it to my husband to have an uncanny sixth sense enabling him to disappear anytime disaster is imminent, leaving me to deal alone with whatever situation arises. And arise they do, those situations, trust me.

Noisette has been on an overseas assignment and I was sitting with the girls this evening, reading to them before bedtime, when I heard a loud gushing noise just outside the window. “That’s odd,” I thought, “it can’t be raining again?” We’d already had some unseasonable rains this past week, but today had been a perfectly clear day, without a cloud to be seen. And indeed it only seemed to be raining in one particular spot, down the roof and along the wall, landing in a big puddle next to the house. Plus it was steaming hot rain, from the looks of it.

There was nothing to be done but find a flashlight and investigate. In  my pajamas of course, as these things always happen at rather inopportune moments. And, like I said, with Noisette one big ocean and seven hours of time difference away. Might I just add that asking him for advice via SMS did not yield the desired answers. Up I clambered into the attic, where I couldn’t find anything unusual. Down again and around the house, to see if maybe the solar heating panels were leaking. But it turns out they are on the other side of the roof, slanting the wrong way. Back upstairs and to an outside balcony with a  ladder, to peek onto the roof where the waterfall seemed to be originating from. And there it was – a pipe, coming from the water heater (geyser for South Africans) from what it looked like, releasing a huge gusher of boiling water right onto the roof of the balcony, where it had formed a pond that overflowed down the side of the house.

It could be worse, I guess. It could be flowing down the inside of the house. Either way, a job for the plumber tomorrow morning.Who I’m sure will arrive just now. Or now now, if I’m lucky.

We’ve also had a faucet fall off, a leaking pool pump, and a broken irrigation pipe, all during the same trip. I wonder what other water damage is in store?

And did I tell you I had another flat tire? And while I was busy changing it with Jabulani (who has a ton of experience in that department from our Namibia trip, a whole other story I have yet to tell), my fingers black with grime, I get an SMS from said husband – he of the unhelpful SMSs – asking which of the two new cars he’s looking at he should buy. Let’s just say I should not repeat the words I muttered under my breath.

But it could have been worse. At least this time I had the tire lock nut with the spare wheel, where it belongs.

For the record, we also had one of the TVs break. The one the kids have their xBox and Wii hooked up to. It just refuses to turn on. But for once, this does not distress me at all. I do not feel compelled to have it fixed or replaced, possibly ever, and it feels oddly liberating.

All this has not been my only brush with a husband-travels-disaster-strikes event by any means. There was the time, early in our marriage, when we lived in a quaint house in the woods in North Carolina. It was a lovely house, and the loveliest feature of it was a wood-burning stove with an angled pipe running from floor to ceiling and out the roof. Except somebody had forgotten to put some kind of guard rail onto the chimney, so that squirrels had a habit of falling into it. Which of course they preferred to do whenever Noisette was on a three-week business trip to Mexico. You could hear them scrambling around in that pipe, which had a kink right in the middle from where they’d try to get back up, in vain. It wasn’t really so bad as long as you could hear them, but much worse once you no longer did.

Because who wants a dead squirrel hovering somewhere above their head?

Living room in our first house in Raleigh, ca 1994. See the stove pipe with the kink?

Same house from the outside with chimney top left. But really I’m just including this picture to show off the very cool car Noisette drove at the time. A 1968 Pontiac Catalina. It comfor-tably seated four adults next to each other on the front seat, which was a bench. Will have to come up with a blog post on that story sometime…

So the squirrel had to come out, was what I decided after a few long days of agonizing contemplation. I came up with the glorious idea of lighting a fire under it. Surely a fire – a very little fire, mind you – would spur the squirrel into action and release unknown energy stores for it to gather all its strength and somehow climb back out the top. Right?

Well, my fire from a balled-up newspaper did indeed spur the squirrel into action. Except not in the desired direction. The panicky squirrel, driven out of its pipe by the smoke, showed plenty of resolve to escape, and, smart as squirrels are, decided the quickest way out was down. Just imagine the scene: Me, poised in front of the wood-burning stove, matches in hand, nursing the flame. The squirrel, coming down at top speed, dropping onto the flames, yelling “yikes” because he burned his feet, and jumping out of the stove with a giant leap. Where do you think it landed? That’s right, square in the middle of my chest. To this day I can feel its tiny claws digging into my t-shirt and see the look of horror in its eyes at being so close-up to another pair of eyes, staring back at it with more or less the same amount of panic. There we both sat, too stunned to utter a word. The scene from Dr. Seuss’s The Pale Green Pants comes to mind. Until the squirrel gathered its senses and ran down my lap and out the door, never to be seen again and probably to this day telling its grandchildren about the time he escaped the great big fire by tackling a human.

Then there was the time, much later and in a different house, when I discovered I had mice in the kitchen. To tell you the truth, I’m not much bothered by mice. I find them rather cute. Much cuter than the Parktown Prawns I’ve had to deal with here in Johannesburg (also when Noisette was absent, I might add). But it did bother me that this mouse kept going at the cereal in the pantry, leaving little trails of tell-tale mouse droppings every morning. I consulted with the pest control guy, and, because I can’t kill anything, we decided on some new method of catching mice, which in principle sounded all very good and well, and which he dropped off at my house that very afternoon. It was a piece of sticky cardboard smelling very strongly of bacon, and all I had to do, he instructed me, was put it in the pantry at night. Without fail, I’d have caught the mouse by morning, case solved.

He was right and the mouse was indeed caught, looking up at  me with big eyes early the next morning from its perch on the cardboard, which it had proceeded to chew off on one corner. But what he had failed to tell me was what the hell I was supposed to do with a mouse glued to a piece of cardboard in my kitchen? At 6:00 am?

The solution, intelligently enough, was supplied by the piece of cardboard itself. It had instructions printed on the back. Mind you, it would have been much smarter to read those prior to setting the mouse trap, not afterwards, when doing so resulted in quite a bit of juggling and squealing and guessing (because half the instructions were chewed off). But I managed to deduce that both cardboard and mouse had to be removed to a location at least two miles away, lest the mouse came running right back home, and that a stream of vegetable oil would do the trick of unglueing its feet.

I’m quite pleased for even finding this 2003 picture. Let alone having taken it in the first place. I must have known a picture of a mouse on the passenger seat would come in handy one day.

I felt rather like a criminal driving through our neighborhood in the early morning light, still in my pajamas, mouse safely tucked on the seat next to me, together with the jar of olive oil. Because who wants to now have a mouse in their yard? I could practically feel the neighbors’ eyes boring into me, following my every move. If anybody did see me that morning, I suppose they thought I was completely bonkers. But I did manage to discard the mouse in some deep grass, and I’m happy to report that the oil indeed worked like a charm. I suppose that’s useful information to you, dear reader, in the event you ever find yourself glued to something you can’t get off of.

Another time, by then in Kansas, Noisette had literally just left that evening on some boondoggle (perhaps to investigate living in South Africa, now that I think about it) when I was woken at 2:00 am by the most unearthly shrill noise. It was a smoke alarm going off. Now I don’t know about you, but I am not very sensible when it comes to alarms. I don’t care what they are supposed to tell you, my only instinct is to want to turn them off, presto. There could be a guy standing there with a gun breaking into the house, there could be a raging fire, but the one thing I really want to do with every fiber of my being is to TURN THE DAMN THING OFF.

How do you turn off a smoke alarm you’ve never paid much attention to before, which in fact you didn’t even know existed? I’m sure there is a perfectly reasonable way to do it, if you thought about it calmly, but you employ anything but clear thinking when your house is ringing with the slaughter of thirty pigs, or so it sounds. So you find a tall barstool, clamber on it, and rip the offending thing from the ceiling. It continues screaming at you, so you rip out the battery, and you breathe a sigh of relief because now peace is restored, save a feeble beeping sound every thirty seconds. Unbelievably, the kids have slept through it. You have just gone back to bed and tucked the covers around you, and then it starts up somewhere else in the house. Our smoke alarms, I am to learn later, are all hooked up to each other in a very foolproof sort of way. Should one fail, the next one goes off, ensuring that you will wake up in time to escape the fire.

But there is no escaping these damn alarms. Whenever I rip out one, another one starts up from a different room, and the game begins anew. There is no telling which one it is that’s faulty, so I only get to rest, breathing heavily, after the very last one is left dangling from the ceiling. Our house has thirteen smoke alarms, I learn that long night. I also learn that while three of my children will eventually wake up and complain about the noise, one of them will sleep right through it all, including me jumping up and down on his bed to kill the alarm wailing right over his head.

Oh but to have a husband around just once when these things happen, so that he can deal with them!

Except when you get your wish, and he is indeed home the day you find a giant black snake on your threshold, he is of no help whatsoever. I should have known, from the way he freaks out about spiders in our bedroom, that a snake would end up squarely on my shoulders, quite literally.

At first it was just laying draped along the threshold to the house. A big rat snake, from the looks of it, and quite harmless. But I really didn’t want for it to stay there, much like the squirrel in the chimney. Because what if it disappeared? Where would it have gone to then? This was the threshold leading into our garage, and I could just see the kids sauntering to school in the morning or digging out their roller skates from a dark corner, and coming across this thing. Not a happy thought.

I didn’t have a picture of the rat snake, so I’m using this one instead, taken a few years earlier. It’s a copperhead (that one is poisonous), found at the same house directly under the fence where the kids always hung their wet swimsuits. I admit I called the neighbor to dispose of  that one (after first having donned boots and a shovel but couldn’t bring myself to bring  down the shovel decisively).

Noisette, not happy to be roused from the Sunday funny pages, was scratching his head. “Maybe we could use the BBQ tongs to grab it?” he volunteered.

I knew right then that I’d have to go this alone. Whenever my husband uses the word “we” around the house, what he really means is “you.” As in “We really should spend more time in the yard weeding.” Or actually, all he has to say is “We’ve let the house get rather messy lately” for me to spring into action. Must be my eagerness to please, or my competitive nature, but I always oblige by getting really busy, only to usually elicit a “Whoa, what happened to you, some kind of nesting instinct?”

And seriously, BBQ tongs? Might as well light another fire for all the good that would do.

I’m proud to say I conquered the snake that day. I donned the heavy leather fireplace mitts, grabbed the snake around its neck just like you’ve read in every snake story you’ve ever come across, ignored the fact that it immediately coiled itself around my arm and up towards my neck, and ran down the stairs and outside with it, flinging it into the bushes in a beautiful high arch. I might have screamed a little bit while I was doing the flinging.

I wonder if the squirrels and the mice and the snakes in a quiet Raleigh cul-de-sac ever talk to each other, exchanging stories about crazy humans.

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