Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Battle of the Mouse

Look, I just want to decorate for Christmas. I don't want to take the whole damned house apart.

Here's what it is. It's 5:52am. I'm sweaty. The dog is excited and pacing. The cat is under the stairs in the under-the-stairs closet which is now nearly empty. Think about it. When was the last time the closet under your stairs was empty?

We have a mouse.

I hate mice. They shred insulation. They leave tiny little poops everywhere. And they harbor disease. Have you ever heard of the hantavirus? We have the hantavirus in the Pacific Northwest and it is not pretty.

Okay, now that I'm calmed down and cooled down a little, I'll tell you that I do not hate mice. I just hate having a mouse loose in my house. If the damned thing were in a cage, a really good cage, I might feed him and call him a pet. I would name him, Oscar or Lucky or something like that. Once he's loose, however, he's a pest and I'll tear my house apart trying to get him out.

Here's how this saga began. Seth suddenly became alert and was working around a pile of stuff we wanted to give away but hadn't yet gotten out of the house. I can tell when Seth is working and he was working this pile, a very interesting pile. We have that stuff lying around - you know, the stuff that nobody uses, and it bugs me, so I go routing through the house once or twice a year and get rid of stuff we don't need any more. It's cathartic, but not enough. We still have too much stuff in our house.

The other night, I was at a dinner party. One of the hosts started talking about how the lottery is getting high. Megamillions. Then, as it usually does when there's talk of the lottery, everyone started talking about what they'd do with all that money. A Jaguar, good colleges for the kids, a new house, diamonds. Big TVs. My first thought if I won the lottery, was to let Mike retire so he could relax and do Scouting full-time. I think he'd like that. I'd like that, having him around more and knowing he was doing what he loved to do. My second thought was that I'd buy some closets, some really good closets with my megamillions.

I know that you can't exactly buy closets at Target or anything, but I'd try. My worst envy is when I get the house tour and people walk me into closets bigger than my bedroom where their clothing is stacked, hung, and placed on shelves as if I'm shopping at a high-end department store. It makes me wilt with desire, these closets.

Now, I realize that no closets will ever accomplish that way of living that I'd like to achieve because, at heart, Mike, Nick, and I are all pack rats. Even if we had wonderful closets, they'd fill with stuff we don't use any more and the place would begin to look like it now does anyway. That's how it is with pack rats. And I'm telling you that there is no room for a mouse in this family of rats.

Then suddenly, Seth was looking up at me with a mouse in his mouth. I ran to get something to put him into, but by the time I came back, Seth's mouth was empty and he was staring at the discard pile again, toys and outgrown clothes. Nick cleaned his room last weekend.  Seth kept looking at me as if to ask me to move things out of the way to expose the mouse's hiding place. I can do that, I thought.

Then, I lifted that next thing, a faded T-shirt, under which the mouse was hiding. I love that half a second, during which everyone, myself included, just stares at the enemy. The moment passed and, in a flurry of fur, Seth had him until the mouse took a wild leap and landed on the wooden slide along one side of the stairs. Nick used to race Matchbox cars down those ramps on either side of the steps. The poor mouse slid in an uncontrolled descent half way down the stairs. He needed a tiny little ice axe to perform a self arrest. Instead, he twisted and turned and scrabbled until he fell onto a stair, bounced once, and landed two steps down. Then, he backed into the corner of the step and stared straight into the face of the cat who had matched his descent step by step.

"Get him, Seth!" I hissed through my teeth. The rest of the household members were asleep in their rooms at the top of the stairs and I didn't want to wake them, though I wished they were part of this hunt. Nick always seems to be asleep for the best mouse hunts.

Seth went in, but the mouse tumbled down the last four steps and scuttled under my antique trunk. I had seen him, a little grey blur. Besides, Seth was practically pointing. Even Teddy, who had joined in the excitement, was staring at the space between the bottom of the chest and the concrete floor. I took a breath, put down my little mouse container, and heaved as I lifted the old chest out of the way. This was the hundred year old trunk that I bought at an estate sale in New Jersey. This thing had probably seen an ocean trip and a trousseau or two. Fortunately for my back, I had emptied it when Nick was little and I realized that tiny fingers could be chopped off if the heavy, metal-edged lid came crashing down on them.

Again, the mouse looked up at us three predators and froze. Where do you go when you're the center of that kind of attention? The problem here is that Teddy, the one with the most potential for damage, actually just sniffled the little mouse. Yup. He sniffled him.

'Where is your predator nature?' I wanted to ask him. 'Don't you want to kill him?' I wanted to know?

"Get him, Teddy, get him," I hissed. It was the wrong thing to say. We've used 'get him' to mean that he should chase the cat and if he catches him, he gets to stick his cold wet nose into his butt for a good sniff. Teddy didn't have the butt-end, but he gave a good sniff anyway. Unfortunately, we don't yet have the command for him to tear a being limb from limb. And Teddy, being a big but very well socialized dog, hasn't shown that penchant for blood.

The mouse saw his chance, ran between Teddy's legs and back under the treasure chest. We repeated the process three times, my back creaking a little more with each cycle. The last time around, the mouse slipped under the door into the Costco kitchen.

See, I have two kitchens, one stacked on top of the other. I don't know why they designed this house that way, but it comes in handy on Thanksgiving. The only difference is that the downstairs kitchen, the Costco kitchen, has a freezer instead of a fridge and a big dual utility sink that comes in handy when I'm painting or stepped in shit. Other than that, the extra kitchen is a great place to store the extra sets of dishes we don't use, coolers, and stuff we get from Costco, thus the title 'the Costco kitchen.' You can imagine that there are stacks of things in the Costco kitchen.

Again, Seth honed in on the mouse's location as I tried to take everything out from under the counter where a dishwasher might go. It was rough going because the kitchen is long, narrow, and filled with things like multipacks of toilet paper, spare jugs of vinegar, and stacks of paper cups. Eventually, I unearthed the mouse, Seth swatted at him, and Teddy got another good sniff. Really? A sniff?

But then, the mouse escaped into the storage area where I actually put all that stuff that I'm going to donate. It was packed. I gave up trying to go through and went around to the hallway on the other side. The mouse, closely followed by Seth, rushed under the door to the under-the-stairs closet. It made me dance a little.

I'd begun to sweat, what with all this unpacking and chasing. I took a moment to take off my hoodie, but didn't take the time to get my slippers. Out came four suitcases, multiple duffel bags, three frame packs, and a tent in a stuff sack that I was sure I'd have chosen if I were being chased by three predator giants. My bare feet began to feel grit that had dropped off camping gear and wet suits from summer sand and dirt. I took out a heavy speaker that I'd used in the garage band I joined when I was in my twenties. There was a tiny Christmas tree we never used, the mesh bag of wet suits and booties, and four crates of Christmas stuff that had to come out anyway.

Finally, I cleared most of the things out, hoping I'd cleared enough room to keep the mouse from escaping under a box and leaving the closet. Seth indicated which box the mouse was under, a ragged box of Mike's photos from before he met me. This was the box that was likely to collapse if I tried to carry it out of the closet. I leaned down. My forehead scraped on the badly done textured paint on the angled wall. I began to lift the saggy box.

Suddenly the mouse darted out from under the box. I turned, dropped the box on the floor next to me, stomped, managed to turn him around, away from the exit. Seth was on him. Teddy ran forward, banged his head on the angled wall. Seth had him, then lost him. Desperate, the mouse climbed the textured wall, getting a foot off the ground. There was nowhere for him to go. He scrabbled. Then, he fell, right into Seth's waiting claws.

The mouse took one last-ditch wild leap. He found a crack. It was a tiny crack, but Seth just could not get a claw into it. Drywall dust fell from the crack. Teddy whined. I straightened up and hit my head again.


It was over. The mouse had won.

For now.

Thank you for listening, jules

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