It started as any other Monday does.
A bleary eyed me navigating the perilous route from upstairs to down at stupid o’clock in the morning.
Stumble to the kitchen, kettle on, coffee and milk in mugs. Check.
Open the windows on the right side of the house. Check
Open the windows on the left side of the house. Check.
So far so good.
Oh wait hang on, small ones school trainers aren’t quite dry yet, better just pop them outside for a bit.
Back to the kitchen fill mugs with hot water. Check.
On the way back upstairs ( to wake husband with coffee and small person with yelling), pause under the staircase to retrieve hedgehog food and water ( to wake hedgehog with bribery ). Check.
Feed hedgehog. Che……
This is the moment that the usual Monday started to go horribly, horribly wrong.
Matilda’s box lid was ajar. Not fully open, but most assuredly not closed.
And our little Houdini was neither snuggled under her blanket nor curled up in her house. The panic level had not risen to beyond ‘sigh’ at this point as its not the first time she’s been missing on a morning. Small as she is she is nimble and has taken full advantage of the fact that once or twice we may have forgotten to fully close the lid of an evening. Usually she can be found curled up behind the front door curtain, so that was my first port of call. My second port of call was under the sofa- a space that is usually forbidden during her supervised outings. My third and slightly more frantic port of call was the downstairs bathroom doormat, a nice snuggly fluffy place to curl up. I checked all the kitchen cupboards ( even though they were shut ), I even checked under the fridge despite the fact there was now way she could have got under there. The panic level was now at ‘damn it’ and the clock was ticking, small one needed to be shoehorned out of her bed and into a school uniform, breakfasts had to be made and school bag packed. I decided to do a poo-rimiter check ( in delicate terms she leaves us tiny smelly hints on her trajectory ) and as I traced a path back to the front door curtains the horror of my morning activities dawned. *Oh wait hang on, small ones school trainers aren’t quite dry yet, better just pop them outside for a bit*.
I’d been outside. The door had been open. Only for seconds, but it had been open. What if….? The panic level was placed firmly on ‘****’.
I raced outside for a fast and futile search of the garden. But tick tick tick, if I didn’t get small one out of bed we would miss the school transport. Back inside to wake up the household and add them to the search party.
Small one was in tears before she got half way down the stairs. Hubby was out searching the garden. Breakfast was all but abandoned as we tried to alternately search and console small one whose heart was breaking in two as we discussed the possibility that she had heard the call of the wild and followed. Speeches were made about the rights and wrongs of animals being kept in cages, the need for some creatures to be wild, to be free. How adaptable animals are to their surroundings, how strong and fearless our little Matilda had become, and of course she would survive ‘out there’. What we were doing was trying to soften what we felt would be the inevitable blow of her departure.
There was nothing more to be done as school time approached. I left the house with a sobbing small one and I faced the 15 minute walk of shame as my every failing as a carer of hedgehogs was highlighted and underlined every step of the way. What’s worse is that she was right. I should have checked her cage before I opened the door.
It was a guilt that would lay heavy on me for a long while.
With promises of further search ringing in her ears small one was dispatched to school for the day and I returned to continue the search. True to my word, even though I knew in my heart it was utterly pointless, I scoured the locale for 2 hours before conceding defeat. The house had been gone over with a fine tooth comb and we had come up with nothing.
She was gone.
The day proceeded in a half hearted manner. Hubby and I went to the local flower market in the afternoon ( after leaving a food at the front door on the off-chance she scurried back), and although we managed to pick up some amazing things for the garden, along with some guilt pacifying toys for small one, our hearts just weren’t really in it. All I could think about was having to pick up small one from the school bus with the news that she hadn’t returned.
It was as traumatic as I had feared and the tears and recriminations rang in my ears all the way home. And there was me thinking I couldn’t feel any worse.
We had to move Matilda’s box into the spare room as every time small one fought sight of it she wept again.
The fact that she has only been with us a little over two weeks made no difference to the genuine sadness that we all felt. When you decide to take something or someone into your heart, time is irrelevant.
Whilst this was not small ones first experience of loss, it seemed to cut the deepest. When our beautiful little Chimney died, some time ago now, we were bereft, but at least we had some closure. The burial in the back garden meant we had our chance to say goodbye, and there was no possibility of her return.
With a missing pet the heartbreak is on-going, the smallest hope that it will return tempered against the fear that some harm has befallen your little friend. There is no closure.
Things weren’t much better by bedtime and it took hubby and I a long time, and a lot of prayers for Matilda, to persuade small one to sleep.
Hubby and I headed out to the inside outside lounge to take stock, say farewell to this horrible day and prepare for much of the same tomorrow. As we passed the untouched food bowl on the step the sadness that had oozed around the edged of my day breached the barriers and finally found its way to my eyes. We sipped our beers in quiet contemplation, both dreading the raw emotion that was sure to come the next morning. We finally called time around 1am and headed back inside bound for a restless night.
And that was when I saw the single most impossible thing I have ever seen.
The gasp that escaped my lips caused hubby, who was following me in, not a small amount of alarm.
“I don’t believe it. Look”
Hubby looked, and his burst of joyous laughter confirmed that I was not in fact hallucinating, but there, bold as brass in the middle of the living room floor sat Matilda looking, rather accusingly it has to be said, between us and the space that her box had previously occupied before it was removed from sight.
The questions of where she could possibly have been that were tumbling from our lips were swiftly answered as she turned tail and wiggled her way towards the kitchen, squeezed herself through the unfeasibley small gap under the fridge and scooched up into a tiny gap and nestled herself in between the warm wiring.
Her box was re-instated to pride of place and she was easily coaxed from her hiding space by a morsel of food ( hastily retrieved from the step outside ). When she was safe in her box, with the lid firmly shut, hubby raced upstairs to wake an extremely confused small person and spread the good news.
The look of pure unadulterated sleepy joy on her face when she uttered the words “goodnight Matilda, i love you ” is something that I will remember and treasure forever.
Love is a strange word to use in connection with a hedgehog. But love comes to us from so many directions and in so many forms. It can happen in an instant. It can grow over time. Perhaps the strangest thing about love is that we sometimes don’t even recognise it until it is gone. It really is all around us, we just need to know where to look. You can even find it behind a fridge.
Jer Gan Mài.