Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The loneliness of the long-distance house-sitter

I believe I've established that my house-sit this year has been somewhat stressful. One factor (of many) in my disquietude is my responsibility for two outdoor cats. I'm an indoor cat person, and I have cared for outdoor cats before at the half-dozen or so houses I've sat over the past nine summers. However, I'm required to let the feline denizens of this home out for the night, and to "strive" (as the house directions put it) to get them in during the day.

The reason for this? A former cat of this household was killed by the dogs next door. The neighbours in question reportedly declared that they had found a cat claw in the nostril of one of the dogs. I'm not sure whether they were helpfully providing gory details or trying to suggest that the dogs were provoked.

Recently, I returned to the house late one afternoon to discover a sheet of paper in the screen door:
Hello there,
We have been over a few times to introduce ourselves and let you know that we are having a party this evening and we will be playing volleyball. It is difficult not to be noisy. Sorry in advance if we are.

I had been warned of this too. In addition to the tension over the chewed-up-and-spat-out cat, there have been confrontations between my hosts and the party-heartys next door. Apparently the better half of the couple asked if it were not possible for the people living here to simply sleep later, not understanding that the military generally frowns on this.

So after dinner, when I headed out to harvest raspberries from the backyard, the volley-ball game was in full swing. Shortly thereafter, a half-pint appeared.

"Uh, can I help you?"
"I'm here to look for the ball."
"No ball came over over the fence."
"They sent me over to look for it. Gee, you have nice flowers."
"Yes, the lady here did a nice job. There isn't any ball here."

At this point, a head appeared at one of the back gates. I was not astonished to note that it was blond.

"Hiiiiye! We're from next door; we haven't met yet!"
"Yes, I got your note..."
"Our ball came over the fence."
"Uh, I saw no ball come over."
"Oh yes! I smacked it over! Can you open this gate?"

"I'll open it for you!" chirped the cherub. "These leaves are really soft!"

He'd been coached well. I, as a mother of a special needs child who is frequently ignored or bullied by similarly appealing moppets, recognized the studied charm.

Blondie and nipper embarked on a tour of the large backyard which was, as I kept pointing out, devoid of volley-balls. Finally, someone shouted that it was embedded in the shrubbery on their side. They vanished.

I rinsed the raspberries and listened to the shouts and thonks outside. It was oddly comforting and I even summoned up the courage to tackle the front yard with the lawn-mower before the light faded.

When I stashed the machine in its place, I spotted unfamiliar shapes on the grass beside the raspberry bushes where I had laboured earlier. It appeared to be what was left of a rabbit's head and a whole field-mouse, along with clumps of fur. I guess it was dropped by one of the red-tailed hawks I've seen soaring in gyres high above the roofs. I'm certainly glad I wasn't standing underneath when this stuff plummeted from the sky. Another reason for keeping those cats inside during the day. I don't think the hawks hunt at night, although on quieter nights, I've heard them calling to each other from the tallest tree-tops.

This was not a quieter night though. Well past midnight, the voices floated up through the bedroom window, and alone with my younger daughter in this huge house, I actually slept sounder than I have since arriving.

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