Believe it or not, this is a photo of a battleground.
It’s the corner of our guest room, and it’s the site of the final confrontation between a home intruder and me.
The first skirmish occurred last night. I was not involved. I had gone to bed but was still awake, reading, when my husband came in from the living room. “I saw a mouse,” he said. “It was running across the top of our living room drapes.”
“On TOP? Of the DRAPES?” I responded, with my usual keen grasp of the situation. “How could it be on TOP of the DRAPES? Maybe you imagined it.”
“I didn’t imagine it,” John said, with some asperity. “I was laying on the floor and I heard something jingling overhead and I looked up and the mouse was looking down at me.”
“Well, where is it NOW?”
“I don’t know. It ran off. I checked the trap downstairs and it’s been sprung, but there’s nothing in it.”
This is not generally the kind of information one wants when one is tucked up in bed for the night. We keep a pretty clean house and are usually, mercifully, vermin-free, but we do get seasonal incursions – ants in the spring, the inevitable stink bug in the summer, and the odd mouse when the weather turns cold. (There was also this little incident some years ago, but that wasn’t in the house, exactly.) A little more than a week ago I was in the basement and thought I’d heard one between the floors, so John had set our usual trap in our usual spot, and it was this trap that had been sprung. We agreed that we’d pursue the matter in the morning, turned off the light and went to sleep.
About 8:30 this morning I was awakened by a loud, inarticulate shout from my husband – something along the lines of “AUUUROWRGH!” John talks and hollers in his sleep at times, but this shout had a slightly more insistent timbre and was followed by him sitting up. “What the heck are you doing?” I asked, or words to that effect.
“A mouse just ran across my face.”
“ACROSS your FACE?” I was still half-asleep and therefore querulous. “Are you sure you weren’t dreaming?”
(I don’t know how he kept his temper; when one has been awakened by the scuttling of mousy feet over a portion of one’s anatomy, one can hardly appreciate one’s experience being questioned – and this was the second time in less than twelve hours that I’d suggested the mouse was All In His Head.)
“I wasn’t dreaming. A mouse ran across my face.”
That woke me up competely. “WELL WHERE IS IT NOW?”
“I don’t know. I flicked it away.”
We both got up, threw on some clothes and started looking around. John got a flashlight to look under the bed as I picked up shams and decorative bed pillows off the floor. A dark shape scuttled past my feet and I emitted a sound kind of like this and jumped back on the bed. A certain amount of chaos followed; we were pretty sure it had gone under the bed but as we store the extra leaves for our dining room table under there, encased in special zippered covers, visibility was limited. John went off to get a broom for chivvying purposes and I continued to shift things around. I moved the curtains near my bed and once again did the Goofy Yell as the mouse ran past. Again, I didn’t see where it went. We rattled around the room some more but couldn’t find the mouse. Hooray, it’s gone. We baited a couple of traps and put one in the usual basement spot and one in the living room and got on with our day. Since I’m between projects at the moment (actor-speak for unemployed), I was tasked with pulling everything away from the bedroom walls and vacuuming the place thoroughly while John was at work.
I was making my morning tea and John was showering when I realized the house seemed awfully cold. I checked the thermostat, which read 64 degrees, along with the statement SYSTEM MALFUNCTION CALL TECHNICIAN. Great. I inform John that something’s wrong with the HVAC system and place a service call. They’ll be right out – huzzah. John and I swap places in the shower; he decides that he’s going to telework today but he has to fetch his computer from the office about ten minutes away, and will get a couple more mousetraps while he’s out. I’m dressed and already vacuuming by the time the technician arrives. John leaves, the tech gets to work in the basement, I fold some sheets in the laundry room and carry them upstairs. As I’m on the approach to the linen closet, I look into the bedroom and see THE MOUSE, sitting up pert and unconcerned, on the freshly vacuumed bedroom rug. I squawk and it turns, squeezes under my sliding closet door and disappears inside.
I confess to being completely skeeved out by the thought of the mouse amongst my clothes and shoes. I call John on his cell and he tells me to get the baited trap from the living room and put it in the closet. “I don’t want to,” I tell him. I have visions of opening the closet door and having the mouse run over my hand. He tells me to butch up and do it, and I do. Nothing happens. The mouse is lying doggo (oh, look it UP).
I am poised in the bedroom doorway, broom at the ready, fully expecting to hear the sudden snap of the trap at any moment, when the tech comes upstairs to check the thermostat. “Screw on the flame sensor backed out,” he says. “I tightened it and she fired right up.” I know I look wild-eyed and explain about the mouse. He is sympathetic as I sign his work form and see him out the door.
I head back to the bedroom and see THE MOUSE ambling out into the hallway. I let out another Goofy Yell and it darts next door into the guest room, which I have already partially prepped for vacuuming. The bedspread is turned up on top of the mattress, which is a Good Thing because even though I am hollering and brandishing the broom, THE MOUSE is making vigorous attempts to CLIMB UP ONTO THE MATTRESS. Stymied, it runs underneath the bed. Stored beneath the bed is one of those Space Bags – those things into which you stuff your out-of-season bedding, use your vacuum cleaner to suck the air out of and then shove someplace out of the way only to discover later that the damn thing has somehow expanded again and is now jammed tight into the spot where you shoved it. The mouse tap-dances around the edges of the Space Bag but can’t get over it as it is firmly wedged between the floor below and the box springs above. It disappears into the darkness behind the Space Bag. I notice it isn’t moving very smoothly and surmise that perhaps it’s stunned or maybe injured from being flicked off the bed early in the engagement. I grab my cell phone and call John again.
“What is it now?” He sounds less than thrilled.
“The mouse is in the guest room now. WHEN ARE YOU GONNA BE BACK?”
“I’m at Home Depot getting traps. Then I gotta get gas. Put the trap in the guest room and I’ll be home soon.”
I start to argue with him about the trap and THE MOUSE COMES OUT AGAIN. It still wants to climb the mattress. I make an ineffectual jab at it with the broom and it looks at me like “What is it now?” “IT’S OUT AGAIN GOODBYE” I tell John, hang up and stuff the phone into my back pocket. The mouse disappears under the bed again and I stand there in the doorway, broom poised, hurling a steady stream of invective in the direction of the bed. If I go in after the mouse, I’m afraid it’ll just elude me again. I decide to stay where I am. I find that I am shivering even though the heat is back on in the house – some primal instinct has kicked in, and while I have absolutely no desire to kill the mouse, I know I have to, and I’m repulsed by the thought. My invective takes on a pleading quality – “GO AWAY! JUST GO AWAY!” – but it’s to no avail. In a few moments the mouse comes out again, this time at the far end of the room, and hesitates.
So I took its picture.
Yes, I was shaking THAT BADLY.
I put the phone back in my pocket and stand there with the broom raised. The mouse does not move. I lower the broom a little bit. The mouse does not move. I adjust my grip and angle the broom so that it will strike the mouse not with the broom straws, but with the flat plastic base. The mouse does not move. The whole time I am lecturing the mouse, telling it that if it had just stayed outside where it belonged, none of this would be happening – it would be going about its mousy business undisturbed and I would be drinking tea and writing – and the whole time my voice is scaling up and up and becoming more distraught as I realize The Time Has Come. I let out one last whimper, grip the broom tight and slam it down with all my strength.
The mouse is flattened, but only for a moment. It makes a halting, crippled run for the corner of the bedroom, under a little incidental table which holds family photos. It leaps against the wall as if hoping to find an escape. I am making awful noises as I chivvy it out and land one or two good whacks before it backs itself tight into the corner again. I can’t get at it there; the table is in the way. Nearly sobbing, I shift the family photos and use the broomstick to push the gateleg of the table out of the way. Now I have a clear shot at the mouse, but not enough room to whack it with anything but the broom straws. I think about reversing the broom and using the stick end like a pool cue, but I am trembling so that I am afraid I’ll miss and the mouse will get away. I jab hard at the mouse with the straw end of the broom instead, but it only turns its back and smooshes its little face into the corner, like a child in Time Out.
That does me in. I start moaning. I know I’ve hurt the mouse badly; I know if I leave the room to get some more effective killing implement that there’s a chance the mouse will escape and hole up someplace to die and later stink. I see a heavy plastic container in the room, grab it and put it on the floor near the mouse, then began to push and sweep the mouse toward it. The mouse makes a few ineffectual attempts to run, but it’s clearly crippled and eventually I shove it into the plastic container and clap a towel over the opening.
So now I have a partly dead mouse in a plastic container and have no idea what to do. Quivering and snuffling, I put on my shoes and walk outside in the cold drizzly morning with the idea of maybe throwing the mouse in the trash or in the gutter. It’s then that I remember the young red-shouldered hawk that’s been hanging around the neighborhood, and I decide to take the mouse to a place where maybe the hawk will get it. The hawk likes to sit in a small tree in a neighboring yard; the house is currently vacant so I have no qualms about putting the mouse there. I slog through the mud into the neighboring yard, uncap the container and pitch the mouse beneath the tree. It’s not dead; it hops a bit and falls down, hops a bit and falls down, but now I am completely undone and can’t think what to do for it and so go back to my own house crying. I call John and tell him “I got it” and he’s just pulling up to the house and is delighted until he sees how upset I am. He hugs me and tells me I’m a Mighty Mouse Hunter but I’m still a mess. He wants to see the mouse so I show him where it is and then go back inside. I see him bending over the mouse; I see the mouse hop a bit and then John comes back to the house, gets a shovel, goes back to the mouse and does what I was unable to do.
John marked the little corpse with a twig so we can train our scope on it from the deck window. If the hawk comes back and makes a snack out of the mouse, we may finally get a good look at our feathered visitor.
It seems a terrible shame, though. I guess I’m glad I got the mouse – after all, mice are vermin and can carry lovely diseases like the hantavirus – but the image of the mouse with its head tucked into the corner still harrows me. The only comfort I got out of the whole incident was the thought that a hungry young hawk might get an easy meal out of the carnage. But I’m guessing not. As of this writing the mouse is still there, but it’s dusk and we have foxes and cats and raccoons prowling the neighborhood at night. All of them would likely find a mouse corpse of interest. Failing that, there’s a good chance of significant snow tomorrow and the mouse will be buried then and out of sight.
No snack for a hawk, no comfort for me.