Mouse In The House

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    She’s sniffing. And pacing. And pawing the corner where the carpet meets the wall. C’mon now, girl, what’s the matter?

    Uh-oh. I think I know. The dog always figures it out first.

    There’s trouble brewing within these walls, a crisis-in-the-making big enough to trump everything else inside our humble home.

    Houston, we have a mouse.

    The beagle gives me a baleful look as if she knows what I’m already thinking. Let’s just keep this between the two of us, shall we? Yes, there’s a mouse in the house. But there’s also a dad in the house. And that means the responsibility falls to me – not only to catch the mouse, but to keep the very existence of a mouse a secret from the rest of the family for as long as I possibly can.

    That’s because the mother of my children and I have shared a long and torturous journey when it comes to all matters rodentia – a journey filled mostly with diversions, distractions, denial and deceit.

    We were in our freshman year of marriage when I first found out my bold, adventurous wife had her limits. Only weeks after we moved into our World War II-era apartment, she spotted black crumblings in the food pantry and announced that if those were what she thought they were, she would never darken our kitchen door again.

    Faced with a future devoid of home cooking, I had to think fast. A mouse? Ya’ think? Didn’t the movers bring in dirt with the boxes? Or maybe the Starbucks bag tipped over? It took only moments for me to reach rock bottom. I took a deep breath and affected an air of sartorial expertise. “I’m pretty sure,” I said, “that it’s oregano.” She squinted skeptically, culinary disaster was averted, and life went on. But I vowed to stay ahead of the mouse curve from that day forward.

    Later on, living in our first real house with two toddlers, I quickly learned to co-opt plumbers, painters and other wellmeaning home-improvement pros before they had the chance to sound the alarm. “Yep, it looks like you’ve got m—,” one guy started to call out just before I admonished him never to speak – or even breathe – the “M” word again. And woe unto any contractor who might let pass his lips, even in a whisper, the dreaded “I” word: Infestation.

    No, when Dad meets mouse, Dad must face mouse on his own. Which I learned soon enough when my wife pulled down the folding attic steps and found one sitting on a rung at eye-level.

    In the panic and din that immediately followed, I put on my best Australian accent, imitating the late Steve Irwin of Crocodile Hunter fame, to calm my wife and also teach the kids a lesson of love for all creatures great and small. “Look at that BEE-YOOtiful animal!” I cried while using old Tupperware to make a quick live capture.

    Hunting for vermin under the domestic radar means thinking and behaving like a mouse: Make no sound, show no face and leave no trace. It’s not enough just to place traps where mice might wander. You must also make sure that anyone prone to sudden bursts of housecleaning won’t stumble upon them and Freak out. Also, don’t leave ladders, stools or chairs out in unusual places – the family will know you’re up to something.

    And remember, it’s not enough to hide the traps; you must also purge all evidence that traps were ever brought into the house in the first place. I take the packaging (and receipts) with me in the car and, like a spy on the run, drop everything in a trash can miles from home.

    Here in our new house, I hatch my plan to catch the mouse using multiple technologies. Behind the washing machine, near where the dog went sniffing, I place two Home Defense Max traps. Ideally, the mouse walks blithely through the open door of the plastic container and pops the spring-loaded floor beneath its feet—THWAK! Against the inside wall. No muss, no fuss – just an arrow pointing to the words “mouse caught.” Then, for good measure, I put two Tomcat glue traps on the upper shelves.

    “Captures Rats & Mice” the box notes grimly. Though the Spanish translation on the back makes the rodents’ fate sound more poetic, even romantic. Atrapa Ratas Y Ratones. There. I feel much better now.

    I hunker down for a while, happy to let my secret strategy for our downstairs rooms play out at its own pace. Until my wife tells me she’s found a roll of shredded paper towel—in the attic.

    “I think we have a mouse,” she says, squinting.

    “What?” I say as all my patented explanations – dirt, coffee grounds, exotic spices – melt before my eyes. “No, no, there’s no mouse.” Then I forget to stop talking.

    “Besides, if we had mice anywhere, they would be confined to the laundry room.” Her eyes widen.

    “What do you mean they?” Uh-oh.

    All right, so I’ve caught three mice already. One danced just a bit too close to a sticky Tomcat. Atrapado. Then, one evening as I dozed in front of the late news, I overheard one Home Defense Max, then another—THWAK! WHAK!— complete their sober duty.

    It’s been over a week now, and fresh traps still sit idle. The yawning mouths of the Maxes, beckoning any rodent to enter, hang open day after day. As for the Tomcats, their placid pools of glue lie smooth and undisturbed. And the beagle, once excitable and curious, now sleeps serenely in the center of the room.

    Which can only mean one thing.

    I did it. I gotcha. I got all of ya’.

    I think.