A few weeks ago we heard mice in the walls. A horrific sound that causes both fear for ourselves and sympathy for the mouse. They struggle to traverse the dark and narrow passages, but where will they end up? Will they die before they arrive inside? Where will they emerge?
I heard one again today, but it had a much heavier step. The scratching was slower and more resonant. Whatever was between the walls made little progress.
I wondered if it was outside and climbed the stairs to look out the window. Nothing. I went back to playing with the boy when I heard the steps again. I walked into the courtyard and climbed the fire escape to look over the wall and again saw nothing. But the scratching continued. The kids seemed occupied enough to be okay by themselves for a minute or two and so I walked around the house to the alley.
In the narrow space between the fence and the house was a man’s body facing the other way. His butt was entirely exposed between the waistline of his jeans and his shirt as he moved in short but awkward thrusts. We were an hour from dusk and other people were walking up the alley toward me and I wondered if his movements could be considered rhythmic. Despite the evidence, I could not convince myself that he was not alone. I didn’t know what I wanted to see as I approached him. Under any other circumstances, I would walk away, but he was leaning against my house with my kids on the other side of the wall.
“Excuse me, may I help you?” I asked.
He looked up. He was alone. He was sifting through the debris at the base of the house.
“Oh. I’m looking for a ring,” he said, looking sheepish.
“Yeah. I was skateboarding through here and I was holding a ring and I hit a bump and my ring went flying over here.”
I looked at him. He had a bull ring nose piercing and a few tattoos on his arms. I saw no skateboard.
“I was just wondering who was scratching my house,” I said and started walking back. I had no reason not to believe him and if he was trying to vandalize or break into the house he was doing a poor job.
“Oh, sorry. I just live right over there,” he said, pointing up the alley with his right thumb over his shoulder. I assumed that this was his way of proving his harmlessness.
“I’ve got to get back to my kids. Good luck finding the ring.”
I went back in the house. The kids were fine. The scratching was lighter, this time accompanied with singing.