Monday: We have a mouse problem. At least we think we do. The four-legged residents are paying a lot of attention to one corner of the spare room.
Let me be clear about this. We have two cats. Two of them. Enough, you might think, to vanquish even the wiliest of mice, but no, it’s the dog who usually gets rid of them. The dog who looks like a wind-up toy dreamt up by a particularly extravagant little girl. And not some tough, tree-climbing little girl, but the over-the-top stereotype of a little girl in the pink princess dress, complete with the wings and the wand. If she got the job of inventing a wind-up dog, Minnie to Moocher is the one she’d invent.
Never underestimate a foo-foo little dog. Or a girl in a pink princess dress. She—that’s the dog, now, not the girl—is a stone cold killer.
But we have to start back a way. We live in the country. The weather’s getting cold. Mice are surely looking for a nice warm place to bed down for the winter, but that’s not how the current one got in. I’m sure of that. Our younger cat, Smudge, brings them in. He wants to start a captive breeding program. We’ve discussed this with him, but have you ever tried arguing with a cat? Save your breath. They’re always right. He thinks like a feudal king: Once he stocks the forest—or the back room—with enough game, he’ll keep himself amused forever.
The little horror is one hell of a hunter. When he was younger he brought in birds, mice, voles, rats, and moles, some dead and some living. I’m not sure which were worse, the ones that were so mangled we had to kill them or the ones that were so unmangled that we ended up crawling all over the house, throwing furniture as we went, while we tried to catch them.
One of the rats was in perfect health. He’d brought it in courteously and left it to explore its new surroundings. I was nowhere around, lucky me—I think I was doing the book tour for Open Line—and it took Wild Thing a full day but she finally killed it by bashing it with the bread box. The hunt involved a lot of yelling and some interesting language, none of it on the part of the rat.
Wild Thing did not get her name by accident. And I really do call her that a good bit of the time.
When we found the second of the moles, it was trying to dig its way out through a wall. It’s almost a swimming motion, the way they dig. I got a plastic box with a lid and Wild Thing got the heaviest pair of gardening gloves she could find. She lifted it into the box, it tried to bite her, I put the lid on, and we drove it to a nearby field. The whole time it was in the box, it kept making those swimming motions, digging its way to freedom. When I let it go, it hit the earth still digging.
I’m a city girl so I don’t really know, but I hope the farmer didn’t mind an extra mole in the field.
When we have to catch living creatures, I’m no worse than Wild Thing. Okay, I’m not much worse. She’s bolder about it, but at least I’m useful. I am squeamish, though, about the wounded and the dead, and for the most part I leave those to her. It’s almost fair. She’s squeamish about cleaning the litter box or dealing with cat vomit. But when she had ankle surgery (which has happened three times now, and she only has two ankles) I’ve had to get over it. The first time, post-surgery, that I looked at a mangled but still living bird, I asked myself, Could you kill it if you were being chased by a bear?
I admit, the question makes no sense. If I were being chased by a bear, killing a wounded bird wouldn’t be at the top of my to-do list. I mean, how would that help? But it did focus my mind. I pulled myself together, took the poor thing outside, and bashed its little head in. It was quick and it was the best I could do for the poor beast.
I dealt with the dead and the mangled for many long weeks. Then Wild Thing started moving around without crutches and I got squeamish again. Funny how that works.
These days, Smudge doesn’t bring his prey home as often, and what he does bring is more likely to be fully dead, and if I find the corpse first I can make myself throw it away without waiting for Wild Thing to play undertaker. I use a broom and dust pan, then wash my hands as thoroughly if I’d just juggled a dozen dead rats and then gutted them, but still, I do get rid of it.
Wild Thing picks ‘em up by one foot or the tail.
Tuesday: We haven’t caught the mouse. For the past week, Wild Thing has had some kind of bug that involves waking up at 3 a.m., turning on the light, and coughing for half an hour, so she’s been sleeping in the spare room—the mouse room. Unless (we haven’t seen it yet) it’s a rat. Last night, when she went to bed, she heard some rustling in the corner.
You have to understand something about our spare room. It’s not large, but it does contain a single bed, a bedside table, a tall, narrow chest of drawers, a computer and computer chair, roughly 150 copies of the village calendar plus a box of envelopes for them, 196 plastic sleeves to protect exactly 4 posters for the village calendar, the prototype of the Soyuz space capsule, manuals for every piece of computer equipment that ever passed through our lives, most of which we no longer own, and a cement mixer. Plus a full-size Cornish gig, with all six oars.
I may be exaggerating, but I flinched away from taking a true and unflinching inventory. There’s a bunch of stuff in there, okay? And a mouse. Or quite possibly a rat.
Wild Thing, as I think I’ve already established, is not faint of heart. Her mother once faced down a pawing, snorting bull armed with nothing better than a broom, and won. Wild Thing is worthy of her heritage. But, c’mon, she was going to be asleep. And a rat—well, we both New Yorkers enough to know that rats are capable of crawling up to a sleeping person and taking a bite if their lips have a trace of food, and she’s been living on cough drops. When I say her lips are sweet, I’m not talking being romantic.
When she heard the rustling, she called out to tell me about it, at which point Smudge the mighty hunter went out the window.
I will say in his defense that he’s as sleek and beautiful as any cat, and as self-involved.
Wild Thing went into the living room, where Minnie and our older cat were still sprawled in front of the wood stove. She picked up the Minnie (who’s not allowed in bed), and took her to bed.
There were no rats in the bed that night. By the time Smudge joined them later in the night, there wouldn’t have been room for one.
The older cat is around 17 and never was much of a hunter. She killed a bird once, and Wild Thing took it away from her. She’s convinced Wild Thing ate it herself and she gave up hunting.
Wednesday 10 a.m.: After I wrote Tuesday’s section of this post, we set a trap, closed off the spare room, and caught nothing. As I type, Wild Thing’s tearing the room apart (I just heard a small avalanche; it sounded like paper mixed with broken crockery). Any minute now she’ll check the cement mixer and see if the mouse bedded down there. I expect it moved into the kitchen, though, or the living room, before we closed the room off. On Saturday we have a bunch of people coming over for a delayed Thanksgiving. Last year a mouse crashed the party and provided no end of entertainment. I’m hoping it doesn’t turn out to be an annual event.
Wednesday 4 p.m.: The spare room has a floor. I hadn’t known that. Everything that used to be on the floor is now piled on top of something else and looks frighteningly well organized. If you don’t look too closely. But what matters is that there were no traces of mouse or rat. What Wild Thing found was a set of wings. (Smudge is known for leaving wings, or the heart and lungs. What can I tell you. He’s a fussy eater.) I don’t want to think too hard about what Wild Thing heard and what the story of the kill was, although I’m sure Smudge would be not just happy but proud to tell the tale, in full detail and bleeding color.
We hope to get through our mis-timed Thanksgiving party without a mouse this year.
For the Americans reading this, hope you had a fine and mouseless Thanksgiving.