Our neighbor Ashley came over a few nights ago. Oh, I know what you’re thinking: WE ARE IN QUARANTINE, WHAT DO YOU MEAN SHE CAME OVER??
Believe me, Ashley is well aware of the pandemic. She didn’t want to come over. I could hear the hesitation in her voice when I called, my own tone panicky, pleading.
“Ashley. Dude. There’s a mouse in here and he’s caught and we don’t know what to do I mean we can’t even handle it and I’m so sorry to ask and please say no if you’re uncomfortable because I sure as hell would be uncomfortable if it were me right now but if you’re not too uncomfortable and there is any way you could come over and help us… would you?”
She paused, perhaps taking a breath for me.
“Well okay,” she said. “But what should I do, bring a bucket?”
She was asking as a matter of protocol. Ashley, as it turned out, knew just what to do. Raised on an LDS farm in Utah, she is now a long way from her roots but still incredibly resourceful. Ashley fixes her own motorcycle in the slim driveway outside her apartment. She refinishes furniture for fun. She works hard and is on track for law school and reads a lot of stuff and even lets her boyfriend fly helicopters because it is one of his life’s chief passions.
And within 3 minutes she is at our door, red goddess hair streaming, virus protection mask in place, brandishing a broom and clutching a garbage bag in her kitchen gloved fist. A kind of 21st century Joan of Arc, is Ashley. A true heroine. Thank JC and all the latter days for this human.
The reason for Ashley’s summons can be traced back to a few months ago when my partner Kate and I first heard something scratching in the floorboards over our bed. It was the gentlest of scratches. A message, perhaps. Or a small spell. But really it was a rodent scratching, and I’ve been taught that where there is a scratch there will soon be a nest. A veritable coven of mice flowing out of the floorboards and into our occupied living space before we can say cheese.
So I called our landlord, who came and set some traps. They were the sad, basic kind, but I didn’t think too much of them. I honestly thought maybe the one small scratchy mouse would see the traps and skitter on back outside where he belonged. He’ll get the message said the placating part of my brain labeled denial, and that would be that.
Well, he didn’t. Scratch took the bait (while we were out so we didn’t know it had happened until he was done for). Our landlord came to pick up the trap containing the deceased mouse, again while were out, and again I thought that would be that.
Until more scratching a few weeks later. Scraaaaape, scratch. This time it was the dry glide of a paper airplane touching down. Then suddenly the sound of someone dropping a paperweight upstairs followed by a clunking as if the weight was being heaved across the floor at a terrific speed. A few faint squeaks.
“Oh nooooooo!” I cried, pointing at the ceiling. “No, no, nooooo! A moooooowse! He’s caught.”
Kate began to howl along with me when she realized it wasn’t a paperweight burglar at all up there but a CREATURE who was still ALIVE in another one of those terrible traps.
Enter Ashley. Our landlord was conveniently out of town for the week, and we had no one else to call.
I dragged Ashley upstairs the moment she arrived. Well, I would have dragged her if we weren’t social distancing. She was wisely keeping 6 feet away from me as I was clearly a hand wringing madwoman as well as a potential virus incubator. Ashley exhaled like Darth Vader into her mask. “Where is it?” she asked over my gibbering. “Where is the mouse?”
“Th-there. In there!”
She pulled open the upstairs built-in cupboard door I had indicated. The cupboard has no back—it gapes open into the grim, murky attic. I stopped wringing my hands long enough to poke a flashlight in over Ashley’s brave head and illuminate the nearest trap. There, quivering in the dark, lay the mouse.
It’s eye! Oh, if you could have seen its one enormous sweet black eye! It seemed the thumb sized creature had poured all of itself into that eye, pinned as it was to the trap. Please, the eye seemed to communicate as it gazed up at us. Please, please see this and help.
More hand wringing and wailing from me. I spun and rushed down the tiny hallway away from it all. Ashley was beginning to lose patience.
“Please can you shine the light on it,” she said firmly, and so I did. I came back. I shone the light as she asked. And with all the tenderness of a wartime nurse, Ashley reached in, withdrew the trapped mouse, and put him into the bag.
“He’s alive.” She was hurrying six feet ahead of me back down the stairs.
“He’s alive,” Kate echoed from the bedroom where she had retreated to self soothe.
“And?” I screeched after Ashley. “And??”
Ashley had the mouse out on the driveway and after another deep breath she deftly released him from the trap. It seemed only a part of his tail had been caught (a single drop of blood a minute earlier with that eye). The mouse righted himself and scurried away into the bushes without so much as a limp.
I went limp with relief. Somehow hearing his entrapment and valiant attempts to save his own life by dragging a trap three times his size along with him had completely undone me. I hadn’t wept for the first mouse, caught while we were out and disposed of by unseen hands. I hadn’t even thought much about him, honestly, but now I hoped to high heaven it had been quick. Hoped he had been ancient and the trap somehow a small peanut butter laced mercy.
I was enraged at the violence of those traps.
How had I sanctioned them? Entreated our landlord to lay them?! How?
Never again would we lay death machinery in our house, and all to mitigate a small scratch. The traps would be humane, or not at all. We would live in a den of pestilence and whisker dandruff if we had to. I could not hear that snap, thump sound ever again. These are challenging times, and I would not make them any more raw.
All this to say that the mouse, and Ashley’s willingness to help it, reminded me of all the incredibly strong, service hearted people out in the world. They are our medical professionals. They are our tradesmen, our house cleaners and sanitation folks. They are our neighbors, co-workers, and baristas, and many of them perhaps wondering just how they will get through.
We will get through. One eventful or hopelessly boring evening at a time. And we will tell stories of this when it is all done because in a time when it’s easier to focus on our discrete dramas, there are still those among us who will pause long enough to put on a pair of kitchen gloves and go save a mouse.