“What’s that smell?” Sue asked from the front hall. “Is that a dead mouse?”
Sometimes I cannot help myself. “Is it?” I said. “I just thought you were cooking dinner.” Some people cannot take a joke. My shoulder still hurts.
“The Fergusons are coming for dinner at 6. I don’t want people to think we have mice in the house.”
“Then let’s tell them it’s a dead squirrel. Ouch! Would you please stop hitting me? I’m still sore from yesterday.”
“I didn’t touch you yesterday.”
“You think you’re the only one who hits me? I ran into Roger and Stacey in the grocery store yesterday and I said, ‘What’s new?’ and she said, ‘We’re trying to have a baby.’ She said it like they were trying to make their own sauerkraut at home.”
“Well, for some people it’s very difficult.”
“I understand that, but for most people, it’s not a Saturday morning chore. I can actually remember a time when you might not tell someone you were trying to have a baby.”
“So she hit you?”
“No, Roger hit me. A friendly little tap on the shoulder. You want to see the bruise?”
“I can remember a time when he’d have hit you in the mouth. Thank goodness one of you has matured.”
“I was talking about Roger. Really, can one little mouse smell that bad? Maybe it is something bigger. An opossum, maybe. A raccoon.”
“Oh, I just got a good whiff. I think we’re talking about something much bigger. A deer. A cow. A hobo. Can’t you light a candle or something to cover that up?”
“No one makes a candle that big. It’d have to be the size of the Liberty Bell. Besides, just knowing about it makes me sick. I can’t eat here knowing something is decomposing in the cellar. Get down there and take a look around. If you can’t find anything, I’ll tell the Fergusons to meet us somewhere for dinner. We’ll stay in a hotel tonight.”
I haven’t been down in that dank hole for weeks. It’s where I put stuff that’s too expensive to put in the trash but too hideous to display, as well as the summer lawn furniture and sports equipment. I know a lot of guys work on projects in their basements, or build rec rooms and family rooms down there, but I’m not one of them. I enjoy above-ground internment.
“Why don’t you man up and go down there?” I asked Sue. “Ow! Stop that. It hurts.”
When I was young we lived in a house that had a laundry chute. You’d throw your dirty clothes in it, and they’d land in a basket beside the washing machine. Except they didn’t. They landed in a puddle on the basement floor where the laundry room used to be in the ‘30s, which I didn’t find out until I asked my mother why I didn’t have any more clean underwear. Ouch! That hurt.
The smell from the open basement door wasn’t too bad. At the bottom of the steps, it was a little stronger. I pretended I was one of those people on “CSI,” flashlight high in my left hand, the beam poking into corners, behind the water heater and the furnace. Nothing. But the smell was getting stronger.
Finally, I was right under the front hall. The only thing there was my golf bag, right where I left it after my last round before Thanksgiving. I moved it, and the smell exploded. There was a dark, watery stain down the side of one of the bag’s outside pockets. I put my handkerchief over my nose and pulled down the zipper. The tuna wrap I had bought three months ago in the clubhouse and was going to eat on the way home rolled out. It might have lasted all winter if we hadn’t had that warm spell last week.
I jumped back and hit my shoulder on a water pipe. Ouch! I went back upstairs and got a dustpan and a newspaper.
“I found it,” I told Sue. “You’re right; it was a dead mouse.”
Jim Mullen’s book “Now in Paperback” is now in paperback. You can reach him at jimmullenbooks.com.