It's 5 a.m. We're sitting on the couch, glassy-eyed, watching a TV program about how marble is mined in Vermont.
It's interesting, but that's not why we're up before the outlines of trees are visible against the inky sky. We're up because of a cat — or, more accurately, because of a cat and a mouse.
It was 4 a.m. when I heard what sounded like a chipmunk chirping in my dreams. I know, because I glanced at the clock after jerking awake. Heart pounding, I listened uncomprehendingly as the chirping, now louder and more distressed, continued. It seemed close. Like it was coming from our bedroom.
"I think there's a chipmunk in here," I said, tugging at my husband, who sleeps with his deaf ear to my side. He was on his feet instantly, in that way I've always admired.
Searching the corner of the room toward the sound, he suddenly did a little shuffle. I heard scrambling. "It's a mouse," he announced.
Looking around, I saw all five dogs and one of the cats — the one that clearly brought us the gift — looking interested. I imagined tiny mouse limbs being torn from tiny body six ways, as in an animated cartoon. It was clear that my husband needed help, and soon. But I'd hurt my back a few days before, and now it was so stiff that all I could do was watch and toss out suggestions.
"Throw a towel over it," I said, as my husband pushed and pulled furniture away from the walls, trying to track the mouse's new position. "Try and trap it in a shoebox."
Forty minutes later, after the mouse failed to turn up again, he had a hunch. Inspecting the old-fashioned TV cabinet that was my mom's, he discovered the mouse in a hollow spot behind some decorative molding. Slowly, he rolled the cabinet out of the bedroom, down the hall, into the entry and onto the front porch, where it sat all night. By morning, the mouse was gone.
Two weeks later, it's deja vu — only this time the gift is a chipmunk. And this time we're prepared.
Back better now, I hustle the dogs and cat out of the bedroom and shut both doors. My husband chases the chipmunk into the TV cabinet. Instead of rolling the cabinet through the house, chancing a chipmunk escape, he rolls it into the bathroom and shuts the door. Confined, the chipmunk races out of its hole. From behind the door, I hear coaxing and scuffling by turns.
Eager for a look, I poke my head into the bathroom and see the chipmunk clinging to the window screen high above the platform tub. Spotting me, it takes a giant leap and lands in the tub, where my husband traps it in a shoebox and then takes it outside.
The next day is a work day, so we don't watch TV until it's light. We shut the dog/cat door leading into the pen. It's been shut ever since.