.

 

Interlude: Victim

Getting some tail.

Awoke to a rattling, but who cares? Everything rattles: the boiler turning on, people rifling the trash, and the entire house when the train passes, whether northbound or southbound.

But when I pulled myself out of bed, I saw a tail moving, and realized that the glue traps, on the floor for a good month, had finally caught something. The mouse, which had previously darted between bed, desk, and radiator, was trapped.

Sighing, I went to the bathroom and put on my shoes and a pair of slacks. Emerging, I picked up a plastic bag from the floor. I dropped the bag over the animal, and pressed the toe of my shoe down into its disturbingly soft, unresistant body. The bag stopped rattling, and with a continuous motion I put the bag into another small bag, and then into a third, large trash bag with a plastic draw string, and then, though I had not touched the animal, I washed my hands.

Consider: in prison, if you have a mouse, feed it. Mice and rats will not cohabit, and better the devil you know. (Having suffered a rat, I am half-grateful to have mice.) Or consider the friend who became so inured to waking up with mice caught in glue traps that he once picked one up, alive and twisting, and chased his roommate through the apartment with the mouse in his hands.

Coming within range, he threw the mouse, and the glue trap stuck to the roomate's T-shirt. The little creature writhed furiously, near to his skin. The roommate screamed, yanked off the shirt, stomped on it, and threw it out into the gutter, where it joined all the strange cast-off clothes that show up on the streets: shirts, gloves, scarves, the odd jacket or orphaned shoe, and sometimes, disturbing pairs of panties.

A few years ago, walking into the grocery on Court St. run by a sweet and considerate Korean couple. The couple attends to the fruit and vegetable needs of the neighborhood from 6AM to 10PM every day, smiling and tired. I saw this: a mouse, alive but still, probably half-poisoned, perched on a drab linoleum tile in front of the counter. The owners' daughter, about 12 years old, was holding the store's tortoiseshell cat upside down, with its mouth pointed at the mouse, as if the cat were a vaccum cleaner.

The cat, exasperated, claws retracted, pretended it was elsewhere, and eventually the girl's father came out from behind the counter with a plastic bag and folded it around the unmoving mouse, taking it out of sight for destruction. The girl dropped the cat to the floor. I watched it wander to the back of the store, to bask in the warmth that poured out of the bottom of a refrigerator. I bought my fig newtons.

Living in Philadelphia, my father—pacifist, vegetarian, veteran—used complicated traps with shutters and gates, smearing a tiny spring with peanut better. One night soon after we both heard a noisy clank. In the morning my father held up the trap.

We peered at our captive, and saw a mortified creature the size of my big toe, sitting on its haunches in a corner, whiskers shaking, pure fear encapsulated in an ounce of life.

My father took it out through the front door of his building to a spot under a tree, and pulled back the spring that held the door of the trap in place. The mouse wouldn't move—the bright morning world looked more dangerous than the cage. But then my father began to shake the cage, and in a flash of motion, and the mouse darted into the grass.

But my father had 1000 square feet, and I have less than 200 for bedroom, kitchen, office, and library. There isn't enough room to share; the only living thing I allow into this apartment is myself, and invited guests. So I took the trash out, and got some breakfast.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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