by Thaddeus Rutkowski
The first sign was a brownish-gray blur shooting across our floor. It went so fast we couldn’t tell if it was a living thing or just a trick of the eye—a shadow made by the batting of an eyelid. Over the next few days, however, the blur slowed down, as if the running thing was becoming more comfortable in our space. We could make out its drab short-haired body, large round ears, pointed snout, and long wiry tail. When the rodent stopped and looked at us, the eye contact was alarming. We realized this was a thinking animal, one that knew where it was, even though it was nearly blind.
Of course, this experience came when it was on the floor. What was more upsetting was when it ran above the floor, on the kitchen counter, or on a large appliance such as the stove. The sight of its whip-like tail vanishing into a ventilation hole at the back of the stove was terrible.
When we saw it, we would invariably exclaim, “I just saw it!” or “I saw it again!” and the question would be: “Where did you see it?” And we would say exactly where we saw it. Of course, we would give our report too late. The sighting would be over.
I didn’t want to sit in my office chair because I’d seen the creature running under my desk. I didn’t want to feel its paws on my feet. I wouldn’t even know if the sensation was paws—I might be feeling a brush of fabric or a gust of air—but I would believe the feathery massage came from tiny feet. I would feel the creepy sensation even if I was wearing socks or shoes. The thought made me jumpy. I didn’t want to feel the paws and have to exclaim, “I felt it!” and then have to answer the question “Where did you feel it?”
If I’d had the opportunity, I would have squashed the critter with a loose shoe. I would have used the sole as a swatter and clapped down. But the pest would not come close enough for me to reach it. The animal ran behind a filing cabinet, then behind a stack of books. I could have thrown the books off the stack to expose the intruder, but the commotion would have alerted it, and by the time I cleared the floor the varmint would be gone.
So I put out a glue trap and laid peanut butter in the middle of the adhesive. I’d heard mice like peanut butter, but cheese would have been just as good. Mice are scavengers. Our mouse would touch the adhesive as it went for the bait, and I would hear it squeaking. The calls of the trapped mouse would be unpleasant, even heartrending, but they would signal a victory—mine.
All the glue trap caught was a fly. The insect was beautiful, as flies go. It was not a housefly, but a more exotic, delicate type. It stood motionless in death, balancing on its six legs with its transparent wings folded above. I didn’t mind seeing the fly every time I approached the trap, but my wife found the dead insect repulsive. She kept asking me to get rid of it. “Isn’t it time to take out the trap?” she would ask.
I placed the glue strip in a plastic bag that held other garbage. One item was a Styrofoam tray that had held uncooked meat. I sat at my desk for a few minutes before taking the package out.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of plastic smashing. I thought someone was outside our apartment door, punching a garbage bag. But when I checked, I saw the sound was coming from the bag where I’d put the trap. The mouse apparently had been drawn by the smell of rotting meat. I didn’t have to touch the animal, or even pick it up. I didn’t even have to see it. The mouse was stuck to the glue strip in the bag. It had thrown itself away.
I carried the bag to the building’s airshaft. The victory was sweet, yet hard, for a death was coming. I tried to imagine myself in the mouse’s place, stuck to a glue trap in a garbage can. I would go out like the mouse, kicking and screaming. This result could happen, if there were a species of giant, from a planet of giants, that saw me as a pest. Such a situation was not out of the question, not out of the question at all. There were more things in heaven and earth than I could dream of.
However, not all was lost for the kingdom of mice. The fact is, mice do not live alone. They live in groups or families, and females have litters of six to eight babies every twenty days. It is only a matter of time before the young pups grow into adults—bucks and does three inches long, not counting their tails—ready to run around my filing cabinets, behind my stacks of books, and over my feet, covered or bare.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the books Guess and Check, Violent Outbursts, Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. Haywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop in New York. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.