By Hannah Reich Berman
Over the years, my late husband, Arnie, tried to teach me certain things. He wanted me to know about running a house and taking care of a car. I learned a lot from him—but not everything. Hubby taught me how to restart the oil burner if it made weird noises on a freezing cold night, he taught me that the tires on my car had to be rotated, and he taught me that I needed to pay attention to the inspection sticker on the windshield of my car.
He tried to educate me in many ways. He taught me that the vent at the bottom of the refrigerator should be periodically vacuumed to ensure that the unit worked efficiently and he explained when school taxes and general taxes were due in spite of the fact that he was the one who paid them. He paid all household bills but he made a valiant effort to ensure that I wouldn’t be totally clueless if I were one day left alone. In general, he did a pretty good job of preparing me. But no one is perfect and there were a few holes in my education.
At 11:30 one night, I was awakened by a disturbing sound, the squeak of a mouse. I froze in fear! It was too late to call anyone for help, so I hid under the covers and prayed that the rodent would decide to go back from wherever he had come. But common sense told me that, as the outdoor temperature was well below freezing that night, he wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. He had probably found his way inside in order to get out of the cold. So, with my heart racing like a trip-hammer, I remained in bed and pulled the cover over my head. I lay perfectly still, until I eventually fell asleep. And when I awoke in the morning, my mind was wiped clean. I totally forgot that there had been a mouse afoot the night before.
Because I didn’t hear another sound for more than a week, I forgot all about it. And then, on a Friday evening, after I had lit the Shabbos candles, I heard it again. I couldn’t use the phone to call for help on Shabbos but, having been taught that all things are permissible in order to save a life, and as I considered myself to be suicidal at that moment, I briefly considered making a phone call. But I resisted the urge. Even if I did call one of my kids, who was going to answer? And there was no point in calling an exterminator because, at 7:00 p.m., I doubted that the service would be open for business. Resolving this issue was going to have to wait.
I got into bed as quickly as I could and once again pulled the covers over my head and proceeded to endure more than an hour of terror before sleep overtook me. However, this time, when I awoke in the morning, my memory was intact. I remembered that there was a mouse in my house. But, oddly, once again I no longer heard the sound. Maybe he was sleeping? Nevertheless, I was terrified.
My first order of business was to put on socks and shoes. The last thing I wanted was to feel a mouse scurrying over my bare foot. An hour passed and still there was no sound from him! I figured that possibly he was the quiet type. Maybe mice were like people! Maybe some were noisy and others were not. I spent the rest of that Shabbos day with my eyes darting in every direction, but I never saw him.
The silence offered me no comfort and, as soon as Shabbos ended, I picked up the phone and called my handyman, Carlos. I thought about calling one of my sons-in-law but decided that this time I would spare them, since I often call them to help me with one thing or another. Carlos wasn’t anxious to be “working” on a Saturday evening, but I cried and begged him to help me. Clearly, he didn’t think it was as much of an emergency as I did, because it was more than an hour before he arrived. However, he came armed with a spray can of rodent killer and several mousetraps.
The traps didn’t look very sturdy. They resembled origami creations. But I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t say that, in my opinion, the little cardboard traps didn’t look strong enough to hold a mouse, even if he happened to find his way into one of them. Carlos placed the traps in lower kitchen cabinets, explaining that mice like to eat and would likely be hiding near food sources. When he finished placing the traps, he tried to calm me, but it was a wasted effort. There was little hope of calming me. As we spoke, he expressed some surprise at not having seen any signs of mouse droppings. I didn’t respond to the comment but I didn’t think much of the lack of evidence.
Realizing that his attempt to calm me wasn’t a huge success, he came up with a plan. He knows I have family living nearby so he suggested that I call one of my daughters and go stay with her until the mouse was caught. I must have appeared to be close to a breakdown, because he refused to abandon me; he said he would wait while I packed a bag and then he would take me wherever I wanted to go.
Since he had arrived, we had not heard a sound from my uninvited houseguest but, just at that moment, the mouse squeaked again. I shuddered with fear and Carlos gaped at me. “That’s the squeak?” he asked, his voice filled with amazement. Too nervous to speak, I shook my head in the affirmative and Carlos looked like he might plotz! He muttered a few words in Spanish and something told me it was a good thing I didn’t understand him because, when he switched to English, he said, “That’s not a mouse. That’s your smoke detector! When was the last time you changed the battery?”
I was weak with relief. I had not changed that battery in four years and the smoke detector had never registered a complaint before. I never even knew there was a battery in that plastic thing affixed to the hallway ceiling. I knew it was a smoke detector but I never gave it much thought. It was just something that had always been there.
Carlos asked for a stepstool and a nine-volt battery and I watched as he stepped onto the stool, removed the old battery, and replaced it with the new one. After he stepped down he retrieved his mousetraps. But he never stopped shaking his head in wonder. My guess is that when he got home he told his wife that I had called him to catch a mouse that didn’t exist. They’re probably still laughing! But I’m just glad I didn’t call any of my sons-in-law. They’re all very kind fellows but, for sure, I would never have lived it down!
That’s the way it is. v
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.