The sounds begin around now. Just after Elihu has fallen asleep and the house is quiet. A tickering sort of sound begins from behind the wall. It’s a slightly muffled, rapid-fire, repetitive knocking sound. Are they chewing? Hammering? Creating a nest? Procreating in a nest??
At first it was cute. We didn’t see them much in the beginning. A couple of years ago we might see a couple of tiny poops laying about in the pantry one morning, perhaps a pile of chewed cardboard, but nothing much more. A year later they began to interrupt me as I read aloud to Elihu in bed. Our nightly routine involved banging on the wall as if to silence a noisy neighbor. It worked for a few minutes. Then, as we finish the chapter, turn out the light and get comfy…. there it is. Bih bih bih bih bih bih bih bih bih bih….
I have learned to use earplugs in a country home with absolutely no street noise. Aside from Bald Mountain, our resident rooster who begins to announce the morning around 5:30 am, there is no other sound inside this house. It’s not really even old enough to creak. On a rainy night the sump pumps in the cellar will kick on and off, and the furnace grumbles along intermittently throughout the night, but for the most part there’s no sound to interrupt one’s sleep. Kind of. Tonight one particularly industrious mouse is obviously knocking something off his to-do list.
I have found shoes stored in the basement filled with macaroni. I have found rice in my jewelry drawer. I have found a dead, desiccated mouse entrapped in the white hair of a Halloween mask, surrounded by the stores of his cache. I find several dead mice floating in the downstairs toilet bowl each week. One day I broke the crown on a tooth and set the two pieces on the window sill. The next morning one half was missing. I may yet find it in my underwear drawer. Strangely, these creatures have not destroyed anything of value (aside from food) except my very favorite, go-to slip on summer dress shoes. Why, oh why, of all the crappy ass, Salvation Army finds and assorted hand-me-down shoes did they choose the ONE pair I actually love and wear? That was a turning point. In fact there have been several turning points and tonight, once again, I am at another intersection.
I see these little guys daily. Sometimes I have half a dozen sightings in a day. And I do believe they’re getting brave – I swear they slow down now as they cross in front of the stove – I swear they even stop to make eye contact. They know I can’t catch em, and besides, perhaps they’re growing fond of me; I feed them, house them and provide them with so many interesting diversions! What a fun place this is to live! I must do something, right? But just what?
I have tried it all. The humane trap was a bomb. They got in and out no matter how well I set it. The 5 gallon bucket thing has never worked as they don’t cross the bridge to even investigate… the snap traps are good, however they can still take a little time to die (oh dear, horrible to watch) and my now arthritic fingers are just no good at setting them. I can’t do the glue traps for that same reason of an unsure death, in fact they’re much worse as it takes them much longer to die.
I got mad once, broke down and bought the poison. It works, but there is fallout… Smells begin to emanate from the house – bad smells with no definitive source. Also, I have come upon mice that were dragging themselves spasmodically along the floor, obviously having ingested the chemicals. I could not tolerate that – and ended up running over a few of them in the car in order to bring their misery to a swifter end.
My mother keeps talking about calling their exterminator. But won’t they just use poison? And won’t my house just end up stinking like a big, redolent, decaying mess? This alone give me pause. Then I begin to think. I’m not sure why I want them gone. I know that the stove top is covered in their anise seed-shaped droppings every morning, that just today they gnawed the strap off of my camera in the space of a half hour (as I sat in the very room!) and that they certainly must be multiplying. But aside from my favorite mid-heel Aerosoles slip-on sandals, what have they taken from my life? In what way do they seriously diminish the quality of our lives? Why should I worry? I can imagine some folks might cite disease as a concern. Ich. I don’t know. We wash and clean ourselves and our work spaces pretty thoroughly as we have chickens and we’re used to it. Ok, I steel myself. I can do this, I’ll just call the pros. Yes. I’ll do it tomorrow.
Then I remember Winkle. And his friends.
One morning I actually caught one of these lil guys in the bathroom. He must have been a little groggy – I know I was, and I’m surprised how easily I entrapped him under a cup and transferred him to Elihu’s terrarium. Once in his new home he popped up vertically several times to test his environment for an out (that’s the only real disconcerting thing about them in my eyes – ya catch one and they’ll pop up in your face! Ack!). When Elihu first saw him, he said oh so naturally, and without missing a beat, ‘his name is Winkle’. Indeed! Yes, what a perfect, story-book name for a mouse! Yes, he is a Winkle, isn’t he? We kept Winkle for a couple of weeks until one night when I made a surprising discovery.
I had heard noise coming from the living room for several nights. I’d tried to ignore it, but one night it was simply too much. Somehow this sounded different than the other routine mouse sounds of the house. I had to investigate. In the dark of the room I shone a flashlight onto the glass tank and saw Winkle on the inside, his tiny paws stretched above him on the inside wall, and several of his mates on the outside making sounds and moving excitedly; they appeared to be rallying their imprisoned comrade to discover an escape. So this is what had been happening for those many nights! Oh how this stirred my heart, my humanity! Winkle had a family, he had friends, he had others who cared about him! First thing the next morning I took Winkle and let him go in the field across the creek. I had to give him his freedom if nothing else.
As I ponder what exactly it is that I plan on doing about this, one of Winkle’s extended family appears from under my bed and looks up. He sees me and thinks better of his planned excursion, turning around to return from whence he came. Hmm. Would this house seem lonely if all the mice were gone? What is a country house if not shared by at least one mouse? But then again, you can’t have just one mouse, can you? I think of Winkle, and his friends. No, you cannot.
Ok. I’ll say a heartfelt prayer for my dear little housemates, then tomorrow I’ll pick up the phone and make a call to the exterminator. I think…