Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is There A Mouse Living Under My Refrigerator? (and other late-night concerns)

A couple weeks ago, I had some plumbers over to my house to fix a leak apparently coming from beneath my refrigerator. It turned out that, as I had suspected, the leak was coming from the water line leading to the ice maker, but what I didn't expect was that the line had apparently been gnawed through by a rodent.

Pulling the refrigerator out from the cabinets, the plumbers had shouted, "Watch out! There's a rat!" and told me that a "big, old rat" had run out from behind the refrigerator and slipped beneath a pantry door. But the fact is, although I saw the leaking water line as well as evidence of gnawing on the plastic backing behind the refrigerator motor, I never actually saw the "rat" myself.

I've been looking for the rodent ever since and have seen no sign of droppings, no nests, and no gnawed boxes of food, even though I keep several bags of cat chow on the pantry floor. Eliot the cat hasn't chased anything around the kitchen for a long time. And the crack beneath the pantry door is far too small for a "big, old rat" to slip beneath.

So what evidence do I have that it was really there? Do I trust the plumbers, or were they just skittish, having pulled out dozens of refrigerators at dozens of homes, and by that point had seen it all? Maybe they were half expecting to see a rat, and panicked at the sight of a shadow or the first dust bunny (there were several of those behind the fridge). The plastic backing may have been chewed through years ago - it was the first time I'd ever looked at it - so the strongest evidence is the leaking water line itself.

Or maybe I had just hired a couple of overly cautious plumbers; maybe the plumbers simply liked teasing their customers. But in any event, I had convinced myself that there were no longer any rodents living in my house. Many years ago, back in the early 90s, I lived in a (barely) converted old barn in upstate New York that was next to a chicken coop and, trust me on this, I had mice then (and red squirrels that lived in the walls) and I know what evidence of rodents looks and sounds like. I didn't see any of those tell-tale signs in my house.

But then late last night, maybe around 1:30 am, I awoke to a strange sound coming from the kitchen (my bedroom's off the kitchen due to a peculiarity of the floor plan). It was a sort of non-rhythmic bumping sound, not like the gnawing sounds I remembered from the barn, but like something small being pushed around in in close quarters. The sound wasn't loud, but it sounded like it was coming from beneath the refrigerator and my mind immediately thought, "Mouse!" I got up to investigate with Eliot right behind me and we slowly snuck up on the fridge, but when I stepped on one particular floorboard, it groaned and the sound suddenly stopped.

Eliot didn't seem at all intrigued by the sound, and when I pulled the refrigerator out (after watching the plumbers, I realized how easy it was to do that) he wasn't even interested in looking behind it. In short, he wasn't acting at all like a cat in close proximity to a rodent. I pushed the refrigerator back into place and went back to bed.

But not to sleep. Soon, the same sound started up again. Stealthily, this time carrying Eliot who didn't understand what the fuss was all about, I approached the refrigerator again, this time taking care not to step on that one particular floor board. I got right up next to the fridge as the noise continued - clearly something was moving under or behind there, even though Eliot still showed no reaction at all. I shook the fridge, rocking it on its footings, and the noise stopped but nothing scurried away. I pulled it out again, but saw nothing run off like the plumbers had reported.

I went back to bed a third time - it was now well past 3 am - and tried to go back to sleep, although the noise had restarted as if to taunt me. At 4:15, I got up once more and angrily shook the fridge, trying to make the noise stop so I could get some sleep and this time the ice maker made a little gurgling sound, like that of an air bubble moving through a hose, almost a burp if you will.

Could the noise have been just the ice maker, or some other refrigerator malfunction? That would explain Eliot's absence of interest. But why is the sound only at night? And why does it stop if it "hears" me approach? Of course, the sound is sporadic, so the "stopping" might just be coincidental, and my mind assigns the effect of it stopping to the cause of my approach.

So, in short, I had a terrible night's sleep, and when the alarm went off at 6 am, it felt like I had been up all night, which was darn near the truth. My tired butt was dragging all day at work.

Even as I'm writing this, I'm listening for that sound to return and, naturally, don't hear a thing. Only tonight will tell.


Julie said...

Did you ever find a mouse? I'm up and hearing a similar sound from my refrigerator. It's 4 a.m. Would love some guidance here...--Julie

Shokai said...

Um, it took a while, but here's the conclusion to the story: