The mice were back. The other night I watched in peeved frustration as the scrabbling noise behind my tiny dorm-sized fridge grew louder until finally a little brown shape darted the three feet or so into the coat closet. There was another sound, more scrabbling, another dart. I counted three before I texted my friend.
“My apartment is literally being invaded.” (I was pleased, in spite of it all, to for once use the word “literally” in its true sense).
The apartment is a stand-alone studio, roughly 250 square feet. It is the perfect size for me, my 15-year-old cat and the many spiders that live along the windowpanes. But when the mice come, it gets a little crowded. The mice are afraid of me and of the foot-stomping that inevitably occurs when I realize they’re inside, and don’t tell them this, but I have a phobia of them, too. This is no doubt due to the time I stepped on a so-called present that a cat (not mine) once brought in, and of the many stories my mother used to tell me about her own experiences with mice on the Vineyard. Mice in the showers, mice on somebody’s bed, mice falling from the ceiling.
I was on the phone with my mom when I saw the first mouse back in April, which was perhaps a good thing; no other person would have been so understanding of the expletives I yelped. My cat, Cricket, just slept through the whole thing.
Mom proceeded to tell me a story about discovering a mouse running around and between her feet in her old bathroom. I was standing in my own bathroom at the time, and stared somewhat pathetically down at my bare toes. This morning I woke up to a message from another friend, Jen, who had no idea of the current situation but happened to be dealing with mouse matters of her own in San Francisco. We had commiserated over our respective problems when she visited me back in October.
“The mice!” she wrote now. “They are back! Arming our house with steel wool and yogurt containers now . . . .”
The yogurt container method was my brainchild, although I’m sure others have used the technique. Jen saw me use it during her visit after she discovered a dead mouse in my cupboard while looking for a plate. “By the way . . . .” she’d broached the subject nonchalantly, and I nearly dropped the glass of water I had just poured. That cupboard I knew was empty; it would put even Mother Hubbard to shame. I haven’t kept anything in the cupboards since the April wave of mice came through.
There were in fact two mice in there. I couldn’t bring myself to touch them, even with gloves on, and so I covered each with a yogurt container and threw the containers out.
It was my fault they ventured out from the walls, where they’d been rustling around all through the winter. Why not? The cupboards were at the time full of baking supplies encased only in plastic baggies, which is no barrier to a mouse, and boxes of instant Cream of Wheat, just waiting to be nibbled into. Now everything is in airtight containers, from the boxes of Chilmark Chocolates I bought for holiday gifts to basics like apples and bananas. And especially the Cream of Wheat.
There was also a plate full of dry cat food on the floor of the kitchen, which the mice loved. I would hear them nibbling away in the kitchen — plink, plink, plink as they grabbed pieces of kibble off the plate — while I tried to go to bed on the other side of the room. At the time, I solved the problem not by storming into the kitchen but by turning up the sound on my Graceland album to mask the Other Noise.
The intended eater of that food, Cricket, has been no help at all. She’s old, people say. She only has three legs, others say. These things are true. But maybe if she tried, if she at least picked her head up when she saw a mouse, I would be more understanding. Maybe if I hadn’t seen her hopping around in successful pursuit of moths I would feel more kindly about the whole thing. She simply has no interest in mice. Go on, I told her the other night, nudging her in the direction of the closet. Go do your job. But she only looked at me, and before long she was sleeping again.
I suppose it’s a good thing that she won’t do the dirty work for me. Dealing with the mice solo has been great for helping my phobia. I was wobbly-kneed when I set traps for the first time, and it took me an hour to work up the nerve to dispose of the three mice I caught the next day. I still can’t pick up the traps myself, but I bought a Pooper-Scooper and it takes me two minutes. Progress!
When I saw them sneak in the other night, I felt my shoulders drop in a frustrated “again?” instead of the usual tensing. And because I saw them come inside, I finally, at long last, know where their holes are. They tried to sneak back in tonight, but there were knots of steel wool in the way. I heard them scratching around, trying to get back in where it was warm, but to no avail. I pulled the comforter up and turned off the light, ready for a peaceful sleep.
Cricket curled up next to me, humming her little purr. Turns out she had the right idea the whole time.