Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Fourth Roommate (or, A true tail of furry proportions)

A shriek, a moan, and then ... "MOUSE!"

That was the scene this afternoon when a furry critter decided that multilateral diplomacy was where it was at, and chose to make his appearance known at our office building.

The shriek, however, brought to mind a similar response I'd had when I was living in Pittsburgh fresh out of school and discovered I had a most unexpected roommate. So join me on a trip down mouse-infested Memory Lane with a piece I wrote at the time, presented here in two parts. (Look for part two tomorrow!)


The Fourth Roommate

I frequently hear renters’ horror stories about “unwelcome houseguests,” ranging from deadbeat boyfriends to neighborhood stalkers. Since my apartments have always been in safe, well-lit, heavily patrolled parts of town, I never worried about sharing stories of my own -- until now. My two roommates and I have discovered that our kitchen is not our own. Instead, it is home to an intrepid, audacious, foolhardy ... mouse.

The discovery was simple enough. I was eating breakfast at the kitchen table when I saw a small movement out of the corner of my left eye. Something rounded the corner, something short and quick and ... my, that’s an awfully furry bug, I thought to myself ...

Oh no. That ain't no bug.

It was a mouse. A living, breathing mouse, living and breathing right there in my kitchen, and more specifically, living and breathing under our oven. To the mouse’s credit, it followed the line of the wall directly to the oven, where it stopped only to pick up an piece of spinach, and then proceeded to its cozy home.

To my credit, I didn’t scream. Actually, I didn’t do much of anything, just followed this erstwhile fourth tenant with a tense eye. He was a very little guy indeed, with a tail as long as his body and shiny black eyes. Certainly not your usual suspect for bubonic plague. Once he disappeared under the stove, I congratulated myself for not leaping to the tabletop with my petticoats around my waist.

Then I called my landlord.

“Rob? Hi, it’s me, upstairs. Yeah, small problem. Haha! Small problem, get it ... ha ... anyway, there’s a mouse ... you knew? Tina’s already seen it? So she’s got some already. Ok then, I’ll just ask her. Thanks Rob.” ::click::

So my roommate already had the traps, which means she’d already seen the mouse, which means she hadn’t yet done anything about it. But I wasn’t angry. More relieved, to be honest. The minute Rob said “traps,” my heart had sunk unexpectedly. After all, he’s just a little guy, I thought. He’s respectful, sticks to his corner—why should I visit torrents of fear and death on his mousy skull? What gives me, the hulking human, such a right?

The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced the mouse and I were partners, bound together by feeling insignificant in a vast terrain, taking just one extra step each day along a familiar route, so that slowly but surely we would reach the horizon. I couldn’t lay a trap for him. God forbid some greater force was out there plotting the same demise for me, when I all wanted was a dry place to sleep, some tasks to keep me busy, and a bit of free spinach along the way.

In a fit of empathy, I named him Oswald. If Charlotte’s Web had taught me anything, it was that killing a creature you named becomes much more difficult, and thus less likely to occur. With this unofficial baptism over, I returned to my breakfast, with only an occasional glance toward the oven.

Over the next few weeks, Oswald appeared only once to each of my roommates, both times escaping under our oven. We were suddenly the Jane Goodalls of 11th street, forgiving all God’s creatures for scuttling around our kitchen. We set no traps. Everyone warned us, “Where there’s one, there’s five,” but we pooh-poohed them. Oswald was loyal, trustworthy, and most importantly, singular.

But then Oswald got bolder. Twice in one day, I watched him bolt clear across the kitchen floor and disappear under the radiator. Tina caught him fervently gnawing at a ValuTime cereal box on one of our lower shelves. Our friend spotted him scurrying along the family room wall. We even witnessed him, Houdini-like, vanish into a cabinet. Oswald was living dangerously, but he was still living.

Then came that fateful Saturday, the day Oswald made one fatal error.

To be continued ...

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