I was out in the front yard, leaning on the tree-swing, enjoying the sound of leaves clicking in the breeze and watching the shade flicker on the dead grass.
My little girl sat above me, tucked into the crook of the mulberry tree, as she peered down the road through plastic binoculars. She wanted to surprise her preschool teacher, who was about to arrive for a visit.
I let myself relax, body and mind, staring at the charcoal purple shadow of the tree on the pavement.
“I don’t see her yet, Mama.”
Long pause. I lingered in my reverie. “Ok,” I said a few moments later. “Stay up there. I’m going inside to check the time.”
I stepped into the open entryway, and that’s when I saw the squirrel walking down our hallway. He had already passed the entryway, so he didn’t see me, and he moved at a moderate pace, looking left and right, which gave the impression of casual curiosity. His tail disappeared around the corner, towards the girls’ bedrooms.
It would have been better for all of us, especially the squirrel, if my reaction had been cool. But no. I clenched my fists and squealed in a whisper, while dancing around from foot to foot, unwittingly telegraphing alarm through the floorboards and the air to every one of the creature’s five senses, and then I ran outside again to lift my girl down from the tree, because to my mind, things were about to get crazy, and I didn’t want to leave her stranded up there if I was caught up in squirrel corralling.
The squirrel bolted to the bathroom where I could hear skittering and crashing as he tried to escape through the large mirror on the wall, and then he jumped into the bathtub and leaped against the clear shower doors again and again, his small body— so foreign to marbled tile— visible each time he jumped.
Finally, he quieted down.
“We aren’t going to hurt you. We just want to help you get back outside,” I said calmly towards the bathroom.
“Mom! Squirrels can’t understand our language!” As she said this, she put a hand to her forehead briefly.
“You never know,” I said.
Just then, the teacher’s car pulled up in the driveway, and my daughter ran outside.
Then I heard her teacher’s voice exclaim, “There’s a squirrel in your bathtub? Well, that’s just ridiculous!”
Standing in the hallway, we told her the story and discussed techniques for ushering the squirrel outside. I ended up opening wide the door to the back yard and closing off all other pathways in the house.
Then we sat down to a three person tea party in the dining room, with chocolate cookies, grapes and lemonade in tea cups. We chatted about the upcoming school year and had a lovely visit.
Epilogue: The squirrel escaped an hour later, with the help of our neighbor, who works with wounded wild animals at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in her spare time. She came over right away when the girls ran to get her, and said, “What do you need? I have 10 minutes before I have to take the dog to his vet appointment.” She waved a pink bath towel and like a bullfighter but with great compassion, and finally coaxed/ushered the squirrel out from the bathroom and then from under the bed and then out the screen door.