I used to pride myself on being part country/part city. Hey, I’ve handled mice AND muggers. That might have made me feel a wee bit superior now and then. I was once in front of my inner-city classroom, going over the daily schedule, when I noticed a half-dead mouse wriggling maniacally, stuck irretrievably on a glue trap in the front of the classroom. As I continued to talk my students, I walked to the closet, fished out a plastic bag, scooped the poor creature into it, sealed it, and handed it to some unsuspecting truant in the hall to “please dispose of in the bathroom.” My eight-year-old posse never suspected a thing. (If I have disturbed your pacifist nature, remember that a) rodent fecal matter in an elementary school is a serious health issue, and b) glue traps are the only legal means available from our school district. And what was I going to do? Scrape it off and rush it to the vet? Let it flail there indefinitely?)
Sadly, last year’s trip to the country convinced me that I am mostly just a run of the mill city girl/coward these days.
The first clue was after a very difficult bedtime. Not my bedtime. I would love to go to bed at a reasonable hour. The spouse was dog-tired, and had fallen asleep long before the girls. I tried semi-successfully to get them into bed. I read and gave kisses. Next thing I knew, one or the other was screaming, “there’s something on my leg!!” Lights back on, we would examine their beds inch by inch, inspecting the covers and the pj’s, inside and out. Eventually they would calm a little; I’d read another chapter aloud and turn out the lights. “I hear something!” the other would yell, just as I got back down the stairs. After three or four false alarms, I may have gotten a little cranky.
It was midnight when they finally gave up and went to sleep. Relieved, I fetched my book and sat on the couch, trying to relax enough to be able to sleep on the world’s least forgiving mattress. It’s the kind of bed that makes you want to punch the quality control guy at the factory. Imagine a concrete slab with a little less give. Top it off with an itchy, mildewed wool blanket, and a lumpy brick for a pillow. I love my parents, but how their marriage survived forty summers on this abomination, I have no idea.
Not that I wouldn’t want to read in bed, I just plain couldn’t. The bedside lamp could light up the neighboring forty acres, and a headlamp would be relentlessly dive-bombed by moths and mosquitoes. Couch it is.
I read a few chapters and was just starting to doze on the couch when I scratched my thigh. It was not the right shape. I scratched once more, and again encountered strangeness. I closed my fingers around a large something. I had a handful of something in my pajamas. Dropping my pajama pants, I saw that gigantic spider, and then it disappeared. That was way worse than having to crunch a large freaky thing. Was it still in my pajamas? Was it on the couch? Would it follow me to bed? I was no longer sleepy.
A couple of nights later, the spouse had already left for the city, and I tried to cozy myself on the concrete slab. I read the teensiest bit, and as my eyelids drooped, I turned off the light and slipped into a happy slumber. Wait. What was that? I was itchy again. After the pajama problem, I was a little skittish. On went the lights. Off with the pajamas. Nothing to be found. Now the bed felt impossible again. Everything itched.
I spent an hour or so reading on the couch, trying to calm down enough for sleep. This happened two more times. By now, it was 3 or 4 am, and I had had enough. I ripped off the covers, one by one, looking, looking. I inspected my pajamas repeatedly. I took the headlamp and gave the sheets the once over. I ran my hands over the moth-balled gingham sheet. Lumps. Lumps.
Under the bottom sheet were creatures. That is not supposed to happen.
I’d been sleeping on these sheets for three days already, but trapped under that bottom sheet were two crickets–one live, and one dead.
I know. They’re just crickets. They are charming outside, just like spiders are fascinating in their amazing webs outside. The bed is sacred, though. The bed is where one goes for a peaceful respite, not for the zoo.
I was being ridiculous.
But I couldn’t wait to get back to the city.