A few months ago, at Raphael's Monday school, a family was giving away scads of gerbils. Apparently one of their group of females was...not female. And now they had scads. Raphael accosted me when I walked in the door, with a gerbil in his hand and hope in his eyes. He'd been talking about getting a rat for forever, and here was a gerbil! Ohbytheway, gerbils are very social and shouldn't be alone, so we need to get two.
Call me a sucker if you will, but we did. We took home a sleek charcoal girl and her energetic caramel colored sister. Raphael let Sophia name the dark gray one, and she dubbed her Sabrina.
The other one, the zingy lighter colored one, was named Pigwigeon. See her there, next to the toilet paper tube?
That's a terrible picture. It will have to do.
So the whole gerbil info is just back story. Here's some more: Clay is not a huge fan of our cat, Melody. They get along okay, because Melody is smart enough to learn from being hissed at a few times that she's not welcome on Clay's side of the bed. They coexist fine, but it's not exactly an song of love and devotion between the two, is what I'm saying.
So you'll imagine my surprise when Clay came into the bathroom during my bath the other night, smiling broadly.
"Melody is the BEST CAT EVER," he announced.
"She is just so SMART!"
"She is just SUCH a good cat!"
"IS MELODY DEAD?"
"What? No! She killed a mouse."
Apparently she'd caught a mouse and delivered it, dead, to Max. For Clay, whose main objection to Melody was that she was useless, this meant she was now his favorite cat ever. He even pet her. Twice.
In the early, dark hours of the morning, I was startled awake by a sound downstairs. I sat up and listened, but there was nothing for a moment. Then I heard the scrabble and thump of a cat chasing prey. And I don't know how I knew, but my heart stopped, and this thought resounded in my head.
I ran downstairs, where I found the gerbil cage, open. Beneath it Melody crouched, her eyes fixed on Sabrina. I shooed Melody away and rooted frantically through the bedding on the bottom of the cage. Pigwigeon wasn't there. She just wasn't there. I snapped the door shut, then sat down on the floor a few feet away to watch Melody. I figured if Pigwigeon had gotten out and taken refuge somewhere, Melody would smell her and show me where she is.
Every hunterly nerve in Melody was alight. She stalked around the room, paused to glare out the window, then returned to her spot under the cage, staring at it as though it were a treat dispenser. When she brushed past me, I reached out to stroke her, and she flinched and skittered sideways, before blinking and hurrying over to rub against me, as though she'd just remembered she knows me.
Eventually I went back upstairs and told Clay. He and I searched under furniture with flashlights until the sun was up. There was no Pigwigeon.
It was Sunday morning, and we had a few hours before leaving for Mass. We decided not to tell Raphael, because he had a concert that day, followed by a sleep over at a friend's house. It was too much. Plus, the absolute worst part of it all was that Raphael had left the cage open. The very last thing he'd done before bed was give them fresh water. I couldn't bear making him shoulder that burden just yet. So all morning long we kept distracting him from the gerbils the best we could. That went well enough, it seemed. I was upstairs, finishing my makeup, minutes from walking out the door, when I heard him call shakily, "Mom? Where's Pigwigeon? She's gone, Mom. SHE'S NOT HERE."
Clay and I exchanged quick but heartfelt OH SHOOT looks, then went downstairs to tell him. He took the news stoically, nodding and pinching his lips together. Immediately, he latched upon the idea that Pigwigeon was still alive, hiding somewhere in the house. He took handfuls of gerbil food and placed piles of it under every likely piece of furniture. "We'll know if it's Pigwigeon, because she likes the sunflower seeds best," he promised us. I went back upstairs to finish getting ready. A few minutes later, Raphael wandered in. It was sinking in, and it was awful. He called himself names, and barely allowed me to hug him. I said a variety of useless things, and my heart broke for him. He pulled free from me and went back downstairs.
I would have expected that to be the end of the story, I really would have. But just a few minutes later, I heard Clay call my name. He sounded so strange that I dashed down the stairs, which had apparently become my major activity in life.
Clay and Raphael were in the laundry room, and Clay was pulling the spare refrigerator away from the wall. Raphi was shaking all over. "I saw her, I saw her! It was Pig! She's under the freezer!" He'd been coming back from putting gerbil food in Tre's room when he saw her.
Clay, Raphael, and I took strategic positions on the floor. Sophia hopped back and forth between us, asking questions. And Pigwigeon scurried back and forth behind the freezer, terrified. She would stick her nose out far enough to sniff Raphael's fingertips, but she seemed almost impossible to catch. Minutes ticked by and she just barely eluded us all.
Until Clay leapt up, one freaked out gerbil in his hands. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried. We returned her to the cage, where she was thoroughly groomed by Sabrina, and then the humans all hugged and repeated parts of the capture, as though we hadn't all been there the whole time.
And now all is well, although it occurs to me that we've recently had at least one mouse in the house, and now there is rodent food scattered all over the downstairs floors.
Ah well. Melody doesn't think that's a bad idea at all.