Forget ‘Tales of Desperaux’ and ‘A Mouse Is In My House.’ I had my own little mousey adventure the day the power went out, and thanks to a cute, brave little fictional mouse and other children’s stories, things turned out much differently than anticipated.
We use mousetraps in this house. It’s an old house, over 100 years old, so inevitably, from time to time, we see signs of uninvited guests. We choose the swiftest and most powerful trap out there to briskly complete the task, and we dispose of the traps and carry on with our lives.
Okay, to be completely honest, while I may on occasion set traps (with a dab of peanut butter and a chocolate chip), my hubby is the one who disposes of them. You may call this retro, anti-feminist, or whatever you like, but I don’t care. I’d blame it on the fact that I’m a writer, and that the image of the poor dead mouse would haunt me (to this day, I can still picture the dead squirrel I had to dispose of from our backyard, including when I nudged it and the back leg twitched, sending me leaping backwards and waiting until I was absolutely certain it was not returning as an undead creature; you want more vivid imagery of that moment? I can bring it). Or maybe I’m just weak. Whatever. My sons weren’t particularly helpful either, so it’s not just a gender thing.
Anyhow, the night before, my son had called my hubby to report a mouse on the basement stairs. By the time hubby arrived, though, it had disappeared. So hubby set a trap and left it on the stairs, planning to dispose of the contents the next morning. That night, a thunderstorm raged outside. Unfortunately, in our neighborhood full of old trees and above-ground electric wires, the combination led to the power going out sometime in the morning and staying out for most of the day.
That afternoon, at least a couple hours before hubby was due to return, the mouse reappeared. Youngest child called me (we the only ones home). The power was out all day, and he was miserable without video games and had gone to the basement to check if maybe, just maybe, the downstairs television was somehow working (why yes, I did remind him of how electricity works). The mouse was back. I looked, and there on the landing by the side door, was the tiny gray rodent, moving none too quickly.
We have a dog. A big dog. Some might call it a scary dog (she’s a shepherd mix, with a loud bark). Wisely, the child called her.
“Go get it,” he said, pointing to the mouse.
The dog descended the five steps to the landing, then turned around and climbed back up the steps, mouse un-sniffed, and returned to her cushion in the living room. Nope, nothing to see, nothing of interest.
The child and I may or may not have exchanged exasperated expressions, certainly rolled our eyes internally if not externally, and shook our heads. At least, there was some collection of actions signaling our disappointment in our fierce protector.
We called her again.
This time, she went down the stairs, went straight up to the mouse, sniffed it, then returned again up the stairs and into the living room. Somehow, our “fierce predator” lacks that killer instinct so prevalent in dogkind.
Which meant it would be up to us humans.
Our next best idea was to shoo it out the door. I mean, mice can make it through mazes, right? So why not out a wide open door? So I went out the back door (let’s say it was because my shoes were by the back door and not because the idea of passing by the mouse freaked me out, shall we?) and opened up the side door. Meanwhile, the child stomped loudly on the bottom step before the landing and yelled at the mouse to go away. I stood outside, holding open the screen door (that doesn’t stay open on its own), standing as far away as possible, just in case the tiny vermin scurried out the door and tried to run up my leg or something. Because, of course, life is just like Tom and Jerry cartoons, and while I wasn’t wearing high heels and I wasn’t in my kitchen, I had no chair to climb onto out there.
The child tried moving the large mat that lay on the landing (for brushing off dusty or wet shoes). He tried shaking the mat and shoving the mat to shoo the mouse that was now between the mat and the threshold. All that did was to startle the mouse into making its way onto the mat. Crap.
I’m not sure if the child then slowly closed the door (hoping to usher it out) or if it drifted closed on its own, but that apparently was the next phase of our shooing plan. It didn’t work. Evidently, the mouse crouched or ducked (or whatever mice do) to avoid getting hit by the door, putting it on the wrong side of the door. The boy then carefully stretched across the landing and opened the door again—hoping to get the mouse back to the other side of the door—but it didn’t work. The mouse just moved closer to the wall and wouldn’t come out.
I know folks have pet mice. And hamsters, and other little handheld crawly creatures that they name and cuddle and care for. I was never such a child. And I am certainly not such an adult. Now, I will capture and release bugs, including, once, a bee that struggled by the front window overlooking the garden (mosquitos don’t count; I have no sympathy for those). It’s not a religious thing, just a me thing. I may get annoyed by critters when I’m outdoors (or irrationally frightened by them), but if I’m on their turf, I respect their right to live. I just prefer my indoor environment to contain only those living creatures that I have invited in; I leave all of outdoors to everyone else.
I could have waited. I could have told the child to get his shoes on so we could go for a walk, or go to the library, or do something fun. In fact, I may have tried, but the boy said no. Which was probably a good thing, because nobody wanted the critter to make its way onto the main floor of the house. The likelihood of it wandering back to the trap was pretty low, although in retrospect I suppose I could have moved it closer to him and walked away.
But I couldn’t. I didn’t want the mouse in my house, but I couldn’t cause its demise. I had to take matters into my own hands. Literally. I had to pick up the mouse and carry it out. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to do it. But I had no choice.
I walked around back to where the hubby keeps the gardening gloves and put on a pair. After all, I was hoping that the thickness would keep me from feeling it wriggle (I was wrong). I marched back to the side door, mustering as much courage as I could for the daunting task ahead of me. Never mind the fact that I was thousands of times bigger than this creature. Never mind the sheer ridiculousness of my heebie-jeebies. In my family, this is an absolutely reasonable and completely understandable reaction. Proof: the child, who had followed me outside, and watched as I donned the gloves, did not laugh at my actions.
Okay, maybe he did. But he didn’t volunteer to take on the task himself, so I say that’s close enough to validation.
As I approached the side door, I shook my arms and shuddered, took a deep breath, and stepped inside. Slowly, I closed the door to reveal the vile creature. I bent down, and grasped it from above, kind of like the carnival game where you try to retrieve a stuffed animal with a giant claw. I was the claw.
It tried to get away, and I could feel it struggle. So I dropped it (just like the claw).
It wasn’t a particularly fast mouse, I knew that from when it totally hadn’t scurried away from my dog. Or scurry anywhere for that matter.
(Oh geez. What if it was a she-mouse, and it was pregnant? I mean, I totally still wouldn’t want it in my house, but oh, now I feel bad. Is that weird?)
Still, I knew I needed to now finish the job quickly, before my complete aversion to the task and the fact that I just touched a mouse creeped me out enough to make me lock myself in my bedroom. No, I’d do this. Rip off the bandage and all that.
I bent down, picked up the mouse with one hand, pulled open the door with the other, and ran out. I had to get it far away, far from my house, or it would just turn around and sneak back in. And I couldn’t have that happen.
So I ran, hand extended away from me so I wouldn’t accidentally graze the mouse against my leg or knock it free, and then heaved it underhand and watched it fly away. And land on the driveway, maybe ten feet away from the front of the house. I hadn’t even cleared the side of the house before I freaked out and released the beast. If I were playing corn hole, perhaps it would have made it to the other board, but don’t quote me on that. It was, to be frank, pathetically un-far.
Then, of course, I felt bad. In my quest to spare a mouse’s life, I had tossed it in the air and may have caused it an even worse death as it plummeted fifty feet onto concrete (okay, maybe more like ten feet, It really was a pathetic toss, but still). There it lay, unmoving, on the driveway. Possible dead. Murdered. By me.
The child came up behind me, asking if it was dead. I admitted I didn’t know. I hoped, but to be honest I’m not entirely sure what I hoped. I was concurrently worried about the well-being of that tiny gray critter with the teensy peach fingers and black eyes, and afraid my job wasn’t finished. At that moment, I could have named that mouse Shrödinger’s Cat, since its simultaneous potential for life and death could have legitimately justified its name.
The child picked up a spikeball and tossed it near the mouse, startling it. The mouse moved, clearly alive. Which revived my fear that it would make its way back inside. And a new fear that it might get run over by a car. Oh, what a mental mess. The child tossed a couple more spikeballs in the mouse’s direction, which finally urged it to retreat into the lawn. The child and I went back inside.
Later, as I walked my dog, I stopped and looked for the mouse, and found it, hiding in the grass. I left it alone. But later, as I drove past that same spot, I again paused and ensured it was still there. It was.
Part of me wishes I was the kind of person to take it inside and keep it as a pet, but I’m not. I worried that it would be discovered by some larger creature, or that sooner or later the neighbor would mow his lawn, and it’d lose its cover (or die a gruesome death). I contemplated building it a little shelter, but nature offers plenty of those. I returned it to its world, and wished it well. That was my role in its adventure, and I hope it didn’t think too ill of me. As for my child, I have no idea what kind of parenting lessons I imparted on him, what part of the adventure will stick most strongly to his memory. I just know I really was being my truest self that day, and I’m okay with that.
I guess it’s only fair that I share the final chapter. Mousey didn’t make it. I saw it the next day, dead in the grass not far from where I had last seen it. At worst, it was that plummet from my toss that caused its demise, and I am to blame for its death. At not-quite-best, the fact that at no point throughout this adventure did it scurry or scamper, but rather merely ambled along, suggests that its end was near anyhow. At best, I offered it an exciting final adventure to cross off its thimble list (you know, like a bucket list, but mouse-sized). I can rationalize all I want, but I certainly feel complicit and sad. So farewell, Schrödinger’s Mousey. May your story mingle with Desperaux’s and other literary mice, in which I acknowledge my role as the villain. For that, I’m sorry. But I guess I’ll have to live with that.