Mice are invading my apartment. I notice it this morning. When I take out the plastic peanut butter jar, one of them - or perhaps they're working as a team - has nibbled through the side. I've been ignorant to the signs, but when I clean off the shelf, there they are: a gnawed-open cylinder of oatmeal, chew marks on a Bermuda onion, black droppings scattered like rice at some Goth wedding. It's Sunday, so at least I have the entire day to eliminate the problem. Get a leg up on it anyway.
But the fact is, I don't like leaving my apartment. I will - I have to in order to get to my job every morning - but given the choice I stay put. It's not pleasant for me outside and it never has been. It's like a masquerade party where you can't tell who anyone is, only that they're hiding something. Same holds true for where I work. The Town of Chester Transfer Station, a.k.a. the landfill. I sit in a wooden shed with a small refrigerator, a file cabinet, and a 12-inch TV all retrieved from the garbage. Trucks pull up with solid waste, leaves and brush, recyclables. I check their stickers, record their weight going in and coming out. They pay by the pound through a little rectangle cut in the Plexiglas window. On the days I don't go in, Nick comes in from the yard and does double-duty. But basically it's a one woman job. I seldom leave the shed during my eight hours and why would I? To stroll the dump?
My mother calls every Sunday morning to check in. She lives less than a half-hour away, but I seldom visit because we bring each other down.
"Any plans," she asks me over the phone.
"You should get out more. Especially with the weather getting milder. It's not normal for an almost-thirty-year-old woman to sit home all the time."
"I'm happy this way," I tell her.
"Define 'happy,'" she says.
When I tell her about the mice she says one word. Hantavirus. She's a lifelong bank teller who thinks she's a nurse. She goes on to explain that by just being in close proximity with rodents, one can inhale their feces, suffer for two-to-six days with what they mistake as the flu, find they have a hard time breathing, and - in one case out of three - die.
Like I say. We have a tendency to bring each other down.
"You need some snap traps," she tells me.
I explain to her. Certain things I can't do. Killing animals, including mice, is high on the list. Traps are out; the last thing I want to see in the morning is something with its neck broken, eyes staring up, mouth gapped open as if to say You couldn't have done without a few lousy Ritz crackers? Poison is no better. The realization that they'll die of thirst wedged someplace behind a wall, their odor forever permeating my memory, is too much to take. I'd try one of those humane traps, except what am I going to do with a bunch of live, captive mice? E-Bay?
I get done with my mom, throw on a hoodie, and plod over to Sav-U-More. I buy a bottle of ginger ale, some new peanut butter, and six glue traps. I won't actually be killing anything, I figure, I'll just be transporting it out doors. What happens to it after that is up to fate and Mother Nature.
"Mouse problems?" the genius behind the check-out counter asks as he rings me up.
"No," I tell him. "They're for my dog. He wanders."
It doesn't even take two hours. I put three of the glue traps in the cupboard and hold the other three for future use. Then I go into the living room, pop A League of Their Own into the DVD player, and toy with the idea of inflating the yoga ball I got for Hanukkah. When I first hear the racket, I think it must be some baby bird fallen from its nest. Except that the sound seems to be coming directly from my kitchen.
I crack open one of the cupboard doors and the noise stops. Which is also when I see it. A good-sized gray mouse stuck in one of the glue traps, eyes bulging, whiskers twitching, body lurching from side-to-side like the world's smallest beached whale. This I didn't expect. What I expected was a rodent, more-or-less standing there, anxious to be transported to the dumpster behind the building where it could free itself and live out its remaining days in peace.
I close the cupboard door in order to think. Maybe I can call somebody. My mother or even the dweeb at Sav-U-More. Somebody who'll come over and get rid of the thing without hurting it. Except that I can't think. The squeaking turns to shrieking. From fingers on a blackboard to a terribly tuned violin. Thirty seconds of this and I'm feeling as if I'm some poor bastard in an Edgar Allan Poe story. I rush from the kitchen into my bedroom and turn on my computer. I Google: FREE MOUSE GLUE TRAP, then search through the first article that I find.
Back in the kitchen I put on a pair of oven mitts and remove the mouse, glue trap and all, from the cupboard shelf. I put it on my kitchen table, shed the mitts, grab a can of spray vegetable oil. I find a plastic spoon and pray to God the information online isn't some kind of stupid prank. Slowly, I free first one front leg and then the other.
"Work with me," I tell the stunned, silent animal who looks up at me like I'm Dian Fosse.
I continue to spray and gently pry until the thing is totally free. It stands on the Formica as I, glue trap in hand, back away. Then it walks to the edge of the table, explores, jumps to a chair, washes itself, hits the floor. A second later it disappears under the stove.
I feel like shit. I mean, I've traumatized this animal and for what?
That night I can't sleep. I get up around midnight, pour some oatmeal into a mound on a saucer, and put it on the floor by the stove.
In the morning, it hasn't been touched.
At work the next day, Nick comes into my shed to warm up. I tell him my mouse story. "He probably left," Nick tells me.
"What do you mean 'left'?" I ask.
"It's a field mouse," Nick explains. "Spring is here. He probably took his family and headed for some field."
I don't see any signs of mice for the rest of the week. Maybe Nick for once knows what he's talking about. But I do know this. Give him a spring and summer out there by himself and then let's see what happens. Let him get familiar with the feel of hard ground and the smell of decay. Let him see what it feels like to have other people - mice in his case - let you down and laugh in your face.
He'll be back.
And he'll be all the wiser, too. Because he'll realize something. He'll realize that despite first impressions, this place is not that bad. One bedroom, a full bath, living room, kitchen and dinette.
He'll realize it's freedom here, not just one big glue trap.
About the author:
Tai Dong Huai was born in Taizhou, China. "Mice" is from her collection in progress, I Come From Where I've Never Been. Other selections have appeared, or are scheduled, in Smokelong Quarterly, elimae, Word Riot, Hobart, Thieves Jargon, rumble, Underground Voices, Wigleaf, The Rose & Thorn, and other terrific places.