The repairman studied the motor of our dishwasher. “Mouse. It chewed up this valve. See? And there’s droppings way back here underneath.”
I felt faint.
Fact is, mice get in when it’s cold. Fact is, mice carry diseases. Fact is, it’s rational to get rid of them. The facts were only cover for feelings I didn’t want to claim.
Mice meant my safety had been violated. Mice meant I was filthy. Too lazy to clean my house. Mice were secrets to be harbored, like torn underwear.
When I was a kid, spending weekends with my grandmother, I slept in her sewing room, in a twin bed pushed against a wall. The sound of scratching behind the wall woke me up at night. In the dark, the scrape of tiny claws next to my pillow, the sound fading, growing louder, stopping, until I dozed off. Then scritch, scritch scritch. My grandmother said, “It’s nothing. Go to sleep.” I stayed awake.
A mouse got into the kitchen of my first apartment, scratching in the cabinet. In a panic, I ran out to find the landlady. She was sipping a mint julep on her front porch. When I pleaded for help, she shamed me into silence. “Not my problem,” she said. “If you have a mouse, it’s because you’re feeding it.” Turning away, she took a long slow sip of her drink.
Ben and I studied the pest control section at Lowe’s and settled on a modern contraption, a plastic box that contained a cube of poison. The picture on the package showed a dead rodent inside the box, corpse clearly visible through a transparent lid—an open casket. You threw the whole thing into the garbage: trap, mouse, shame and all.
Ben set out four in the basement.
It took just a couple of days. He walked into my writing room, mouse casket in hand. I backed as far away from him as I could. “Look,” he said. “Bite marks on the poison.” He held it out for me to inspect. “All four traps are like this. They ate the poison and went outside to die.”
He sounded like the problem had been solved.
I needed evidence. I was still imagining the scritch scritch scritch of tiny claws as I lay in bed, My landlady was still saying, “You’re feeding them.” I was afraid and helpless, and it was my fault.
I needed to kill a mouse on my own, see the dead body and know I was neither powerless, nor flawed.
The job demanded an old-fashioned spring trap—a deadly snapping jaw edged with jagged teeth, to break the mouse’s neck and clamp down on the carcass.
After loading the trap with peanut butter, I carried it to the basement. The dishwasher repairman had advised us to stick it to the floor, so the mice couldn’t nudge it aside as they ran along the wall. In a storage room, I opened a drawer where we kept tape.
Droppings in the drawer.
Hyperventilating, I extricated the tape, attached some to the trap, and positioned it at the base of an exterior wall. This put my face in disgusting proximity to the nasty basement floor where mice had been doing their business and spitting up parasites and disease.
A week later, while washing clothes, I glanced over at the wall, wanting to check the trap and also not wanting to check it. From a distance, in the shadows, it looked like it was turned over. I found a flashlight. Something long and straight was sticking out from the trap. A tail. Attached to a dead mouse.
My moment of triumph. Time to march right over there, face down that rodent, and claim my closure. I froze. And froze two days later, when I caught a second mouse. Ben got rid of them both.
There were no more sightings.
Fact is, mice get in when it’s cold. Fact is, mice carry diseases. It’s rational to get rid of them. But here are my facts: Still afraid. Still ashamed. Still my fault.