Or, the mortality of a rodent.
|The Mighty Hunter uses his friendly, easy going appearance to his advantage in battle.|
Every man has that definitive moment in his life when he finds out, truly, who he is. For Shackelton it was his trip to the South Pole, for Krakauer it was his trip up Mount Everest. For me, that moment was last night.
It was a calm and peaceful Friday night. We had finished the lighting plot for the theater festival. The prop list and costumes had pretty much been completed. Phoebe had done the grocery shopping and baked the bread. So I took a moment to settle in with a good book and a brandy…or at least my version of that: beers and computer games. Everyone else had quietly put themselves to bed and I was wrapping up the fourth straight win on Starcraft.
That’s when it started.
By the fireplace, there was a small rustle of newspapers. I had heard this kind of thing before, so I didn’t immediately act. But, as I sat at the dinning room table, and I turned to my right to see…him.
Roughly eight inches long, covered in a brown/grey fur, with a bushy tail, and he was staring…right…at…me. He was still. And he looked at me as if to say “Hello. Tonight we are going to find out whose house this really is. Sure, you’ve been paying the mortgage, but I suggest you start packing and find someplace else.”
Admittedly, we’ve had rodents in our house before, and I have dispatched them without great struggle. But somehow this was different. I stared back at him as if to say. “Go back down whatever hole you came out of, before this get’s ugly, for you.”
And I thought he got the message because as quickly as he was there, he was suddenly gone. I thought nothing more of it.
Soon, I retired to bed, turning off lights along the way. As I lay in the darkness, I could hear that our visitor had not taken my mental advice. In a slight miscalculation, Phoebe was still awake and could hear it as well. I knew that this would complicate the situation.
“What,” she said aloud, “do you suppose that would be?”
I would have to choose my next words very carefully, as I know she would not be happy with the news.
I thought, then spoke. “I’m not REALLY certain, however it might be the squirrel I saw in the living room earlier.”
Time passed. Then Phoebe replied “Do you think it knows how badly I don’t want that to be the case?”
I immediately tried to end the conversation by pointing out that the house was full of holes in the floor where the heating pipes traveled to the basement, and that it would be impossible to catch him. In my heart of hearts, did I believe this? Did I not? But pragmatism told me to just let it go.
So we lay there a little while longer. And the intruder continued his uncontested romp around our living space.
“You know he’s coming in here, right?” She said.
So we got up and looked around and could not find it. So we went back to bed.
Finally, Phoebe grabbed her stuff and said “I’m sleeping upstairs with the door closed. You’re welcome to join me if you’d like but I’m not staying down here.”
In many situations, masculinity allows for retreat. In his time, I am certain that Patton exercised strategic retreat in order to win the over-all battle. This was not one of those times. So she went upstairs and I decided that it was time to act.
So one by one, I turned off all the lights downstairs, save one.
And I waited.
No movement. I stood perfectly still and I waited. Finally my new opponent stuck his proverbial head up and began running around our couch. He ran across the floor and back again, then up the curtain, and there, remained at the top of the curtain rod.
I clenched the book in my hand, reminding myself that hesitation was a gift to the enemy. So, I moved forward with lightning speed and struck. Time slowed down and sped up all at once. My weapon struck the curtain rod, but I had to believe him too, and he somehow teleported himself away.
I then pulled the couch away from the wall and was met with another horror. The horror of all the snacks, toys and food that Gabe had deposited there over the last few weeks. It was a horror that a man can’t unsee.
However, my opponent was hiding underneath the heater, and the chase was on.
Through the fireplace, behind furniture, into the piano room and then finally, in the corner where I was able to strike again. This time, the blow has direct. The impact was strong, so much so that the squirrel actually bounced when I hit it. And then, it teleported again. This time, however I was stumped. I looked and I looked but nothing.
My opponent was most likely wounded, stunned, perhaps dying somewhere back down in the basement. I had made my point and it was time to retire.
So I climbed back into bed and attempted to go to sleep. A challenge, I admit after the heart-pounding hunt. Much like, I’m sure, how hunters in primitive tribal villages in Africa probably have to wind down after killing a tiger by reading a good book, I needed time myself. So I lay there, with Phoebe still upstairs. She could have it, I had earned my big open bed all to myself.
I was just drifting off when, I felt…him. He was on the bed. He was on me. He was sitting on me, as if to say… “Remember me, Mr. Giessler. Let me suggest that if you’re going to kill a squirrel, you’d best be willing to finish the job.”
Quickly and in self-defense I attempted to throw the covers over it, trapping it, maybe, but it had anticipated this and made a run for it. I immediately turned the bedroom light back on, and looked for it, but it was gone, and with it, my pragmatism. This was personal now. This ended tonight, with either it gone from this house, or me.
So, lights off again, and waiting in the piano room, I remembered the old adage that the killer always returns to the scene of the crime. My wisdom was soon rewarded and sure enough it returned to the curtain top.
This time there was no hesitation, and I struck again. Flailing away at it as I chased it around the room. This time it made noise telling me that I was getting close. It climbed onto the mantle of the fireplace and hid behind a photo of Tommy and Elliott believing that I wouldn’t dare strike the image of my own beloved children. Let’s face it, this is why I fought. For them. For my family. For their freedom. But in war there are no rules and I reached out and pressed the photo against the wall compressing the squirrel behind it.
With lightning reflexes it bolted again, squealing as it did so, and headed for the piano room again. I struck again and again, occasionally making contact. However, suddenly it was gone again. I waited and looked but could not find it again. I was making my way back to the bedroom, when I had a revelation. Much like when Peter Falk would turn around and say “Oh, and just one more question…” and you knew that he had them, I realized that the whole reason this saga existed was because HE COULD NOT GET INTO THE BASEMENT. He was trapped. I was trapped. Our fates were intertwined.
I realized that if you want to catch a squirrel, you have to think like a squirrel. Where would I go if I wanted to retreat through the floor, but I couldn’t actually fit. In panic, I would continually go back there, with wishful thinking that this time, it would work, this time I would fit. Much the same way someone would hopelessly keep checking their pockets for missing keys.
I looked at the layout of the room and pulled away the tinderbox right where I would go. I moved it carefully. I moved it slowly. In the darkness, there it was. A little brown lump, protruding from the baseboards of our forced hot-water oil heated system. It was just enough of his body for what I needed to do.
Grasping the book tightly, I thrust the edge down on it, with no recoil. Quickly my opponent was pinned and began wailing. I had him. He couldn’t move. All he could do was attempt to chew at the book and scream.
However, now I had a new problem. He was trapped and so was I. I could not move for fear that he would get away, yet I had no transport for it. Just a few feet away were the fireplace irons. I could use them, and end this struggle in the most grizzly fashion possible. Or…
…I would have to do it. I would have to do the one thing that no man in this situation would ever want or allow himself to do. I would have to ask my wife for help.
I called up to her, and at first there was no response. So I called again, as the squirrel continued to flail. I was starting to become concerned that something would happen. My weight would shift and he would pry himself out and then we’d be back to square one. But fortunately, she came down the stairs soon enough and was next to me.
I told her, she needed to get something for me to put it in. She was gone for a few minutes and came back with a drinking cooler. The kind that you put lemonade or ice water in which has a spigot at the bottom of it and a screw lid at the top. I was tempted to ask “What the hell do you expect me to do with that??? Drink him later?” In addition to its absurdity, the cooler posed practical problems. How would we get it from where it is, into this plastic jail cell? I couldn’t see the path to it.
So she left and came back with a towel. This seemed right both practically, and philosophically. Together we had been locked in conflict, and now carrying it to the end with my own two hands seemed more personal. This is how it would be done.
So with my free hand, I smothered it in the towel and then gripped with both hands and carried it reluctantly outside into the snow. This was a death sentence, as with what was most likely a broken leg, it had maybe a matter of hours. I released it in the driveway, more like threw it out there, and immediately retreated back inside. The squirrel disappearing into the darkness.
We both went to bed downstairs. The next morning, I immediately checked the driveway for a corpse, but found nothing. As I stood there, at the window, staring at the tree line on the other side of the driveway, I could only remember the adage: If you’re going to kill a squirrel, you’d best be willing to finish the job.