Up until this morning, I thought I had a new pet, a new little friend, named Chip. The cats, Jupiter and Orangey, very thoughtfully brought him in to brighten up our home with his funny antics and winning ways.
We knew that eventually Chip's personality would come shining forth, like the sun through the clouds, but at first Chip was a little shy. Because of this he would try to blend in with the wallpaper. Perhaps it was modesty that prompted Chip to keep to the shadows when the boys-Jupiter and Orangey-were around.
Chip spoke so softly most of the time it was difficult to hear him.
I say most of the time. There were exceptions. On one occasion when I was out of the room I heard Chip utter a shrill eek-eek-eek sound, the sort of squeak one might expect from a terrified or flabbergasted mouse. When I asked the boys about it, they dismissed the incident as unimportant. Chip was just joking, Orangey said. What do you want from a chipmunk? Jupiter asked.
Then they confided, without actually blaming me, that they had been feeling low lately, since I had started working full time at the soap store. They thought it would be nice to have a cute little fellow like Chip around to cheer them up and to amuse me when I came home.
"We were thinking of you," Jupiter told me. "Chip promised to help out around the house, and he doesn't eat much."
Did Chip imagine it, or when Jupiter said the word eat, did Orangey thrash his tail back and forth and narrow his eyes, staring in Chip's direction? Sometimes a little chipmunk can have a big imagination. Chip insisted, though, that the boys were threatening him in subtle and not-so-subtle ways all the time.
"Oh, he's just tired," Jupiter said when I questioned him about it. It was true, I thought; the three of them had been roughhousing the night before, keeping me awake as well, until Chip finally crawled off to sleep behind the dresser n my bedroom.
"Let him get some shut-eye," I told Orangey, who kept trying to touch Chip by reaching his paw as far as he could into the narrow space between the dresser and the wall. "Otherwise he won't be any fun in the morning."
"I'm not hurting him," Orangey said. "He's such a baby."
"I never said you were," I snapped.
Later, after I got a drink of water and came back to bed, I regretted my crankiness. There was Jupiter lying on one side of the dresser and Orangey stretched out on the other, guarding Chip as he slept, the very picture of brotherly solicitude
"Sorry, you guys," I told them. "I know you mean well."
Next morning I put out the canned meat byproducts for Jupiter and Orangey that they prefer to fresh chicken, fish and beef, and some peanuts and strawberries for Chip.
"Now play nicely, boys," I said. "I'll see you at supper time."
Whatever happened while I was gone I don't know, but when I came home Chip was going eek-eek-eek, dashing about with Jupiter in hot pursuit. When he frantically ran into the spare room, I closed the door and told Jupiter and Orangey that I was going to give Chip a little quiet time.
"You boys need to remember," I said sternly, "that Chip is smaller and younger than you (chipmunks have short life spans, unfortunately), and too much horseplay wears him out."
Well, they sulked around outside the door for a long time, hoping that Chip would want to make up and be friends again, but he never did, and eventually they went into the kitchen to eat supper. I took two strawberries, some peanuts and a little dish of water in to Chip, and opened the window because it was hot in the room.
This morning when I opened the door to Chip's room, he was gone. How did I know he wasn't playing hide and seek, ready to scamper out for a new day of play with the boys? I can't explain it, but sometimes you just know. You can feel the absence of a loved one, the emptiness of a room. A half-eaten strawberry lay on the window sill.
"Maybe Jupiter will bring you another chipmunk sooner than you think," my friend Genny says.
Have a good week.