“There’s something you have to see,” my wife, Natasha, said, “but you’re not going to like it.”
“What?” I asked, panic welling within me. “Did a pipe break? Did Regan cut her toe off? Please,” I pleaded, “don’t tell me that Ellis wrote on the iMac.”
“Just go outside and look at Midnight.”
Midnight was my daughter’s hamster, which she received from her grandmother upon reaching her four-year milestone. We had, recently, been keeping Midnight outside because of his annoying habit of spinning at one o’clock in the morning. Sadly, this was a bad plan. The temperatures in Denver have been…well, hot.
I walked outside and peered into Midnight’s pink-plastic castle. “What?” I yelled to my wife, who was watching me through the kitchen window. “Is he stuck in the tube or something?” A moment passed. I flicked the cage. Waited. Then jostled the plastic castle. “Oh,” I said, realization dawning.
Midnight, the once noble hamster and companion of my daughter’s alter ego, Eagle Girl, was dead. The stiffness of death had struck, and Midnight, lodged like a two-by-four in the curve of a tubular water slide, had first roasted and then hardened.
I walked back inside and stared, shocked at my wife. “In no way can we tell Regan about this. She’ll freak.”
“What are we gonna do?” my wife’s voice cracked. It was the hysteria of a mother preparing to lie to her daughter.
“We’ll just throw the whole damn thing away,” I said, “cage and all. She’ll never know. It’s foolproof.”
“But if she finds out, then what? She’ll eat us alive.” Then, as an afterthought: “And I’m certainly not buying a new cage.”
“No, you’re right,” I said. “Okay, I’ll pull him out and throw him away. You hide the cage.”
I strode outside with a Safeway grocery bag wrapped around my hand — an aegis against death. I dismantled the cage as best I could and started tapping the tube that Midnight was stuck in on the ground, hoping that he would tumble out. No luck. I would have to touch him. Grasping his hind parts, I gently tugged on his cadaver. Loose hair detached from his body in stringy clumps. I wretched, then composed myself. “Well played, Midnight, well played.” I marched to the garbage can and whacked the tube against the inside of the forty-five gallon bin. Finally, in a poof of blood and fur, Midnight thumped to the bottom. “Sorry, old friend. May the light shine upon you.”
Inside, I found my wife stowing the cage in the upper regions of our basement closet. “She knows,” I said, defeated. “I know it.”
“No, no,” my wife said, “we’re definitely good. It’ll be our secret.”
The ordeal had passed; the nightmare was over. Natasha’s anxiety rushed from her body, leaving her cold and weak. She collapsed to the ground, whimpering, “Hold me.”
I crawled on the floor next to my wife and wrapped my arms around her in comfort.
Then, overhead, we heard the pitter-patter of tiny feet. “Dadman, Dadman,” my daughter — who mysteriously refers to me as Dad + Man — called out. “Dadman, have you seen Midnight?”
Postscript — If you know me or are in anyway related to me, then please do not share this with my daughter.