We’re in the middle of eating dinner when the heater kicks in. (It’s the end of winter here in Melbourne, Australia—getting warmer, but not warm enough to do without the heater.) An awful smell assails the room.
We go hunting.
First place, of course, is the windows and outdoors. Something dead outside, or from the petrol station nearby.
Then our rooms. Maybe it’s dirty shoes. Although believe me, it has to be truly bad to smell like this. Then Sherylyn’s art bag. She has been known to bring back lemons and grapefruit from classmates and forget about them till the next week.
“It’s kind of musky,” I say. “Possum?”
We had a possum in the ceiling once. It smelt a little musky. But believe me when I tell you the smell of possum is nothing to compared to the smell of possum urine. That is a stink you never forget and even once you get rid of the possum it takes months to get rid of the urine smell. Months!
Incidentally, possums are a protected species here. You don’t actually get rid of them. You pay the pest control man to find out where the possum is getting in and out, then they put a one-way door on the exit, and go around the rest of the house blocking off any other possible entry points. They come back a few days later to block off the exit altogether. Assuming the one-way trapdoor has been triggered and the possum is now establishing a new home in your garden, of course.
They also put down rat bait, because as cute as possums may be, they bring rats. Having possums in your ceiling means you’ve also probably got rats.
Yes, well. Now we know that—and we know just how bad possum urine smells—we get the whole house checked every six months.
But the last check was only a few of months ago. And it’s certainly not possum.
“Tomcat?” We keep the windows open, and neighbourhood cats have been known to jump in through the back laundry window.
No. Not that smell either.
The smell has died down by then, so we go back to dinner. Maybe it was a truck going past.
We have floor vents for the heater, and the heater is thermostatically controlled. Half an hour later the heater kicks in again. So does the smell.
It’s coming through the vents.
“You know what it smells like,” Sherylyn says. “Mouse.”
I’m taken back to days in the country and mouse plagues through the stored wheat. Of course it’s mice.
So now I have visions of this family of mice, in their cosy, centrally-heated home, living the high life while we struggle to work out how to get rid of the pests in the middle of a lockdown.