We live in a very old house. I love it. Well, most of it. I don’t love its lack of a garage, though I was moved to look beyond that when I entered and beheld the gleaming carved oak banister and original stained glass window on the landing. And I love the real parquet flooring on the stair landings. No peel-and-stick tiles here! The original hardwood floors have seen much worse than my children and the cat racing back and forth, so there’s one less thing to worry me.
The downside, of course, is that this house was built before the days of “mouseproofing.” And “insulation.” And “energy efficiency.” The previous owners did a lot of work to update a number of features, but let me tell you: mice can fit through a hole the size of a pencil. And they will! So we’ve had a mouse problem as long as we’ve moved here.
At first, it wasn’t too bad. We had a dog, and I think her presence was enough to keep away all but the most daring rodents. Not that she was any good at hunting them, mind you: for all that she was part labrador, part shepherd, and part something small because she wasn’t as big as you’d expect, she was utterly useless when it came to actually killing them. She saw them only if we were lucky; more often than not, she’d just go dancing by, oblivious to the tiny thing staring at her from the middle of the room, or rushing past her as she slept on the floor.
But a sweetheart nonetheless. We’ve missed her since her passing, five and a half years ago.
In the intervening years, however, the rodents have attempted to take over. Without the presence of a large prey animal (Ha!) they have felt no qualms at all about moving in. We tried everything: traps (got sick of changing them), mouseproofing the entire house (that’s a joke), different traps, still different traps. I’d had no idea how many types of mouse traps are out there. And do you know, no one has built a better one yet than the classic snap trap?
I couldn’t bring myself to buy glue traps. After hearing stories of mice chewing off their legs or taking days to die, I realized even I could not be that inhumane. That doesn’t seem right. Inmurine?
Last winter, our problem became particularly bad. It wasn’t bad enough to find droppings in the kitchen, or that they’d helped themselves to cereal, or that I’d walk in the kitchen at night only to be surprised by a mouse leaping from the counter as he ran away.
Now they were in my walls. Chewing. Running. Squeaking. I heard them as I was drifting off to sleep. Or they’d wake me from a sound sleep. Or I’d be trying to read, really into the throes of a gripping novel, when one would run across the wall by my head.
I began to hear them even when I knew they weren’t there. I’d wake my husband but of course he ever heard them. And he’d give me that look. You know that look, right? That half-pitying, half-exasperated look that says “Drink a glass of wine, go to sleep, and stop hallucinating, will you?”
Oh, am I the only one who gets that look? Damn.
Regardless, over the winter my sleep worsened. I’d lie awake, listening to the squeaking, running, and chewing, and imagine them shredding my electrical wires. Wondering when they’d cause a fire. Getting up to check the smoke alarm batteries. Making sure my phone was nearby in case I had to call 911. Sleeping fully-clothed, in case I had to grab the children and run out the door from the fire.
Yeah, it wasn’t pretty.
Then I had the thought. Those two words that, in the mind of a writer, can wreak havoc in good ways and in bad. “What if…”
What if they really were starting a fire? What if they were doing it on purpose? No, that’s not right. Why would they want to destroy the house they lived in? No, what if they were trying to make me crazy? Make me look like I’d lost my mind, so my husband would have me locked away forever, and I’d stop trying to kill them, and they could have their house back to themselves.
I finally bought poison and set it out. There were a few spots around the house that smelled for a few days as their little corpses decayed within our walls, but then they went away.
And sanity returned, with a few good nights’ sleep.
What if….what if that would make a fun story?
So I wrote it. And I really liked it. It’s called “Pitter, Patter,” and with any luck, you’ll be able to read it in an anthology my critique group is putting together. I’ll keep you posted.
In the meantime, we adopted a cat. He’s a sweetie. His mom is a great hunter, an outdoor cat, though our Chicken Nugget (yes, that is his name) is an indoor cat. He’s not yet had the opportunity to find a mouse but it’s not for lack of trying. We let him roam in the basement now and then, but no luck. Ah, well, if his presence keeps them away I’m OK with that.
And yet, the other night, I was awakened by the sound of tiny feet going pitter-patter within my walls.
So it begins anew.