I have antechinus

I HAVE antechinus.

Not a sexually transmitted disease, but a … sort of … a bit like … like a mouse. As you might expect of almost anything with fur in Australia, it’s a mouse with a pouch.

That fact that it has a pouch ought to render it cute, like koalas and possum, but there’s nothing cute about a rodent (sorry, marsupial) that poos in your sock drawer.

And on your towel shelf.

And in the folds of your clean sheets.

And on the Christmas gifts you’ve bought for your family.

That’s how I knew they were antechinus Ñ by the poo. Because if you were to place me in the witness box and make me swear under oath, I would have to admit that Ñ until last night Ñ I’d never actually seen antechinus in the house, I don’t hear them; I can’t smell them; they don’t chew holes in the skirting board and whatever they eat Ñ it’s not what I eat.

In fact, for an animal that appears to eat so little it’s amazing they can poo so much. Nor is it like mouse poo.

Although they’re only slightly larger than a mouse, their turds would make a hippopotamus proud.

Except that antechinus poo is long, and has a distinctly rough surface to it, like a miniature loofah. Defecating must be antechinus hell.

I was beginning to doubt my own sanity. It’s true I hadn’t seen them; not in the sense of catching one eyeball to eyeball, just before the shoe hits it (maybe I have only the one antechinus, but, if so, it has serious bowel problems).

But several times during the evenings I have been aware of a “presence”. Something dark crossing the curtains (or the floor or the bureau or the table where I’m eating dinner) that is gone again in a nanosecond, like a word on the tip of your tongue that you can’t quite recall, or something with fangs that’s going to bite your neck and drink your blood.

But I am not alone. It’s my belief the people who named them had never seen them either. Do you have any idea what “antechinus” means! It’s from the Greek, meaning “like a hedgehog”, which is the same as saying a koala is like a praying mantis.

Antechinus are furry; hedgehogs have spines; hedgehogs live … well, under hedges; antechinus live in my Christmas-present stockpile. And my socks. And my towels.

And while we’re on the subject of hitting one with a shoe Ñ you can’t. Not legally anyway. It’s a native species (naturally Ñ it has a pouch!) and it’s protected by law.

Not only can you not harm them. The law also says you can’t move them, as in relocate them. So unless they grow tired of the décor, or they fill the entire house with poo, it looks like I’m stuck with them.

It could be worse. Among my stock of Christmas presents is a considerable amount of chocolate. They haven’t touched it! None of the wrapping paper has been chewed to make a nest. It they’d been rats or mice they’d have eaten everything that wasn’t in a lead-lined box.

This whole thing came to a head last night when I changed the sheets. I lifted the new ones off the shelf and there beneath it was an antechinus. They have round eyes and a pointy nose (oh all right, like a hedgehog’s) and they wear a look of startled surprise. At least, this one did.

Startled to point of immobility. We stared at each other. It might have smiled.

And my shoe was out reach. Which was just as well because in those long, two seconds that we faced each other down I became aware of not one pair , but two pairs of eyes staring back at me.

The second pair belonged to the baby, which had given up its mother’s pouch and was riding around on her back, as antechinus babies do.

“Bugger it,” I thought.

But what I actually said was “Merry Christmas,” and I closed the cupboard door.