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An Inconvenient Fear

Sometimes you can go from talking to your sister on the phone about your funny weekend to piercing shrieks while you are immediately out of breath and… running.

We’d been talking for about twenty minutes and she complained that I was banging too many pots and pans around—she wanted to hear my stories. I tell you this so you understand: my kitchen was noisy, and clean.

That first mouse, albeit a Jack-in-the-box that was alive and unafraid, walked along the counter as if it were a jaunt it took every Sunday night. Its swollen stomach rubbed against the Formica.

I left the water running as I screamed out of the kitchen and stood panting in the living room. I was never going back in the kitchen. Never.

Expect for that water. Damn it. The water was running. I had to go back. I had to turn off the water. I lived alone. There was nobody to save me. There was no one to save me from that mouse.

There was no one to save me. I was alone.

I held my breath, ran at full speed, pressed the lever down to stop the flow of water and caught the mouse’s eye as I fled the room.

The mouse smiled with the familiarity of a roommate.

“It’s….” I said into the phone. “Nursing….”

I tried to catch my breath as I rushed outside and wondered if I should lock the door, for safety reasons, then decided that closing it would be enough.

“Her stomach….” I said.

My sister whispered into the phone, “What? Holly? What’s wrong….”

“A Thousand Babies.” I whimpered then said the “M” word out loud, which brought my sister up to speed, quickly.

Is it possible to stop mice from taking over an entire house? Do they stage Occupy Now protests?

This infestation upset me greatly, partly because I have an unexplainable fear of mice, and partly because said rodent wasn’t following the unwritten co-habitation mouse code: if I am in the kitchen, you are not in the kitchen.

This was the first mouse I’d seen in years. You’d think this would get easier. There was a time I was convinced that I was somehow chosen to be blessed with undying mouse attention. I still wonder.

It was a simple math equation. One mouse can give birth to ten babies. Everyone knows that these babies can reproduce in thirty days. Whether or not there was a train traveling in the opposite direction at one hundred miles per hour… that meant that there might be forty thousand baby mice living in my kitchen. Right now.

I’ve read that mental health professionals call an all-consuming fear an irrational fear; I prefer to call it an inconvenient fear. Once Heather caught the word mouse, she tried to calm me.

Not being in a zen mood, I demanded she wake her husband so he could rush to my rescue. She refused. It was late. I needed to go to bed and deal with the invasion in the morning.

After fretting for my life, I called and begged an ex-boyfriend to come over to see me at my worst.

He showed up with a shrug and the necessary trappings while I sat whimpering out front with my hands over my eyes. I was not amused when he caught two baby mice in an empty yogurt container and carried them out the front door to a neighbor’s yard where they might “Have a chance to live because they’re so, darn cute.”

His humanitarian efforts had to be tolerated. After he set the traps he joined me on the front stoop where he smoked a cigar. What a surprise that I dated a smoker for so long.

We met on and when he ticked “Cigar Affectionado” off a list, I thought it meant that he would smoke on the rare occasion like after dinner in Cuba as a way to blend with a culture, not that there would always be a giant cigar hanging out of his mouth and he would proudly say, “I only smoked one today!” and I would point out that that one cigar was the nicotine equivalent to ten packs of cigarettes, which would make him nod and puff away.

But tonight I didn’t complain about the smoke. I needed him. I let him know I needed him to spend the night. He needed to spend the night in my bed, with me.

This was far from a romantic encounter. His job was to protect me, should the mouse uprising move to my room. Seriously? I needed him to empty the traps in the morning.

Dating experts suggest that begging an ex for help might be “sending mixed signals.” Whatever. Sometimes the men in your life who are awake late at night become ex---terminators. This was the case.

Ex slept and I counted the snapping in the night: thud: got it, snap: missed it.

When Ex woke in the morning I told him four traps went off but I was pretty sure we only caught two mice.

I was right. Four traps snapped. Two dead mice. That didn’t explain the half eaten avocado nibbled in my fruit bowl overnight.

Ex found another baby and used that same container to catch and release it to the neighbor’s yard, a cat snack.

My brother-in-law stopped by later that day, cleared out the dead and reset the traps while I drove my emotionally fragile self to my mother’s house to spend a few nights sleeping next to her cat.

My sister went by the next morning. The counters were covered in new droppings. So was the drain under my clean dishes. And my fruit bowl was dusted with something that wasn’t chocolate. Heather disinfected, swept and replaced my salt dish with mouse poison.

May I say that having mice use my salt dish as a bathroom will forever erase any chance of me using another open salt container?

In the end, three mice populated my trash barrel. That’s all. Three. Add that to the three that were granted amnesty, and we’re left with that rhetorical question we all ask ourselves when something goes wrong: where is that nursing mother mouse? And the rest of the babies?

I always thought I’d be one of those people who aged gracefully. That petty bothers would be a mere shrug and drama would lose its grip over my peace of mind.

Though I’m not at the end of my timeline, I’m sitting comfortably in my early fifties and can’t help but notice that when it comes to rodents, I haven’t changed.

I don’t want to conquer mice, I want to live in a world without them. Yes, I understand that they are a necessary part of the food chain. No I don’t care. They can live at your house.

You wouldn’t believe the modern arsenals available to rid us of these horrors. Noises that retard. Lights that burn. Glue that freezes. Poisons that dehydrate. Traps that snap.

Perhaps I haven’t changed when it comes to tolerating rodents; but the space under my cabinets has.

And stop telling me to get a cat. This isn't a game where it would be cute to have a half-eaten mouse left on my pillow as a gift. No thanks. I don't need a cat.

But it might be time to get a man.

Living the Life of Holly

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