Mundane Matters

Had a low grade headache for over twelve hours now. Thinking back, I might attribute it to a couple of glasses of wine last night. Been without it for a while, and thought it would be fun to have a glass as I endeavored to make our first all vegetarian meal (at Elihu’s request). Having found $25 while cleaning the house, I felt I’d hit paydirt, so off we went to the market to buy some tempeh and wine. To the dollar store for a pair of sweet little wine glasses. As Elihu settled in to watch another documentary by his beloved David Attenborough, I filled the pretty glass with my first taste of wine.

Now, at five am, I think I would have better without it. Too late, but lesson learned. Clean living is easier on the body. Tempting in its absence, the very thing that seems to offer a tiny spark of hope ends up to disappoint in its presence. Oh the quandary of being human.

Awakened by the constant pain, my mind starts going. And I realize that sleep is not going to take me away again. I rise and go to make a pot of tea, discovering two more dead mice in the new traps. Two last night, two this morning. Plus the nine last week that finally succumbed to my five gallon bucket trick. Merely the tip of the iceberg, but a good start. This brings me to a mundane, domestic matter that has troubled our little cottage for a while now. Mice. I have finally found the answer. A company called Tomcat makes these clever little traps – so easy to set my son can do it. Bulky, plastic things, they act just as traditional traps do; they snap closed on the mice as they investigate the bait within. It’s easy to pinch the trap open again, dumping the poor victim, its large, black eyes still staring at the world, into the garbage can with all the rest of our mess. I say a prayer, ask for its forgiveness, then try to shake it off. Never a pleasant experience, in spite of the fact that his tiny death was my objective.

I pour a cup of tea and step outside. As I watch the horizon grow light, I think back on Thanksgiving. My brother Andrew had blown up just before we were to sit down to dinner. It began when he brought my cat, Mina (who lives with my parents now as Elihu is quite allergic) to the table, and lowered her down to meet the eyes of Martha’s hound dog, who was resting at her feet. The dog whimpered with excitement, my cat hissed and fear blazed in her eyes. She’s a fraidy cat to begin with, and my heart jumped to see her distress. “Andrew”, I begged, “Please don’t do that to Mina! Please, don’t do that!” Instantly, he looked at me with wrath I cannot fully describe, nor understand. He erupted, and said something about my inability to stop talking, and that I was Satan himself. “Satan!“, he repeated. Then he told us he couldn’t eat with me here – that he wouldn’t come back until Satan had left. It got worse. Later on. Suffice to say, that when he did return, there was an incident which left my son sobbing in fear and confusion, had me running to dial 911. It was his worst blow up in years. Andrew is a dry drunk. He’d begun to taste the wine again recently, and with those first dangerous sips an anger began to loosen in him, an anger that has been for the past ten years directed at me. I am the reason his life sucks. I realized that night how strong he was; fueled by rage, I truly felt he might kill me. That night, and several since, Elihu has asked me if we could please lock our doors at night. We’ve been here three years and have never locked them once. Maybe this isn’t so mundane a topic after all, but it swims around in my brain alongside everything else that keeps me from sleeping.

I hear my son coughing in his sleep. He’s been a little asthmatic lately, and that is worrying to a mother. He’s a good kid, and will even do his nebulizer in the night some times without even waking me. He doesn’t want to trouble me. That’s ok, I tell him, that’s exactly what I’m here for. And it is never, ever trouble to me. I hope he gets that. There. He’s stopped coughing, I relax a bit.

A mosquito whines by my head as I write. We’ve had a rash of them lately. They seem to emanate from the toilet – or somewhere in the bathroom. But we flush often, we even turn on the tap to keep things moving in the sink. But still we seem to have a hatchery somewhere, and they escape into the bedrooms, their high, zinging sounds strangely out of place this time of year. Or maybe not, as it’s been so warm. Even seen some outside.

It’s the first day of December now, and yet the weather is still so mild. Global warming? I wonder. It just feels wrong. Rather than fret about this, I’d better turn my concern to filling the oil tank. Knowing my oil man has received his voucher from the state, I’ve called him to ask if he can deliver some. No response. It’s all ok for now – I’m grateful for the mild weather. But we have less than ten gallons now, and if it gets cold, it’ll be uncomfortable. Thanks to this past year, I can report we’re good at living in a house at 58 degrees. We’ve gotten used to it. I’m surprised. I like things toasty. But it is amazing what one can live without. One does adapt.

I ponder our dependency on outside help. For food, for heat. My mind wanders to an email I received recently from an adult student of mine. While she thought she was being funny – and no doubt thought I’d share her amusement – I did not. It was something to the effect of ‘we good guys’ carrying the weight of all the country’s ‘indigent’ folks… paying for their food, their heat. Not sure she realized – maybe it’s hard to see me as one of the ‘indigent’, what with my gleaming, new grand piano, harpsichord and view of the mountains out my living room window – but if it weren’t for the benevolence that still remains embedded in our system, my son and I would be on the street. We are her ‘indigent’ folk. Really. I consider whether to address it or not. Maybe at our next lesson I will. Maybe I will also remind her that she cancels a lesson for every two she schedules, and that this reduces my income, making it even harder to ‘pull my own weight’. Maybe I should have her pay up front. Another thought in the maelstrom.

Christmas. It’s coming, and I have less than $30 to my name. A friend in the Midwest recently sent us some money to put towards Elihu’s gifts. After some internal debate, I ended up disclosing the amount to him, and telling him he may use half for a toy of his choice. (House rule: spend half, save half. That goes for Elihu and his money – mine is gone towards living costs almost before it comes in.) He, being about all things that fly, began to research in earnest the options before him. He read product reviews, watched test flights on Youtube – all on his own – until he arrived at the perfect, affordable remote controlled helicopter. Lest I think I do not have a ‘boy’ boy – this recent experience has me smiling to myself at this newly revealed aspect of my son. He has spent a fair amount of time watching videos of flying toys, he has learned new terms; he is immersed. He ordered his helicopter on Friday, and each morning it’s the first thing on his mind when he wakes. So he’s got that gift for which I am so very grateful, but what else? I’m glad I had the presence of mind to purchase little bird-related items through the year, when I had just a bit of extra cash, but what now? His father probably won’t send our monthly support for a week or more yet, and I cannot buy a thing until then. I look to new students; there’s one possibility. But then I must pay for Elihu’s drum lesson, and that will simply cancel out the new income. Argh.

There’s really no end to the matters that swim around in my head. Thankfully, I’d taken some pain reliever an hour ago, and now my headache, while still there, is only a shadow of its former self. That’s good. And really, everything is good. As the new language of our culture tells us, all we have is the moment. And right now, I mean right now, it’s ok. It’s good. Elihu is sleeping quietly, I got all the dinner dishes washed last night, I have my long-awaited vacuum cleaner bags (the house has been quite dirty this past month as I was out) – plus I finally have a way to reduce the mouse population. Bald Mountain, our dominant rooster, is crowing. It’s now light outside. Soon I’ll get dressed and let the birds out for the new day.

But for now I’m going to let all my thoughts alone for bit as I enjoy a moment of stillness on my couch. The giant living room window faces east, and from my seat I can see a wide, sweeping expanse of hills and sky. Although I don’t, I could choose to see this every morning if I wanted. So this too, I suppose, is mundane. Nonetheless it is a good thing. And it matters.

Mouse Call

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…