© 2016 Caitlin Rain Rainy Day Drawings

Nestled in the armpit of my couch, pillow on my lap, laptop on the pillow, a stack of books beside me, I spotted the mouse across the room. I watched as it climbed up out of the steam pipe hole in the floor and walked—not scurried, walked—toward my bookcase. It was brownish gray and furry with beady little eyes and whiskers and a long thin tail… It was, you know, about the size of a mouse. It took a moment for the sight to set in, but eventually I screamed a classic sort of scream, and the mouse turned around—OK fine, it seemed to say—and walked back into the hole. I gathered my belongings.

Out in the hallway, I called my parents who were driving across Kansas. You’re a real New Yorker now was their take on the situation. They took turns explaining how I could go about killing it, should it reappear. My mother’s method was horrifying in a straightforward way; the horror of my dad’s was subtler yet also deeper and longer lasting. They didn’t offer much besides these methods. They wanted me to claim the New York cred that inheres in cohabitating with a mouse. Or just don’t think about it, my mom advised. With that, she found some excuse in the vast and undifferentiated Kansas landscape to end the conversation and hung up.

Halfway to the drugstore, I remembered all the calls I’ve made to my parents in moments of crisis: the approach of a hurricane, the end of an engagement, the diagnosis of cancer. All the calls I’ve made and the way my mother would mobilize me to action. I remembered how she made Zach and Ashley take me to the psych clinic at UT after One dumped me. Ashley sat with me in the waiting room, hour after hour, watching old men pace and rant and battle the nurses and themselves. When they finally called me in, the doctor diagnosed me as having just been dumped and sent me on my way. Apparently, it’s only in my family that having been dumped is considered a condition worthy of immediate medical attention.

And apparently, according to my mom’s taxonomy of crises, having a mouse doesn’t warrant such immediate action. Her laid-back response was of no use, so I made Jay meet me at my place and sit there while I tried to make my home home again. I had bought new trash cans with lids and a real vacuum. I stuffed the steam pipe hole with steel wool and peppermint oil-soaked dryer sheets. I scoured the dishes—for real this time—scratching off crusted food with my fingernails and abrading the nonstick surfaces my mom raised me to respect.

When I was ready to let Jay leave, I double-checked with him that all was right in my home. “So you think the mouse is gone, then? You think it won’t come back?”

“No, I literally never said anything like that. I’m sure it will come back,” Jay responded, nullifying the whole point of his visit. “OK, good luck, buddy.”

With Jay gone, I felt vulnerable roaming barefoot through my apartment, my toes exposed to little mouse teeth and little mouse claws. So I put on my leopard print ankle boots. I reasoned that, because they’re boots, they’d make my feet seem huge to little mouse eyes and, because they’re leopard print, they’d make my feet seem scary to a little mouse mind. Then my legs felt naked in pajama shorts, so I pulled on a pair of sweatpants. I thrust one booted foot then the other through the narrow pant legs, tripping across the living room floor on my right foot and then back the other way on my left. Suddenly, my arms felt cold, so I put on a sweatshirt. And a bathrobe too. It was just good safety sense.

Sufficiently armored, I crept toward the bedroom, panning the apartment with the flashlight on my phone. Knowing that mice, as monsters, hang out under beds, I thought it’d be best to keep my toes away. So I backed up to take a running start and dived toward the bed from the hallway, making it only halfway and clambering the rest of the way into the precarious safety of my covers.

I sat straight up, comforter draped across the front of my shoulders, my phone as my flashlight, still panning, boots still on. It wasn’t that I was afraid that the mouse would nibble on my flesh while I was asleep. I was afraid to catch him in the act, to wake up and find him perched on my forearm, enjoying a late-night snack. Seeking assurance that this scenario was improbable, I googled “do mice…” and up came “…crawl on sleeping people.” I took comfort in the popularity of the search. After all, disabusing people of their irrational fears is what the internet does best, I figured, desperate. That comfort was soon subverted as I scrolled through result after result detailing just this nightmare scenario. I clicked on each, hoping to find just one that described why it wouldn’t be in the mouse’s interest to nibble at my flesh while I slept.

Unsuccessful, I turned again to Jay. I texted him to share the results of my search. He wrote back: “You are the predator. To them, you are a giant who takes huge, thundering steps with a booming voice, and they are a four-inch-long critter that can barely be heard even at the quietest of times.”

I read and reread Jay’s text, breathing in its logic, but also scanning the room, holding still, creating the quietest of times, listening for a squeak. That was when an idea slipped in: maybe I would never see the mouse again. Maybe all of this—the boots, the flashlight, the covers, the google search, the journaling, the call to my parents, the late-night vigilance—maybe it’s all insanity. Maybe this hell is one of my own design, made in my own image, brought about and bounded only by my own imagination. This idea slipped in quietly, the way a mouse slips into an apartment one day when you’re not paying attention. And then, also like a mouse, it slipped right out.

I sat there. Sitting there is what I do in moments of crisis. I sat there in bed that night, waiting for the mouse to reappear, just like I sat there in the waiting room of the psych clinic with Ashley. In the clinic, I sat among things that didn’t move: chairs, magazines, plants. I was one of those things, just as I was that night in my bedroom, sitting among stacks of books and racks of clothes, the clock, the lamp, the metal cow figurine I stole from my parents.

Years earlier, I sat there in front of the TV at Zach and Ashley’s, watching a hurricane approach the city I loved and abandoned. Years later, I sat there in the radiology center, among old women who held their eyes on me, eyes full of pity and calm. All those times I sat there, feeling like I was both falling and stuck at the same time, a kind of emotional motion sickness, as if my inner ear had evolved to tell me I was moving while my eyes told me I was still.

I sat there thinking of Jay. Jay, who I used to think of as my ex-boyfriend, whose face, whose name in my inbox were once shorthand for my inability to control anything, is now my friend Jay. And he’s texting me to say how threatening I am to a mouse, how powerful, how impervious I am to its mischief.

I couldn’t get myself to turn the lights out that night. But I drew the covers up over my head and breathed. I held still and tried to fall asleep, whispering to myself, “I am the predator. I am the predator. I am the predator.”

5 thoughts on “Mouse

  1. My region-specific critter are these ugly beige squishy looking lizards that are always all over the porch and sometimes get in the house. Shaun was out of town a few weeks ago when I noticed one in the living room and completely lost my shit (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically). It felt like such an intrusion. I was terrified if I left it it would touch me by surprise. Or the dogs would eat it. I cried.

  2. Love this. It is EXACTLY how I react to mice (and rats which is the PNW rodent). You are the predator, but that doesn’t change the fact that they can squeeze through the tiniest of holes and just be there, right there, with no warning whatsoever. Ugh. Hate them!

  3. What was your mother’s horrifying but straightforward way of killing a mouse, and what was your father’s method of which the horror was subtler but deeper and longer lasting?

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