Zwei tote Mäuse
(Two Dead Mice)
By Mark Cote
Mouse shit covered the laundry room floor, like spilled chocolate sprinkles. And all around the dog’s dish, marking their territory. Ballsy little bastards. Late night visits to the kitchen in search of scraps had become routine, one or two at a time scurrying across the linoleum floor, disappearing under the stove before we could get out of our chairs. Sitting in the living room I caught a glimpse of one daring to venture across the rug in front of the fireplace. A foot stomp sent it scurrying back to wherever it came from.
It happened every fall. The cold weather brought them inside. They were getting in through the basement. Holes in the fieldstone foundation. And under the sunroom. Didn’t bother me. There was plenty of room for all. It was a big house. My wife however, felt differently. This time they had gone too far. We had company coming for christ’s sake. I set out to kill.
The only option was to go nuclear. Get biblical on their asses. A trip to the hardware store yielded enough poison and glue boards to cause a look of concern on the cashiers face. I wasn’t fucking around. She averted her eyes when she handed me the receipt.
I laid a minefield across the cement floor, glue boards every foot at the diagonal, a spoonful of peanut butter on every one. In between, blocks of bait two inches thick. Declaring the basement off limits, I shut the light and locked the door at the top of the stairs. It was their move.
Days became weeks without so much as a single turd. Sightings became a thing of the past. Routine checks of the bait traps yielded one, sometimes two victims, none making it to the first floor. This pattern continued into spring. Summer passed without incident. Months later while searching for holiday decorations I came across skeletal remains stuck to a dried out glue board, peanut butter long gone.
Seemed the battle had been won.
Morning broke with a cold snap. Dew covered shrubs, bushes, trees, multitudes of perennials awakened, slowly bending upward toward the warm rays of the early sun breaking across the nursery. Row upon row of glistening greenery. The last remnants of darkness pulled back to the edge of the tree line and disappeared in a mist. All manner of life, large and small, awakened by daylight and hunger ventured out in search of nourishment, sustenance; breakfast. Circling above, the magnificent Red Tailed Hawk watches it all. Such a beautiful, powerful bird.
It would land across the way, close enough to gain your attention, yet far enough away to escape if necessary. At high sun it would float in lazy circles across the sky, wings spread wide, ear piercing screeches echoing in the fields. Its presence was consistent, comforting.
While walking the paths of the nursery one morning I caught a glimpse of something, a streak, out of the corner of my eye. There she was; beak forward, wings back, legs tucked, diving earthward at a hundred miles and hour. Lower and lower, swooping. Mere feet from the ground, seemingly hanging in mid air, wings out, two legs descend, claws, with surgical precision piercing a fury brown field mouse, full and round, pudgy from a steady diet of sweet blueberries, salt marsh hay and a buffet offering of flowers and herbs for the taking. Yanking it from the earth. It had led a good life.
Turning, upward across the nursery, the hawk, meal intact, landed on top a metal cage that sits in the middle of the junk pile; rusting hulks of abandoned farm equipment, tractors, ancient flower carts. Mesmerized I stood silently as the hawk ripped the mouse apart, tearing it with razor sharp beak, throwing its head back, swallowing piece by bloody piece, the mouse squirming to escape.
It was abrupt. It was violent. It was beautiful.
The arrival of fall precipitated a recent trip to the basement to assess our firewood needs for the coming winter. Standing at the bottom of the landing, scanning the rack half full of last years supply I became aware of a distant sound, a scratching of sorts. Scritch, scritch, scritch. Repetitive. Insistent somehow.
Halfway between where I stood and the woodpile, a mouse pulled itself across the cold cement floor, dragging behind a glue board, both rear legs and thinning tail stuck in the gooey substance.
Struggling, piercing black eyes pleading. I flashed back to another time:
(Years ago I worked in a restaurant that was in the downtown. An old red brick building from the last century housed the dining room, kitchen and bar. The entire space was infested with mice, as was the whole city block. At night before locking up, we would lay down two lines of glue boards, three feet apart, across the width of the dining room. Every morning we would begin our day by gathering up the glue boards and the couple dozen mice sure to be caught. A large plastic bag filled with squirming, squeaking mice would be tossed into the dumpster in the alley to slowly starve to death among the trash they sought to begin with.
One morning I stepped into the back alley for a smoke, only to find our prep cook standing over one of the trash bags full of mice with a snow shovel raised over his head mid swing. On those mornings, if I came across a mouse that was just a little stuck and I could help it off without hurting it, I would do just that. Secretly. No witnesses.)
I turned, climbed the stairs, shut the light and locked the door.
P.S. For two days that mouse occupied my thoughts. Thinking that was a sufficient passage for the thing to be dead, I ventured down the stairs, searching the floor for the glue board. It was about three feet from when I last was here. Poor bastard.
I approached the thing slowly, anticipating it moving somehow, breathing. There is something in the stillness of death that leaves no question. I picked the glue board up by the corner, mouse and all, and tossed it in the trash.