Housekeeping (with apologies to Marilynne Robinson)

This essay went out through my newsletter, Philia, on 1/25/18.

Right now, as I type this, Creature is listening intently to something under the oven. It's probably a mouse. I've never seen a mouse in our house, but I know they're there. I see mouse poop sometimes, and I've learned skills I've never had to draw upon before. How to really put food away. That some things that I don't have containers for, like bags of sugar, should go in the fridge. The importance of storing cookie sheets upside down. As I've been trying to finish my dissertation, however, Ross has been working ridiculous hours, and the housekeeping has slipped.

[OMG! Creature just pounced! I've never seen her go after a mouse before. She didn't catch anything, though. Poor thing. She looks dejected.]

LIKE I SAID, the housekeeping has slipped a bit. We don't always wash our dishes at night, and it's best not to think about the state of the kitchen floor. Or the counters, yikes. I suppose this should bother me, but it doesn't. Instead, sometimes at night I think about the mice. I hope they feel at home here. Their experience of our house is so different than mine. Ross and I, and even Creature, to a degree, only live on the surface of this old house. They live in the walls and in the cracks. They make our house alive, and I like to think that we all live in relative equilibrium. It's not like I'm leaving food out on purpose, but if the mice sometimes find our kitchen a little bit more hospitable? Honestly, that feels like a feature, not a bug. 

When I was a kid my sister's dad, Rick, was friendly with a rat who lived in our shed. We called him Templeton. It's one of the few memories I have from that part of my life, which is probably for the best. Rick was not a very good guy in a lot of ways. But he was kind to rats, and to me. He passed away a few years ago, and even though he was only my stepdad for a very short time, he kept in infrequent, unobtrusive touch over Facebook. I didn't know him very well: not at all, really. My memories of him are very different than my mother's, or even my sister's, and her memories are different than those of Rick's other kids from his first marriage. But that's the thing: none of us are wrong, really. 

Anyway, Creature has given up the hunt and has moved to the front window. Pax et concordia reigns again. 

Haylie Swenson