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A Mouse in the House

August 2012

by Virginia Seacrist

“Eeek,” it's always the same reaction when anyone sees a mouse. How many cartoons show a frightened woman on a chair, shrieking, “Eeeek, a mouse”? Yet we also have Mickey Mouse...and Minnie, who make us laugh. Who's afraid of Mickey Mouse?

It's a curious phenomenon, a three inch mouse creating pandemonium for five and six foot humans, mostly women...but not only. For some reason, men can be driven to extremes by a little mouse.

I actually know it's possible that a mouse could be in my house. Some evidence points to “mouse,” but you know how elusive these little mammals are. In the beginning, when the house was only two rooms, with the bathroom downstairs, I kept a small wooden chest there. Some cheaper chests have drawers which are not complete boxes, but leave the back open...and vulnerable. A creature needing to hide for safety...or birth...is more clever than his tiny brain may lead you to expect.

Once I opened the drawer, innocently, and yes, I did “Eeeek” when I saw a three inch mouse bedded down with her inch long, hairless babies nursing. Bedded down, I know now, in a soft ball of tiny threads of my throw rug, mattress cover, and towels, a very complex and comfy little bed where she could give birth. She scampered, who knows where...they are evasive and quick to hide. Why? They are so tiny and defenseless. My shriek is automatic, not rational. I slammed closed the drawer. Just as quickly, reason returned, then curiosity. I tentatively reopened the drawer to examine...with my eyes only...these morsels, which could be devoured in one bite by a predator: their eyes tightly shut as if sewn closed, minute hairs, as on your thumb before the knuckle, soft swollen pink bodies, and a string-like pale tail, similar to a baby eel.

Do you know baby eels? They were served to me whole in a salad: eyes, innards...the entire little creature, looking graciously enough, like spaghetti. I actually took a mouthful before I was told, “It's not spaghetti.” The taste isn't what made me regret chewing, swallowing: it's mental.

I've seen other creatures in my house too, especially at flood time, but not exclusively. One never knows what the need for shelter, and especially, the need for a place to make a nest will entice a “wild” animal to do. Even domesticated animals may do unnatural acts when threatened.

Once during a flood, we saw a snake slither down from that square opening to the attic. It managed to slide from the attic entrance over to the wall above the sink, around the light fixture, around the sink, down the pipes, and...I presume, out the same hole the pipe occupied. Snakes and rodents: why do they send fear shooting through us. Happily, when I clutched the arm of my son, of course quite a bit younger than I, he calmly said, “It'll find its way out; you don't have to worry.”

Worry is what one does when s/he doesn't know the whereabouts of the alien living thing.

Once I opened the screen to the porch overlooking the river, 12 feet above the ground, to see a long, brown snake basking. I scrunch my face in fear and disgust, while this guy is merely enjoying a sun bath...in my house. I did rouse his suspicions, and he did writhe under the screen door faster than a scared rabbit, and to where? Into the house, under the bunk bed, flattened against the baseboard. Did I tread gingerly all that day, wondering? But, somehow they slither away; they don't want to be near us either.

Another time I felt some long, smooth thing under my bear foot when I took my night swim off my river bank, into the dark, tannin water. And yes, once my foot landed on one I could see, in daylight, as I exited my downstairs porch. I screamed so loud, my neighbor two houses up called, “What's wrong?” ready to come to my assistance. “Snake,” I called back with fear. He didn't respond, and I could mentally see him roll up his eyes and scoff.

Not all men in the neighborhood love animals, all animals, as that neighbor and I. He feeds the wild turkeys and ducks, and his hose enters the dark water for the manatees. The other neighbor, though, does love his dogs. But, I walked from the springs on our mutual road towards him one day to see him holding a machete with a black snake on it. Knowing our differences, the sheriff's deputy said, “It was war he weren't s'posed to be,” as he walked to the woods, sliding the harmless, dead snake from his blade.

I said nothing, but thought, “Where is he supposed to be?”

But, back to rodents. One winter I was away for a month from the house. I noticed it the minute I entered the front door into the kitchen: the smell of...hmmm, pungent...not a good smell...not something dead and rotting, but definitely earthy. Looking up at the metal roof, sticks as thick as my wrist and as long as my forearm lay knitted together in the rafters. How did they get in? I wondered. Nothing in the nest, vacant, but I could only imagine an eagle, hawk, or vulture...yes it's the smell of a vulture. We have them, you know. They migrate along the river from the Carolinas for the winter. You can see them by the tens in tree after tree after tree up the river.

I inquired of all the locals, describing the nest, approximating the smell. “Squirrel,” finally the postmistress guessed. Such a big nest for a squirrel, I think, and how did it drag in the branches? Where are the babies? Finally I discover tares in the screen, big enough for a stick to be dragged through. How industrious are these woodland creatures, and how acute to know that no one's home.

It happens in floods too, if you don't stick around.

One squirrel, or is it the progeny that follow and pass on the knowledge? How long do they live? I've lived in this house for 17 years, altering it, tearing into the environment of “wild” creatures who lived here first. It's said that a squirrel could jump from tree to tree from the East coast to the Mississippi River only a few hundred years ago, and I know the path of the squirrel who lives in the trees near my house. Now he runs across the screen, on the outside, little claws clutching the tiny screen holes, until he gets from one tree to another. But, when I'm away, he takes a short cut: he's gnawed through the screen at one corner, must run across the floor diagonally to the other corner, where he's gnawed again to get to the balcony railing and onto the oak between me and my neighbor. I had to put a mirror in the corners to “buffalo” him...how do we confuse buffaloes? During a long flood, when the animals are as displaced as the people, he ate all the skin off an old African gazelle head I'd inherited, as well as gnawed any exotic wood which had been made into some useful tool there on the porch.

I could go on about the hummingbird pairs that return each season, or the manatees sleeping on my river bank, or, yes, the one alligator we saw once swimming upstream. Don't think they last long in this neck of the woods. They aren't where they belong.

So, about the mouse in the house. What's the point of the story anyway?

My cleaning lady asks, “Do you know you have a mouse?”

“Well, I've suspected it. I never see one, but linen tea towels have holes in them when I keep them in the drawer. Sometimes I see balls of shredded fabrics in drawers, but no mouse. But what if I do? How do they hurt anything? And, how do you get rid of them?”

“Don't use sticky paper. I've seen a mouse gnaw off it's own feet to get free,” she grimaces. “Why, a snake was caught on that paper, still alive...you know it doesn't kill them. We tried to pull it off, but peeled off its skin....”

“Ahhh. No. Stop!” I say.

You see, I couldn't kill an animal before I even knew the tenets of Buddhism. I found that philosophy long after I became a vegetarian. Someone gave me a fish he'd caught. I put him on the chopping block to cut off his head, but that eye staring at me...and then he flapped his tail. So, I put him in my swimming pool where he lived...well, until the pool man had to chlorinate it in the spring. That was painful.

“Then, there's the mouse trap,” she continues, “but it doesn't always kill them.”

“I couldn't do that either. No, I can't do that, snap off its head? No, not an innocent little mouse.”

“Well, don't put poison down; it could die in between the walls and you'd have a real stink.”

“Or, the cats could eat the poison, or a child. No, I have trouble using spray for roaches. I carry them out if I can. And spiders. I'd rather see a roach caught in a spider's web than spray,” I lament.

Literature is something you read, sometimes, in preparation for life. Having taught literature to children and young adults most of my life, I often think classics are pearls to swine, or rather that the students are too young to understand much of what they read. But then, the story is there as a reference if they ever come upon a similar experience, to which they can empathize.

So it is with me. I recall a poem I read long ago about a woman who had mice in her attic. She'd peaked up there and saw what I described: a mama mouse with her babies. Finally, the poem ends with her lifting her cat through the attic opening. Come to think of it, the snake could take care of the mice too. Reading it, then, I was appalled.

I have two cats, and nothing wiggles or creeps that they won't eat. I brought Baby Kitty with me once, didn't know why she was racing over me as I slept on the screened porch, just knew that she was dashing from one end of the porch to the other...often across my body as I slept. When I woke I found not one, but two wrens who had tried to escape. That was sad.

Well, a man came with his family and two friends to rent the river house. I'd allowed him to enter without paying, with a plan that he pay my property manager who also works in the nearby park. All the second day of his visit the family was tubing on the river, barbequing in my grill, using my boats, swimming in our private park, but he never approached the security guard to pay. My surrogate kept me informed that the renter had not paid, but I kept trusting that he would.

Can you believe that a man with a wife and two daughters would bring them on vacation, along with two friends and leave without paying?

When I contact him via email, his response is “my daughters saw a RAT. They were huddled in the bathroom, and of course my wife couldn't sleep after that, so we left.”

“But you didn't leave, you used my house all day and into the second night,” I respond. “Anyway, if a mouse can cause that much fear, why didn't you leave immediately? Why didn't you alert me at the time? It's like ordering a bottle of wine with your dinner, drinking three fourths of it, then saying you don't like it and not paying.”

He absconded, and what can a landlady do? Can I sick my cats on that rat?

I brought my cats again. Well, sure enough, they nabbed the mouse. Funny how they don't eat it, just play with it until they get tired of the cat and mouse game, as I did with Ian Pittkoff, the rat who had a free weekend at my expense.

I buried the three inch little guy or girl in the flower pot. I'm not sure how the little creature could so frighten a grown man that he'd run off in the night without paying for what he used.

That's the story of a mouse in the house.

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