by Becky Z
Blame the owner, not the dog! Written for The Writer's Cramp. See revised in port.
| Boxes, lamps, chairs, my lumpy bed: all were arriving load by load through the front door of my new bungalow last September.
“Owning a house isn’t for everybody,” you told me when I first showed you the house. “There’s a lot of work involved, a lot to take care of.”
“I can handle the house,” I replied. “It won’t fall down on my watch.”
Living alone, however, is a whole other story. You know how it is. At least I have Sam. Have I told you what happened that first night?
Well, Sam was busy sniffing every corner while I pretended to help the movers arrange the furniture around the walls. Around nine all my help was gone and I collapsed into a chair in the living room. I looked out the front windows to see drips and drops. “A toast,” I said to Sam and the couch and the rain, raising my empty hand in the air, “to a new beginning, however crappy.”
While I was getting ready for bed that night, Sam was making herself comfortable across the room in the bedroom closet, her hind legs stretched flat out behind her, her nose pushed into a pile of shoes next to a stack of packing boxes. She must smell squirrels in the attic, I thought. Or maybe birds? It had been a long time since this old dog could catch anything. I looked up at the attic door in the closet’s ceiling. A hole in the roof big enough for rodents is something I could possibly endure, I told myself, like bindweed in the shrubbery or noisy struts on the car. Life isn’t perfect. Wasn't this house inspected? I ruffled Sam’s fur, chiding, “If you caught it, what would you do with it, silly girl?” I left her there, went to bed and, lulled by the steady rain tapping the bedside window glass, quickly fell asleep.
I remember I was in one of my favorite dreamsites, wandering around a Winchester House kind of structure - you know, that huge mansion in California that the rifle heiress kept building and building? My house had rope bridges over tree-shaded ponds, and dumb-waiters carrying people with open umbrellas up and down from floor to floor. I was warmly greeting several people I’m sure I had never met before when suddenly up popped Sam on the dumb-waiter. She opened her mouth and instead of her usual sharp little woof, she delivered an unearthly high-pitched cry. I sat up in bed and shook my head, as if the sound were something I could physically dislodge from my ear. It was three in the morning. The screeching was real, and it was coming from the closet.
As you can imagine, I was beside myself. My heart began to beat so hard I thought it might bruise my chest. That can’t be Sam making such a noise, can it? I turned on the light, mostly to assure myself that I was really awake, but then there was . . . nothing. The noise had stopped. Standing at the foot of my bed was Sam, panting but definitely not screeching.
I went to the closet door. It was closed. I hadn’t closed it last night; Sam was there, after all. I could have been mistaken; it had been a long day. I took a deep breath and opened the closet door.
There was no sound. I shifted a few shoes on the floor and saw an overturned box quiver a little. Great, I thought, my first night here and it’s Snakes on a Plane. Sam came to help, barking. I considered just closing the door and calling you to come get me, but it was obvious that I was going to have to be the grown-up here, being the only grown-up available. I got the broom from the kitchen and gently tapped the top of the box.
The box began to shake, and from beneath it appeared the toothiest, ugliest, wettest possum you could imagine, screeching at me as if I were encroaching on ancient and sacred possum territory. I screeched back. From the closet shelf came another shriek -- ah yes, another possum! As I continued to yell and carry on, it climbed down my good suit and plopped on the floor next to its stinky friend. Whatever happened to possums playing dead? We were all getting a bit defensive by this point.
Now this is the good part: while all the screeching (mine and theirs) was going on, Sam, barking all the time, got behind the box in the closet and started pushing it and the possums out into the room. I, of course, continued to scream. Seeing the possums lumbering in the direction of the window, I climbed over the bed, raised the window sash, and pushed up the screen. Out they went. I watched them ford the wet yard, silent now. When lights went on in the house across the street, I realized I was still yelling. Sort of a victory whoop, actually.
Sam parked herself at the window for the remainder of the night, tossing off an occasional woof for good measure. It occurred to me that after she had cornered the critters and made them squeal, she had indeed caught them by closing the closet door on them. Good dog! I settled down and managed to go back to bed. It must have been the thrill of the chase or the descending veil of sleep, but at that moment I truly believed I had everything under control. Living alone would be a snap! I decided that the possums just wanted a dry place to hang out and settle down for the winter. Maybe they just needed to ride the dumb-waiter up and down like everybody else.
The next morning, however, I called the house inspectors and Critter Ridders.