Meet Cute #18: The Hamster and The Chair of Freedom

Whiskers the Hamster clung to the top rung of her cage, her front claws and legs trembling with effort.

The view through the cage’s side wall was a familiar one. It was of The Child’s bedroom, done up in frilly pinks and pastel greens. There were a bed, and a desk, and several chairs.

Whiskers planned to aim for one of those chairs. The cushioned one, underneath the cage, on which sat a large stuffed bear. The chair she knew as the Chair of Freedom.

She’d actually landed here once before, the last time she’d escaped. Stupidly, she’d done it when The Child was in the next room, playing with a friend. The Child had come running, alerted by the clatter of the cage top, and stuffed Whiskers back in her cage.

Today, though, The Child wasn’t home. No one was. Whiskers had waited until she heard the telltale sound of the garage door closing, then silence.

The trickiest part of escaping was opening the top of the cage. That was why Whiskers was so tired: She had to keep butting her small head against the rungs above her. The sound was clanging and metallic.

She took a breath and started another round of butting. It was a matter of jarring loose the latch that held the top rungs to the side: A crapshoot, really, because you couldn’t know what exact angle, what exact amount of upward velocity, would do the trick.

After a particularly forceful collision of head with rungs, Whiskers lost her grip and fell. No matter: The wood chips on the bottom of the cage cushioned her landing. Probably she should spit out the food she’d stuffed in her cheeks, to lighten her load, but she couldn’t do it. She’d need that food once she was free. Who knew when she’d find her next meal.

She ascended once again.

And this time, on the third head butt, success! The latch sprang open. Her strike had been strong enough that the entire top of the cage had flung to one side. She marveled at the sight: Above her, no impediments.

Whiskers’ back feet scrabbled on the rungs. She reached the top, her body curling painfully over the edge. She winced.

But this was momentary. All she had to do now was jump.

She set the Chair of Freedom’s seat in her gaze. It was a few inches to the left of her body, so she’d have to angle herself when she jumped. Just enough that she didn’t miss and dash herself against the wood floor.

She was poised and ready to leap when, from below, disaster: The sound of the garage door opening.

The Child and her parents were back. Already. Damn them!

It was now or never. Keeping the chair’s seat in her vision, Whiskers coiled her spine and jumped. For a moment, she felt nothing but air beneath her. She pumped her legs, as if her feet could somehow find purchase in the void.

She landed, eyes closed. When she opened them again, she seemed to be still alive. She had hit her target! The Chair of Freedom!

Below, the sounds of footsteps. She would have to hurry if she were to avoid being found.

She descended the side of the chair, which conveniently reached almost to the floor. She rushed to the nearest wall, hoping to find an opening into which to scurry. A quick visual scan revealed nothing.

Footsteps now on the stairs. Terrible luck: The Child seemed to be headed for her room.

She motored on her short legs toward the nearest piece of furniture, the dresser. It sat perhaps an inch from the wall. That wasn’t much room, but Whiskers might be able to squeeze herself into the space. If she could remain hidden long enough, she could chew her own hole into the wall, disappear into the insulation.

But when she reached the dresser she saw her plan was hopeless. There wasn’t enough room even for her head. In desperation, she spat out her food, narrowing her profile, but still it wasn’t enough.

She wheeled around and made a break for the bed. But it was yards away, a vast expanse for her tiny legs. She’d navigated only half the distance when The Child entered the room — and gasped.

“Whiskers?” The Child called. “Oh my gosh, are you OK? Where are you?”

Whiskers, sadly, was in plain sight. All The Child had to do was take a few steps to see her.

“Oh thank God! There you are! Baby girl, I was so afraid –”

The Child towered over her, scooping Whiskers into her hands. The Child stroked her fur and kissed her for a few seconds, cooing things like “It’s OK now, you’re safe,” and then — horribly — put Whiskers back in her cage.

It was all over. Her attempt had failed. Whiskers huddled in the corner of her cage, disconsolate.

The Child bustled and fretted around for a few moments.

Then — what fresh horror was this? The Child had picked up a heavy hardbound book. She set it on top of the cage, casting Whiskers in shadow.

Whiskers sank into further despair. She would never be able to butt that book out of the way. Not even a team of 10 hamsters could.

And yet outside her cage, the Chair of Freedom sat. Whiskers stared out at it. How she loved that chair, how she longed for it! She savored the memory of its cushion, how welcoming and soft it had felt after her jump, in the first fleeting moment of her freedom.

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