Me: And why didn't you let him out?
Rod: I was afraid Maggie might attack him.
Me: Why didn't you put Maggie in the car and then cope with said possum?
Rod: We were late for Maggie's appointment with the oncologist.
And so I found myself staring at a possum who had somehow pried open the lid of our trash can and slid down the recepticle to enjoy a nocturnal feast. I thought that surfing trash cans was largely the domain of raccoons, but the sight before me suggested otherwise. The possum regarded me with the bilious expression of a drunk recovering from a bender. Then I noticed his panting, in addition to a protruding stomach. Was he sick? I gave the trash can, now on its side, a little shake, hoping to encourage Mr. Possum's departure. Instead, he dug in, resting his head on a discarded sport sock.
Another phone exchange ensued.
Me: I think he's dying.
Rod: They're nocturnal. He probably just wants to sleep. Leave him alone and eventually he'll wander off into the woods.
Me: Maybe our trash is killing him. What if he ate one of the socks? What if it's entwined around his intestine?
Rod: Then there's nothing we can do about it, right?
Annoyed by my husband's eminent reasonableness, I ventured outside again to look at Mr. Possum, who was either sleeping or dying--I couldn't tell which. I gently picked up one end of the trash can and tipped it, sliding the marsupial to the opening. He showed his teeth. Testiness I took for a good sign. We regarded each other warily until he closed his eyes, resting his head once again on the discarded sock. Defeated, I went back into the house, certain to find a dead possum in a couple of hours.
As Rod predicted, Mr. Possum wandered away, no doubt irritated by these continuous intrusions. I worried about the effect of coffee grounds and crème fraîche on his digestive track until I read that possums (technically the Virginia Opossum or Didelphis Virginiana) are omnivores, frequently feasting on road kill. They are also impervious to snake venom. I figured that any creature who can withstand the bite of a rattlesnake will survive our yuppie garbage.
Speaking of snakes, on Wednesday night I nearly stepped on one that slithered into the lower basement level of our home. I had just put away my knitting, turned off the BBC evening report, and was making for the stairs when I heard Chloe growl, an uncharacteristic sound for this otherwise docile animal. I looked down to see a coiled snake at my feet. I screamed, jumped, and painfully slammed my hip into the handrail, instigating utter canine chaos as the dogs circled the intruder. Terrified the snake might be poisonous, I grabbed the dogs by their respective collars and dragged them upstairs. I slammed the door shut, breathing hard. What to do? If I left the snake below, it might eventually work its way up the stairs and under the door, finding me in the bedroom. I imagined waking at 3:00 to the sensation of a reptile undulating against me, not the sort of amorous encounter I want in the middle of the night.
I called Rod, who was in Miami on a business trip.
Me: There's a snake in the basement.
Me: There's a snake in the basement.
Rod: Is it poisonous?
Me: How the hell do I know?
Rod: (thinking for a moment) Either sweep it out of the house or put a bucket over the snake. I'll deal with it when I get home.
Me: The snake might die by then. I don't want it in the house, but I don't want it to die.
Rod: (exasperated) Then sweep it out of the house.
As it turned out, the snake was more terrified of me than I was of it. I grabbed a broom and gingerly poked at the little serpent to see if it attacked or showed fangs. He coiled defensively into a mound. Satisfied the snake wasn't poisonous, I gently pushed him into the garage and then outside. I went upstairs to bed, relieved that I wouldn't have an unexpected companion in the wee hours, at least not of the reptilian variety.
The next day I glanced at the web site for the Chesapeake Bay Program, hoping to identify the interloper. Recognizing the markings, I realized to my horror that I had indeed swept a baby copperhead out of the house. Further research disclosed that the babies are just as venomous as the adults. It was my good fortune to have encountered a cowardly copperhead; still, I'd rather not press my luck.
A condo in the heart of urban D.C. is starting to look good.