Mrs. Stepford comes for dinner on alternate Wednesdays. Mr. Stepford goes to his music lessons. While the cat’s away ….
It’s comedy night on CBC. Kay and Mrs. Stepford watch National Geographic, Little Mosque on the Prairies and Sophie all in a row and chat in between the good parts by muting the television when the ads come on.
Dinners are not a formal affair. It’s whatever one can easily eat in front of the television. Last night Kay made a basic vegetable soup with chicken stock, celery, fresh parsley, onion, salt, pepper and basil with a Wednesday variation adding curry powder, a half head of fresh cauliflower plus a chunkily chopped up piece of chicken breast. Num! A whole meal in a bowl!
Last night, Kay and Mrs. S watched lemurs in Madagascar going through courtship rituals. Good grief! Lemurs are as tortured and twisted as human beings with their “yes-I-will”, “no-I-wont”, well, maybe” “what if she won’t have me” and “Oh no, I can’t ask her. I’m too shy” routines. They are cute as can be with their facial expressions, body language and their black and white tails like graceful flags orchestrating their relationships like a symphonic conductor with his baton.
At exactly ten when the delightful Sophie program signed off , Mrs. Stepford rose and announced she had things to do at home. She was leaving.
When Kay had closed the door on Mrs. Stepford and locked up for the night, she sat back down in her living room comfy chair, cruised for something interesting to watch while she sorted out some presentation books of her watercolours and drawings that she was preparing for the upcoming Art Walk. Frankly, there was nothing worth listening to. She had already heard the news earlier in the day and she found the repetition of it annoying. She didn’t want to watch any blood and guts murder mysteries. Canned laughter palled. The ultimate consumerism programs of how to make your house salable or decorate held no interest for her. Sports – well, she had never been a sports fan – that was out.
After all, there was nothing wrong with silence. It allowed one to think. It provided blessed peace, if one’s mind was clear to roam.
Kay sat with six presentation books scattered about the chair, culling out the watercolours that weren’t good enough or those she hadn’t wanted to sell just yet. Most of her paintings were like a visual diary to her. Some of them she just wasn’t ready to let go yet. The silence was welcome after three hours of engagement both with the television and a visitor. She had become quite a hermit lately.
Now, listening to silence may sound like an oxymoron, but Kay found that it was a delicious thing to do. It was never totally an absence of sound but simply a diminishment. There was still the whir of the refrigerator, the faint hum of the lights.
The transition from an active sound mix of television and conversation to the quiet, meditative hum of electricity operating the house took a few minutes of adjustment.
Kay was slipping out the oddments, taking figure drawings out a mainly landscape portfolio/presentation book or a geometric drawing out of a group of flower drawings, when she became aware of a persistent scratching sound above her head.
“Damn raccoon!” she thought. “Cursed critter!” she grumbled. She lept up from her easy chair and ran up the stairs brandishing her flashlight, ready to re-enact her raccoon scaring tactics of the previous night. With a brusque gesture, she raised the blackout blind and swung the flash light from side to side on the small roof below the window looking for the beast, but none was there. She checked the roof on the other side. None there either.
Now slightly puzzled, she stopped again to listen. Yes, the scratching of sharp paws continued in it’s rhythmic pattern, but now it was coming from below. She felt the fine hairs of her ears twitching, turning, casting outwards for the source of the sound.
She checked the closets and around the room, but there was nothing to be seen. Still, the sound continued, a persistently scratching. She returned downstairs to listen from the middle of the living room. Much louder now, the sound continued just up above the lighting.
Disgusted, Kay picked up the phone and dialed.
“Guess what I’ve got” she announced to Mrs. Stepford, only one house away. “Critters inside the house”
“What makes you think that?” asked Mrs. S and Kay proceeded to recount everything that had occurred in the previous twenty minutes.
“Are you sure? Mrs. Stepford asked. “Do you want to have Mr. Stepford come and see?”
“He can come if he wants. There’s nothing to see. It’s just a persistent sound, that’s all. But it just takes the cake!” said Kay rather defiantly. She didn’t need to have her perceptions confirmed; she knew she had a critter up there. But it was very comforting to have a neighbour who would come at ten thirty at night to support her in her tribulations of home ownership.
When Mr. S stood with Kay not five minutes later listening for the sound, the animal was still scrabbling away at his noisy activity. Mr. S. repeated Kay’s investigation, listening intently for the beast’s location. By elimination, the sound certainly was not coming from the roof; it was not coming from the walls; it was not coming from behind the closets. It was loudest in the floor of the bedroom and in the ceiling of the living room. Returning downstairs, they noted that the space between the floor and the ceiling could be no larger than six inches deep. It couldn’t be a raccoon; not the thirty pounder that had stood sassily defiant on the shallow slope of the roof. It must be a rat or a squirrel. Perish the thought for either of them.
“You’re going to have to get a pest control company out to get rid of it,” counseled Mr. S. “But what I can’t figure out is what it’s doing. That doesn’t sound like he’s eating. Anyway, the critter would be full by now if it was eating. It sounds like it’s rolling something across the floor. It just doesn’t make sense.”
“Besides, what could be up there to eat? Fiberglass? And it can’t be building a nest; not with that sound. It’s rolling something. What else could it be?”
Mr. Stepford left after we’d batted all the possibilities around.
“Get Mrs. S to tell you what company she used; You don’t want to call them. They scammed us. They promised to put traps in to capture the critters, insisted on being paid up front and then never came back.”
Kay couldn’t stand listening to the animal scrabbling away and went to the study to play a noisy computer game. It was time for bed but the whole event had unsettled her. How could she sleep if the scrabbling continued on hour after hour into the wee hours of the night? Green dollar signs for Pest Control floated before her eyes. Why did this have to happen now? The beast had to stop sometime. If it was eating, wouldn’t it be full now and want a siesta?
Half an hour later as Kay went back out past the living room to the kitchen for a soothing cup of tea, she listened. There wasn’t a bit of sound. Oh, yes. There was the soothing sound of the refrigerator and the whir of the lights.
The next morning, Kay was sifting through possibilities, trying to apply some sort of Algebraic logic to the problem. The animal had to be a smaller animal to fit between the joists. It couldn’t have been eating, because the scratching had been continuous – there had been no time for stuffing it’s mouth with food. It couldn’t have been eating because it would have become the size of a big balloon had it continued to eat for an hour like that and then it would be wedged in solidly. And that rolling objects sound that came with it, as if it were moving things from side to side: what was that about?
It was while Kay was exercising in the gym, early evening, that the answer came to her. She’d noticed the soft, collapsing holes in the garden. She’d counted the less than dozens of tulips coming up.
The critter was some kind of Animal Kingdom billionaire wanna-be. The winter takings were stored in this very safe vault between floors. She preferred to think it was a squirrel. The idea of rat was just too creepy.
The squirrel was counting it’s wealth:
Twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine parrot tulip bulbs.
Stepford Acorns: Sixty, sixty one, sixty two, sixty three, sixty four, sixty five.
Lily bulbs – bigger and rarer – ten, eleven twelve. Well! He thought he had had fifteen of them. “Oh yes, here they are in the walnut pile ” Thirteen. Fourteen Fifteen.
Old Mr. McGregor’s Walnuts; One, Two Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. That makes one pile. Start on another ten. One, Two, Three….
Kay’s Red tulips: One. Two. Three. Four….
Daffodil bulbs: two too many, by mistake. Squirrels don’t like Daffy smells.
Wilson’s Hazelnuts: None left, all consumed. What a mess! All those shells, but they sure had been good.
When he finished his inventory he turned the key in the vault and turned the tumblers; he flicked his tail, fluffing it up with pride. Some haul! The best savings account he had ever had for March of any year, and this winter had been a hard, cold one. Maybe this year he could win Suzie Squirrel over with his March bank account! And he turned his tail on his visible trappings of squirrel wealth and crept quietly out of the squirrel cache, shut the door and headed for a tree.