Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Windows to the Soul

Damn! I was nearly ready to sleep, but the cat, Seth, jumped abruptly off my lap. Within five minutes, while I contemplated the energy it would take to get up and brush my teeth, he came back up the stairs with a mouse in his mouth.

I could tell the thing was still alive by the way it stayed so still. Its tail stuck straight out and its eyes were squeezed shut. I could only hope Seth held onto it while I ran into the kitchen to look for something to catch it with. My juicer was the first thing I pulled off the shelf.

Really? A juicer?

I ran back into the kitchen and tried again. All I had that had a nearly flat lid was a shallow plastic container that had held cheap ham when I had bought it. It really was a good size for sandwiches. I hated to use it. I paused, grabbed a matching lid and ran into the sewing room where Seth has let loose live mice before. Seth sat hunched in the corner of the room, the mouse still in his mouth, eyeing me.

I bent my knees, put my elbows out, and leaned over like a football player about to start a play. I had the bottom of the container in one hand and the lid in the other. I was ready.

The cat wouldn't give.

He looked at me. Yes, I'd been the one who lost the mice the last five times after he caught them. Yes, I'd chased after him yelling what I'd hoped would be encouragement as he caught them again. Yes, I'd torn whole rooms apart trying to unearth the poor creatures. Yes, I'd nearly whopped Seth on the backside trying to get a good blow in on a mouse with my grandpa's walking stick. Yes, I admit it. I was the weak link here.

I dropped the lid onto the floor and freed my left hand. I petted Seth and told him that he was a good boy, a very good boy. Through my teeth, I told Teddy, the excited dog, to back up, back up, back up.

While I was looking at Teddy, Seth dropped the mouse.

This time, instead of watching for that half-second while the mouse took a breath, I pounced. Seth nearly nodded in satisfaction. I might have been a slow student, but I was learning. I popped that ham container right down on top of Seth's mouse before it had a chance to flip onto its feet. Its head hit the container where I held it. I resisted the urge to jump out of the way. I pressed the plastic into the carpet. The mouse dug frantically at the edges. I took a deep breath.

This is where I'd failed so many times before. I'd have it in my grasp, so to speak, and it would see a tiny opening and escape.

Seth stared at my hands as if to say 'steady, steady.'

I lifted one corner just a bit so I could slide the little red lid underneath. Easy does it. The mouse pressed its nose into the opening. I didn't want to smash a nose or a toe. I got the lid most of the way across, but just as the lid and the container were just about lined up, something caught.

You'd think I was docking NASA's Challenger at the international space station.

I was going to have to lift the container just a little more before I could press the two pieces together and get that vacuum seal. I lifted, just not enough. I lifted again and it still didn't line up. That nose was right there, gauging his shoulder width and possibilities of escape. I lifted one more time and there I had it. I clicked all four corners into place.

Then I put it down so that both Teddy and Seth could look at the creature. Its eyes were open now. It had big ears, a sleek gray coat with a white belly. One foot tried to dig out of the plastic and it made a little vibrating sound.

How long did it take a mouse to chew its way out of a plastic ham container?

It wasn't chewing yet. That one foot kept a fast drum beat on the lid.

Now that it was caught, it was cute. I wanted to look at its tiny feet. It didn't look injured, but how was I to know? Adrenaline could make many an injured mouse look alert and alive. Those bright brown eyes were beautiful as he looked back at me. Is it true that the eyes are the mirror of the soul?  If I hadn't seen four or five new droppings, I would have thought he was relaxed about his situation.

I considered making him into a pet. My brother has field mice that he's captured and made into pets. One word always stops me: hantavirus. My brother lives in an area that doesn't have the hantavirus. I'm not willing to take that chance. I considered keeping him overnight so Nick could look at him in the morning. Nick would absolutely love him. Nick would name him. I resisted the urge.

I didn't want to take him out of his ham container and I knew that a mouse could chew its way out of the plastic while I slept. Besides, I thought as I wandered around the house looking for an alternate container, I'd probably lose him trying to get the poor guy into something more secure. The only thing for us was to take a drive.

Did you really think I was going to be able to kill the poor thing after all of that soulful eye contact? Mike and I have tried that. It's just hard. Once, Mike tried to drown a mouse, but his soft heart broke as he looked at the little guy scrabbling up the side of the container as it filled with water. Mike has no problem with his rat zapper in the garage, but it's harder to look a creature in the eye and kill it. Nick had a vision of hunting with his dad and shooting an elk, but I can tell you that Mike just doesn't want to do it. Oh, he'd do it if we were hungry or if creatures were getting into our food supplies, but he's generally not a warrior type. So, I got my keys from the top of the cabinet. I picked up my wallet and shoved it into my pocket too.

Then, I had a thought. Both Teddy and Seth had followed me around as I gathered my stuff and put on my coat. Seth surely deserved a treat for this bold capture. I got the alligator snacks out of the pantry. On a whim, I had bought these snacks from Petco that were made out of real alligator meat. Even Seth liked them. I gave one to Seth. I gave two to Teddy since he was such a good sport and very excited about Seth's victory. Then, I put one in the palm of my hand as I put the container away. Boy those things stink. I knew that I'd regret holding that tiny treat in my hand later when I tried to fall asleep. Even after I've washed my hands, I could still smell those things.

I let Teddy out the door and we both jumped into the car. My mouse in the plastic ham container sat in the passenger seat. I imagined him, as I sat in the glow of the dashboard, finding a way to escape and living in my car for the rest of his life. I turned on the dome as I drove to look at him. Still there. Still trying to dig his way out with that little rat-a-tat sound. I turned off the dome light.

I did not want his little face popping up out of the heating vent while I drove. I'd probably go off the road in surprise.

I decided to drop him off between the Little League field and the horse barn. There was lots of tall grass there and he'd never make the distance back to my house. I resisted the urge to turn the dome light on and look at him again. The smell of the alligator treat in my hand made me a little nauseous along with that word hantavirus. I'd handled the outside of the container. Was that all it took to contact the disease?

I turned off the main road. The gate across the Little League parking lot was locked. I stopped in the middle of the side road and opened my door. Made it. I left my car running and considered whether I should let Teddy out to watch while I released my captive. I was too close to the highway. Plus, my mouse had probably had enough excitement for one night. It was cold out too, nearly freezing. I felt bad about dropping him outside in this weather.

I put the alligator treat down at the edge of the grass. Who knows if some other tiny creature who lived in that long grass didn't instantly awake and smell an exotic and wonderful smell? I figured it was a consolation prize for my little mouse. My house was indeed a wonderful, warm place to make my nest. It had food, heat, and a clean supply of water. I don't share that with the hantavirus, not even in the name of a cute little mouse.

Then, I tilted the plastic ham container and hoped my mouse wouldn't bite me on his way out. He didn't. He fell about four inches, leaped up, twisted around, I saw a flash of his tail, and he was gone. I wondered if he'd run so far away that he'd lose his snack. I hoped he wouldn't. That food would help him keep warm, I reasoned. I've had mice stand there and stare at me for a while when I freed them. One time it seemed as though one little mouse wanted to come back in the car with me. It never did run. This guy didn't wait that long.

We might have had a moment as I looked at him through the translucent plastic, but it was over. He was a Little League mouse from now on.

"Good luck," I said and turned and got back into my car.

Thank you for listening, jb

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