My last spring on Long Island was a strange one. Not because of weather or throngs of people, but because of critters. For the first time in twelve years there, I had mice.
Now I am not a squeamish woman. When I was a kid, mice would venture into the house now and then (we lived in the country) and my parents would set traps. I’ve emptied many a trap with an “oh well” sort of attitude. Stay outside mouse: live long and prosper. Come inside mouse: not so much.
Still, in 2009 on Long Island, I was freaked. I had never seen a mouse in that house, and for some reason (my Armageddon mind whispered) mice were a-plenty. At first I denied it. My two cats started spending evenings staring at corners and at cracks behind pieces of furniture. There would be periodic thumping around in the laundry room. And late at night, in the dark, my normally snoozing Ruby and Lucy were stampeding up and down the stairs. “Nah,” I said (deny deny deny). “Can’t be anything. They’re just . . . wired . . . tonight.”
Then one morning I was in the shower. Through the rush of water I heard all manner of activity in the bedroom. I cocked my head, listened to thumping, and said, “Nah, it must be the garbage trucks outside.” When I shut off the water and stepped out of the shower I could still hear thumping. Opening the door leading into the bedroom, I was greeted by the sight of a small and very fast mouse rushing at a dead run straight at me, and Ruby on his heels, also at a dead run. For one ghastly moment the mouse, the cat, and I were all in the tiny bathroom together. After much screaming, flailing, running, and door slamming, the situation transformed itself into naked me standing on the bed, and the cat and mouse trapped together behind the closed bathroom door.
All became quiet. Too quiet.
After what I determined to be a sufficient amount of time for the cat to put an end to this particular rodent’s life, I crept off the bed. When I creaked open the door, which swung into the bedroom, Ruby (clearly an idiot) came strolling out. The mouse sat in the corner. Looking at me.
Some swearing ensued. I put on a robe and went to the kitchen, where I got a large plastic container and some cardboard. “I’ll catch him!” I thought. “Pin him under the container, slide a piece of cardboard underneath, and toss him outside!” Sidling into the bathroom, I shut the door behind me and studied the mouse. I looked into his pink eyes. He looked into mine. He had cute little feet and big ears. As I leaned down, ready to slam the container over him, to my utter horror he jumped straight into the air. The container and the cardboard flew out of my hands and I staggered back, knocking the door open and stumbling into the bedroom. The mouse, of course, sped out of the bathroom and was gone.
For the next three days I listened to my cats chase and not catch this mouse. I set traps. I sat on the sofa with my feet up. I wept silently into my pillow while the cats charged around in the dark night. What is wrong with these cats? Finally I went out of town, vowing to call the exterminator if the mouse wasn’t dead or gone by the time I got back. When I walked into the house two days later, there was Ruby chasing a clearly exhausted mouse across the living room carpet. This wasn’t real life. This was a cartoon.
In the end, the exterminator didn’t need to be called because Speedy Gonzales, worn-out, stumbled into one of my traps. It was a little sad, actually, when I tossed his stiff carcass into the bushes out back. He’d been cute, after all, with pink eyes and big ears. We’d looked into each other’s faces, there in the bathroom. I was despondent with guilt.
The despondency ended soon, however. There were more mice to come—and in one dreadful incident, a chipmunk that wandered in through the open French doors—and as the spring played out I became convinced that both my cats were idiots. I still didn’t call the exterminator…I have what I consider to be a completely rational fear of bug—and mouse-killing toxins. When I moved out of my house for good to relocate upstate, I have to say I wasn’t unhappy. A nice place. A nice neighborhood. Whatever. Adios to Speedy and all his friends.
You may be wondering why I’m talking about this. It’s a new year in my new home. Last night, in bed, I heard my normally snoozing cats stampeding through the house. And this morning Ruby and Lucy were staring at the crack behind my bureau.
Nah. It can’t be . . .