That's what went through my mind when I heard my wife scream loudly from the living room where she was asleep on the couch. (Not marital discord … hard mattress.)
Instantly awake (not a frequent state of affairs for me) I wondered at first if I had dreamed the scream or if she had been having a nightmare, something she rarely does.
"Get out of here," she screamed as I rounded the corner coming out of the bedroom, "Get off me!"
Mentally gauging the distance from where I was to the knife rack in the kitchen, I knew instinctively that all of the big ones would be in the dishwasher, and a subsequent news story headline would say something like, "Aging Retired Columnist Attacks Intruder With Paring Knife; Services Wednesday," so I looked toward the couch to see what I was up against.
My wife was standing on the couch and shouted, "Opossum!" Okay, that's not all she said, but this is a family newspaper, and newsprint and ink aren't cheap so you can fill in the adjectives and other expletives.
All of the fuss, it would seem, was because the categorical and territorial imperatives had clashed somewhere in the middle of my wife's chest, and she had awakened feeling sharp claws and looking into beady eyes surrounded by a furry face. That in itself isn't unusual at our house, but she could tell right away, I guess, that it wasn't wearing cologne or wheezing.
I mention the clashing imperatives because Kant's belief that right actions are (or, I guess, should be) part of our innate behavior without regard to social mores or even personal inclination bespeaks in part a lack of desire to do anything harmful to animals whenever it can be avoided. Robert Ardrey's The Territorial Imperative indicates that all animals are sensitive about what they consider their territory and will defend it at all costs.
(I am sure philosophers and naturalists reading this are grinding their teeth at my over-simplifications of those definitions. I offer in my defense that if I had a real education, I would be drawing a much larger pension.)
But this wasn't the first opossum incursion into our home. We had one about a year ago, and we finally trapped that after substantial garbage rummaging and sightings of what my wife swore was a really big rat and I thought might be a really small Volkswagen.
All that was handled quickly with a humane live trap and a bag of gelatin candy orange slices. (Those orange slices are like crack cocaine to opossums.)
I was trying to get her to see the humor in the situation while she stood there on the couch, but I saw her eyes measuring the leaping distance across the coffee table to where I was standing, and affected the appropriate amount of concern.
I knew it wasn't the last opossum, because this one was much smaller and has a habit of issuing a disconcerting cross between a snarl and a hiss while baring his teeth. (I am using the generic "his" here. I'm not sure I know how to determine the gender of a opossum, and he or she acted as though I should expect resistance to any of the standard methods of checking.)
A night later I had placed the trap on a kitchen counter, and my wife moved it to the floor but left it disarmed. Before I went to bed I baited and armed it, and was awakened the next morning by screeches of "OH MY GOD!" from the kitchen. I bolted in wondering if she had gotten bad news on the phone or if CNN had torn itself away from the trial of Michael Jackson's doctor long enough to report some real and frightening news, like Sarah Palin entering the presidential race.
I asked what was wrong, and she answered, "There is an opossum in the trap."
Perhaps a little grumpily, I explained to her that the juxtaposition of trap, bait and opossum was pretty much the intent of the whole operation, and the capture probably could have been announced calmly over a cup of the morning decaf (which I know does me absolutely no good, but when a placebo is all you have, you have to go with it).
Several readers wrote after the column about the last opossum hunt that it is illegal in Florida to relocate wildlife unless you have a special license, and that my plan to dispose of that animal by dropping him off near the home of an old girlfriend and sending her a gift box of orange slices was criminal as well as tacky. So I did the best I could to block up the hole in the wall through which I am pretty sure the critters were gaining access — prompting my wife to point out that my carpentry skills are right up there with my ability to play Bach on a banjo or to perform neurosurgery … to wit, not impressive.
I responded by saying that I was pretty sure that I had been successful and that we would never hear from or see the creature after I took him outside and released him.
"Besides," I said, "what is the worst that could happen? He gets back in, and you wake up again with a opossum on your chest."
My wife is not without a sense of humor.
She actually smiled at that.
Well … anyway … her teeth were showing.