A few weeks ago, as I sat working on the couch in my sun-filled living room in the middle of the day, a mouse scurried out from the space between the wall and the fridge and got a few feet into the room before my minor freakout sent him back from whence he came.
I thought I had a deal with the mice: they promise to stay out of sight when I’m around and I promise to feel bad when they get killed in a trap. They never cooperate.
Living in an old house, I’ve learned to accept the annual attempts by the mice to set up housekeeping.
I grew up in a relatively new house in the suburbs. We didn’t get mice. Except once. My mother called an exterminator, and that was that.
My first mouse encounter as an adult was in our pre-homeowner apartment. I literally got up on a chair and yelled for Fred. Honestly, this is still my response when I see a mouse. We were young and idealistic and didn’t want to kill the critter. We could catch it and set it free! Sure we could. We actually managed to herd him into the bathroom where there was no escape, dropped a large yogurt container on him, and slid the lid underneath. When we picked it up and peeked inside he was rather still. I still contend that we scared him to death.
Not wanting to just toss him in the dumpster downstairs (young, idealistic), we stuck the yogurt container into the freezer to preserve the body until we could have a proper funeral. I helpfully wrote “Dead Mouse” across the top, so that an unsuspecting friend wouldn’t mistake it for homemade chicken stock.
Sometime later—who knows how long he was in the freezer—we walked to the river to toss him over the embankment. Fred carried the yogurt container under his arm, top facing out, as we strolled along, nodding at other walkers and looking for a good spot. It wasn’t until we sent the mouse on his merry way, that we realized we had been greeting all those walkers with a container proclaiming “Dead Mouse.”
This was the last time we gave a mouse a funeral. When we bought an old house, and they became a regular part of our lives, we gleefully set traps.
In this house we had only a few mice. To make up for it, we had bats. We’d regularly wake up in the middle of the night with one circling over our heads. We determined that they were getting into our chimney, coming out in the basement, flying through the house, and finding their way to the bedroom. It was the only room with air-conditioning; we assumed they thought it was the outside. Lacking a net, Fred became quite skilled at capturing bats against the wall with a shoebox. The first time he caught one, we let the it go out the front door. It was back in our room before we returned. The next time, we put the shoebox in the car and drove a good fifteen miles away. Across the Mississippi River. At 3:00 in the morning.
One night, we woke to the sound of “flutter flutter thwap,” over and over. This evening’s bat was repeatedly running into the spinning ceiling fan. It eventually knocked him to the floor. He was easy to catch.
When we got a dog, we thought she would at least alert us to bats. That first night after she came home with us, as we stood at the stove, the dog between us, a bat flew up from the basement and soared between us as it made its way to the dining room. The dog didn’t bat an eye. Clearly, we were on our own.
Eventually we left that house, and the Midwest, and moved into our current home. I got used to the mice. I still flipped out when I saw one, but I got to the point where I could even deal with emptying a trap and burying the mouse in the garden, if need be.
If you get used to mice, the universe will send you a rat. Our first sign was a tennis ball in the basement that had been entirely stripped of its fuzzy coating. We opted for denial. Then we found a box of matzah in the pantry, a large chunk of it torn open, and matzah strewn everywhere. We had a rat, and it was Jewish.
We consulted an exterminator. He said he could bait and poison for $300 or we could buy the same stuff at the hardware store. We went the cheap route. Mr. Rat managed to remove the bait from the terrifying jaws of death trap without getting caught in it. Next step: poison. This meant we would eventually find a dead rat somewhere in the basement. Or hopefully we’d find him. Horrified at the prospect, I wondered aloud how big it might be. “Think about rats in labs,” Fred suggested in an attempt to comfort me. “They’re not so big.”
In a few days, I found the rat. It was the size of a squirrel. A big squirrel.
The rat seemed to be an anomaly, and we went on for several more years just dealing with mice. And their poop. I got used to that too.
This summer, we began hearing noises in the wall. Although I considered moving, we called a critter removal guy instead. He inspected the house and declared it possible that we had an entire circus: red squirrels, flying squirrels, birds, mice, and possibly rats.
After a few days of perusing the real estate ads, the noises stopped, and Fred came upon a dead rat in the basement. We have no idea how it died, but we were appreciative nonetheless. My photographer son found it fascinating and took a raft of photos before we disposed of the critter. There were no more noises all summer and fall, so we decided it was just another anomaly.
When we trapped last week’s midafternoon mouse, Fred noticed that he seemed a bit big. And gray. We put him in the deep freezer—warning sign included—and called the critter guy. He blithely inspected the frozen, smashed horror show, and proclaimed it a baby rat.
He thinks we’ve had rats all along. They’re very clever, and stealthy, he explains, and it’s possible we could have gone this long without noticing. In order to maintain a shred of mental health, I have chosen to remain skeptical. But we’re still going to pay a fortune to have him take care of the problem anyway. Until then, I’ll be at a motel.