A couple of months ago we acquired two baby guinea pigs - my eight-year-old daughter's reward for learning her times tables. For a hutch, we bought an adorable Bavarian-style des res with an attractive tongue and grove exterior, an enclosed sleeping area, large recreational/ living spaces, and extensive views. Every day, we prepared vibrant medleys of organic cucumbers, peppers, and cherry tomatoes, served with oodles of aromatic chamomile grass.
We even bought a pigloo to die for, ffs.
But then, a couple of weeks ago, on one of the hottest days of the year, the little fuckers escaped.
At first, I was kind of relaxed, partly because I could hear them speed-talking in the flower border, congratulating each other on their escape, comparing it with the great historic escapes of Colditz and Alcatraz. And in spite of having a whole day’s work ahead of me, a couple of deadlines, and a pile of shitty housework, I figured that a food trail of cunningly placed cucumber chunks leading back to the door of the open hutch would do the trick.
Well, actually, NO.
Because what I didn’t know was that cucumber chunks are as nothing compared with the dark secret pleasures of the flower border and that guinea pigs – it’s totally true folks - are amongst the fastest creatures on Earth, second only to cheetahs, with the ability to accelerate to speeds of between 50 to 60 mph in less than three seconds. Especially when poked with a twig. In fact, the smaller of our guinea pigs, Gabe, travels at a speed that basically violates the laws of physics.
Needless to say, an hour later, I still hadn’t caught the little motherfuckers. Worse still, the cats, until then sunning themselves on the kitchen windowsill, decided that it was now high time to investigate the situation. They tiptoed across the lawn towards the hutch, shuddering along the length of their bodies, like angels of death.
"Fuck off cats!” I shouted. “Just fuck off will you!”
I’m not saying it was a nice way to treat the cats, both of which are pretty old. But equally, the thought of my daughter returning home from school to find her beloved guinea pigs weltering in their own blood, with their guts hanging loosely from their assholes, was stressful, to say the least.
So I began to panic. I lost perspective. I texted a client to reschedule the day’s work commitments, blaming a sudden but horrifying migraine. I phoned my partner to explain to him that the burden of caring for two young children, one pre-schooler, two geriatric cats, two runaway guinea pigs, a starter business, and a house that always smelled weird - really fucking weird - whilst he was away at work all week, was just too much for me. I ranted on about the impossibility of being a good mother and good at my job, and that if my daughter lost her guinea pigs, it would be because SOMETHING. FINALLY. HAD. TO. GIVE. I might have cried. I might have got hysterical. It’s entirely possible.
“Use the hose”, he said. “They won’t like the water.”
“I’ve only got two hands!” I screamed. “If I’ve got the hose in one hand, how am I supposed to catch both guinea pigs when they come running out, eh? I’m not a fucking octopod.”
“I can’t talk to you when you’re like this”, he said. “I’m in the middle of work.”
“Good. It’s just as well. Because I’m going to totally quit my work tomorrow”, I said. “I’ve so had enough. To be honest, I can’t wait til I’m ancient and totally past it. I can’t wait to be in a retirement home, waiting for the three-o-clock cake trolley. I. CAN’T. FUCKING. WAIT.”
"Are you on the rag?” he said.
I hung up.
Meanwhile, the guinea pigs were having a lovely time of it. Holiday of a lifetime. I practiced some deep breathing techniques. I googled “How to catch a guinea pig” and followed the instructions. I built a box out of a cereal packet and filled it with cucumber and meadow hay. I placed it on the periphery of the flower border. I lay motionless in the grass alongside the border with the midday sun beating down on my back.
At some point – by now I had lost all sense of time - I heard the squeak of the neighbour’s washing line.
“You ok there?” asked my neighbour.
“Uhuh” I said. Yeah fine, yeah ok. Totally fine, yeah.” “I’m just trying to catch the guinea pigs.”
“Oh”, she said, bemused. “I see.”
I could feel her staring at me - like I was some giant freakoid.
”I’ve got to flip the box up when one gets into it”, I said. “I tried everything.”
But then, just as I was babbling on about something else, Gabe ran right into the box. Just like that. I cried out of sheer relief.
“If you need any help I’m always here”, said my neighbour, quickly disappearing into her house.
I phoned my partner.
“I caught Gabe", I said. “I made a box.”
‘Great”, he said. “Sorry I shouted. I was just worried about you.”
I made myself a cup of tea in the kitchen. It was almost half two. Almost time for the school run. Ok, I knew one of the guinea pigs was still out there, at risk of a fatal bite to the neck, a snapped spinal cord, disembowelment. But the fact that I’d succeeded in catching one of them made me feel less incompetent, a better mother. I tempted the cats into the house by shaking the biscuit box. I locked down the cat flap. I blocked up the gates so that there was nowhere for the other guinea pig to go. Suddenly I was a turbo-charged super woman, like that Sheryl Sandberg gal, or KaRRRRRen Brady (or however many farkin Rs it is).
Afterwards, I made my daughter and her best friend catch Timmy, warning them about the perils of leaving the hutch door open.
“It was sooooo easy mami”, said my daughter, less than ten minutes later, clutching Timmy.
As she spoke, I couldn’t help picturing the three-o-clock cake trolley again, with its selection of jammy sponges, moist Madeira cakes and bara brith. I imagined long days with nothing to do; no guinea pigs to rescue; no looming deadlines. At the same time, I was mesmerized by my daughter’s confidence, by her impish smile, by the way she twisted her hair around, over and over. I loved her so much. I loved them all. I didn't want to miss a minute of it.
“You better go and give them some fresh water now", I said. “They’ve had a busy day.”