6. The Dogs Just Don’t Care.

My big water heater in the corner of the kitchen
In the corner, the water heater grins and I bear it.

I was sitting at the table with a next-gen family member one night after supper, lamenting the condition of my house, making the case that I very much needed assistance with repairs. I was feeling a definite lack of sympathy; I was getting no traction with my argument. In fairness, I was probably whining. I could hear my own strident broken-record voice, and I hated it.

Then something small ran across the floor into the corner.

I screamed. A wild thing was loose in my kitchen.

I’d known it was only a matter of time. Earlier in the week tiny holes had appeared in the plastic wrap over a batch of biscuits on the counter. Possibly, I’d inadvertently poked the pliofilm with a knife tip. Preferring to err on the side of caution, we didn’t eat any of the biscuits on that side of the pan after I thought I saw the tiny, micro-tesimal, nano-sized, barely there, probably not really there at all, holes. But then, the morning before the night of the small alien sighting, there were undeniably bigger holes puncturing a loaf cake on the table, also covered with plastic wrap (torn). My alternative rational explanations were irrational and highly unlikely. Of course there was a rodent in the house.

No matter how often this happens (more than occasionally), I’m always surprised, but as a preventive measure, I had set out mousetraps behind a pet-proof barricade. One of the three then-visiting dogs got around my stack of bricks and got his paw caught. He thrashed and smashed the trap till it broke in two and let him go. He limped around moaning for a day, and then was fine, but clearly the mousetraps had to go. The latest expat from Mouseville had the run of the house, and S/He/It knew it.

On the night of the incident, just when I figured the little squirt had left the premises and squeezed through a crack in the wall to find better hunting grounds outside, I looked around to see two tiny beady black eyeballs studying me from the microwave counter, less than a foot away from my arm resting on the kitchen table. Where we had eaten 30 minutes earlier. Whiskers twitching. No fear. On Her/His/Its part anyway. For my part, I was screaming.

The canine trio paid no attention. We grabbed the likeliest one – the victim of the previous mousetrap mishap who should have been righteously indignant at the very least – and held him up face to face with the evil scourge. They stared quietly at each other. Relaxed, mildly curious. Not worried. The others were screaming too. Not at the sight of the mouse. At me. “Don’t kill it. Don’t kill it! It’s so cute.” That mouse was surely mocking me with silent laughter.

Someone urgently demanded a box or a bucket, or something to catch it with and let it loose outside. Were they freaking kidding?? They were serious but couldn’t get near enough before the thing started running around the kitchen floor, up on the counters, over the table, and behind the water heater.

I don’t think a bathroom should be adjacent to the kitchen, but since my W.C. was an afterthought in the 1930s, it was added onto the enclosed back porch. Right off the kitchen.

The water heater is a big ugly 40-gallon monstrous appliance. I can’t get behind it or next to it to clean. I try not to think about or see that corner of the kitchen, but pretty much it’s what you do see when you walk in. The water pipes enter from outside to beneath the sink, connect to the water heater, and pass through the wall to the bathroom, through the shower, out a wall to the porch, and over to the washing machine. The pipes are not aesthetically pleasing, even if I was going for post-modern industrial. (I’m not. The walls are pink.) This corner is on my list of things that I can’t stand any more. I don’t know how to replace a water heater. I’m waiting for it to quit working so I will be forced to do something about it.

Water heaters in this climate are tricky. If you leave for any length of time, you better leave the heat on so the water heater doesn’t freeze and explode. That happened once in the little house next door; we had our own indoor skating rink. I had to wait until the spring thaw to mop out the water. That was also the spring I found tadpoles under the house, with no pond, lake or river within even reasonable walking distance. So, what, they swam here??? I do not have central heat in this house. I have a little propane fireplace in the living room, space heaters in different rooms, and a wood stove in the kitchen. Obviously, I can’t leave the house unsupervised for days and expect any of those to keep the pipes from freezing.

The mouse on this particular night knew its way about. I had been hearing little scritch-scratches, and bumps in the night for a week or so. I told myself the house was just shifting and settling. Well here was proof that I hadn’t imagined the noises. I darn well did know all along what they meant. This was a classic case of denial, like a toothache that gets worse not better, no matter how hard you try to ignore it. 99% of the time, that kind of problem does not go away by itself – a life lesson I keep relearning.

The mouse had no intention of going away. It walked with impunity – calmly walked – on top of the water pipe along the wall from under the sink through a bigger-than-silver-dollar size hole into the bathroom. And then, disappeared into thin air. Nowhere to be seen or heard. I have to confess that I quietly set a trap next to the toilet before going to bed and shut the door to keep the dogs away. Sometime in the night Ms./Mr. Mouse returned. I threw out the evidence the next morning before anyone could find it and accuse me of unconscionable cruelty.

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