Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fun with Mice

At one time I had a coworker whose name I will disguise as Jane.  Jane was an extremely pretty, extremely well dressed, extremely passive-aggressive woman who was never satisfied with 'no' as an answer.  That emergent situations should take priority over her wants did not impress her, she would mutter under her breath and complain about a lack of responsiveness and an attitude problem.  She did this to a lot of people, not just me.

When you have a problem with all the people around you, consider the common denominator in each relationship: it's you.

But that's not what this story is about.

Jane had complained about mice in the basement of the building where she worked.  I asked how she knew about them, since I knew for a fact she could not be driven into the basement at the point of a gun.  It was, at the risk of a pun, beneath her.  She had been informed by others, and couldn't stand the thought of them, she said.  Fix it immediately, she said.

"Well," said I, "I'm on my way home.  In fact I'm a half-hour over right now.  But I'll be over first thing in the morning and leave you some traps to set.  It'll only take you a few minutes to set them."

"Oh, no.  I can't set the traps.  I'm not going down there."

"Fine.  It may be later in the day then, if at all.  My schedule is already very full."

I left, hearing her grumbling faint imprecations as I did.  And in that moment I hatched a plan.

At this time of my life, Sweetie and the sons were raising mice for fun.  In fact, Son #1 had won the county-wide science fair with his mouse breeding research project, so we had quite a few.  Mostly they didn't even faintly resemble wild mice with their beautiful gold coats or pink eyes, or white coats or even glossy black coats.  They just looked too good.

But there was one in particular, an affable little fellow who liked to putter around in my hands and squeak quietly to himself, who was perfect.  For his habit of constant little squeaks, we called him a "talker," and he's not the only one like that we've had.  His fur was the color of a squirrel's, and he had the dark eyes of a wild mouse.  If you held him up to a wild mouse you would see obvious differences between the two in the shape of the eyes, of the body and the size of the head, but all by himself he was very plainly just a mouse.

The next morning, just before I left for work, I slipped that mouse into a carry cage.  He had food and a very small crock of water, and I felt a little bad for making him ride by himself.  He was one of the more sociable ones.

When I got to the facility where Jane worked, I tucked the mouse into my capacious shirt pocket, picked up the stack of mouse traps and the jar of peanut butter plainly marked "BAIT" on the top, and went in.  I went downstairs to set the traps.  Then, as I came up the stairs, I gently pulled the mouse out of my pocket.

"Okay, Jane, I've set the traps for you..."

"And about time, too," she mumbled quietly, not paying attention as she fussed and flounced around the outlandish decor she was lavishing on the place.

"No, no...look!  I caught one!"  And I held that handsome little mouse out to her.

Jane's eyes popped wide open.  She opened her mouth and screamed.  She screamed like a smoke detector with fresh batteries.  She backed into the corner and was actually climbing the walls, she was trying to retreat from the mouse so hard.

Jane's supervisor came jogging down the hall.  "What in the world is going on?"

"Look, Mary, I caught one of the mice!"  I held him out to her.  She smiled.

"Cute,"  was all she said.  As I had expected, I might add.  Mary is a rather more levelheaded sort of person. "We're always glad when you visit, but we'd rather you didn't bring guests."  She went back to her office without commenting on Jane.

Jane resigned her position about three months after that.  I don't think that helpful little mouse had anything to do with it, but if he did, well.  I guess I'm sorry about that.  Maybe not as sorry as I ought to be.  She was, after all, a very unpleasant person.

The next mouse-related stunt came just last year.  We had allowed our previous population of mice to die out from old age, then started a new colony.  They're getting old and as of this writing only two still survive, truly geriatric mice each nearly four years old.  But last year I couldn't understand why Sweetie was so very serene in the pew one Sunday morning, smiling to herself and occasionally fidgeting with something in her pocket.  Finally, somewhere around the second hymn I asked her,  "What is up with you today?"

She drew her hand out of her pocket and laid it across the hymnal.  A black mouse sat up on its haunches and started vigorously preening itself, sleek and glossy in the autumn morning.

I was not able to finish the hymn.  I did not laugh out loud, but it was a near thing.  We played with the mouse through the rest of the service.  I have no idea what the sermon was.  I don't remember anything except Sweetie's broad smile and that cheeky little face peering up at us from the hymnal.

When the service ended, Sweetie tucked the mouse back into her coat pocket and after getting to the Fellowship Hall, handed her coat to Son #1.

"Take that back to the house, please."  We live very close to the church, just a five-minute walk away.  "And be careful with it."

"Why?"  He held up the coat.  "Something in the pocket?"

"Yes.  There's a mouse in there."

Son #1 looked doubtful.  His mother can be sardonic, and sometimes carries small artworks or other peculiar things in her pockets.  The mouse might be made of anything.  So he checked the pockets until he drew his hand back quickly.  "Is that...?"  He peeked into the pocket.  "Wow."  He didn't let it be known he was carrying a mouse, somebody might have gotten irrational and in the post-service crowd that could be risky. Some of our congregation's members are downright old and might not survive too rough a jostling.

But he had a big smile on his face as he carefully handled the coat on his way out the door.  I noticed him stop in the driveway as he headed homeward, fishing in that pocket.

The wild ones, sneaking into my house and eating holes in my bread bags, are pests.  But these sweet mice we've known and loved, they've been fun.

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