A Mouse in the House

My former neighbor, a girl who now lives in my mom’s house and the house where I lived from seventh grade on, told me that a mouse ran across the dining room the other day and her dad squashed it with his boot like it was a bug.

That house always had mice. In fact starting with that house and continuing with almost every house I’ve lived in, I’ve had either city mice or country mice, suburban mice or metro-vogue mice. They all ate paper and candles and scared the shit out of me.

As a result, I know more about mice, how to kill them, and some of the amazing and disgusting things they’ll do than I care to admit. Helen, my former boss, told me once that she smelled a horrible rotting smell in her kitchen that she couldn’t figure out. Finally decided to empty her pantry to get to the source. She found a bottle of soy sauce of which a mouse had chewed the plastic lid off, and crawled inside, got stuck and died.

See? That’s just one of the stories in my collection of little known and repulsive facts about the mouse lifestyle.

If you’re not interested in mice and don’t want to read the rest of this blog, leave with this one piece of advice: If you have a mouse in your house, don’t use sticky traps. Ever. I’m aware that the spring-loaded mousetrap was invented in 1894 and since then we’ve made improvements in virtually every single other area of human life, but trust me and my disgusting stories when I tell you that the old fashioned neck-breaking-metal-bar method is the best that we can do for now.

When we lived in South Jersey, we lived in front of a cornfield (aka Vegas for Mice). Shortly after we moved in, the entire field mouse community got word that they should make their way to 33 Byron Drive, because a couple of pack-rat journalists moved in and had lots of old newspapers in the basement, and a whole kitchen drawer full of birthday candles in various colors, good for hours of chewing enjoyment.

I set traps in the basement and caught a bunch of mice, but not before they had shredded some historic headline front pages that my husband and I had collected, a stash of the kids’ kindergarten drawings, and our marriage license.

But it was the mice upstairs, in the kitchen, that really skeeved me out. Unlike Helen, I found very few in the food cupboards, but lots of them in the birthday candle drawer and oddly in the dishtowel-and-pot holder drawer. (Were they cold? Were they looking for blankies?)

For a while I experimented with different kinds of traps. The thought of breaking their little necks bothered me, so I got a couple of sticky traps, those yellow rectangles of death, which are covered with absolutely the stickiest substance on the planet.  (Note: If after reading this you still feel you should try these traps, do not – I repeat do not under any circumstance – test them out by putting your finger directly onto the sticky substance. It causes more problems than getting your finger snapped in a regular mousetrap.) I set the first trap in the dishtowel-pot holder drawer in the kitchen.

The next morning I opened the drawer to find the answer to my question How Does This Sticky Trap Kill the Mice?  The answer is: The trap doesn’t kill them. They either have heart attacks from the stress or they kill themselves by trying to chew off the body part that is stuck to the trap, in this case the entire lower half of the mouse. By the evidence, I can also assume that there is a lot of thrashing and throwing of limbs involved, as well as some stomach upset and loss of bowel and bladder function. The ensuing mess was enough to make me want to move away and start over with all new stuff. In actuality I had to start over with all new dishtowels and potholders.

I can’t explain why I set a second sticky trap, but I did, in the birthday candle drawer. The next morning I opened the drawer very, very, very slowly, afraid of what I would find. What I found was no blood. No guts. No mouse. No mousetrap.

“What do you mean there was no mousetrap?” my sister Pam asked me when I told her.

“It was gone. The whole mousetrap was gone.”

“Are you sure that one of the kids didn’t take it out?”

“Yeah, right, like they’re going to help with this. No, I set these traps late at night, after everyone’s in bed and I check on them in the morning, before anyone else is up,” I told her. “Besides, no one in our family will open drawers in the kitchen anymore.”

“What you need to do,” Pam said matter-of-factly, “is set three more sticky traps for his other three feet, because you have a mouse walking around your house wearing one big sandal.”

I couldn’t figure out how the mouse got out of the drawer wearing that thing. There had to have been a rescue by his buddies, probably involving pizza coupons, garbage bag twisties and a ball of string from the next drawer down. This was getting serious and I couldn’t let these little rodents conspire against me. So I set a third trap, back in the dishtowel-pot holder drawer, which now contained a single old rag, a token decoy.

 The next morning, I opened the drawer (I now was getting very good at opening drawers so slowly my coffee got cold in the process) and there was the mousetrap and there was the mouse. There had been no chewing and thrashing and there were no signs of a rescue attempt. But he was still alive. He was lying there on his side, all peaceful-like, his little eyes closed and his chest pumping up and down with his breath. This was bad. Very, very bad.  I wasn’t about to touch the trap, afraid that the movement would revive him and he would lash out at my finger and if I slipped and my finger ended up on the yellow sticky stuff with a living mouse . . . oh, god . . .

So I closed the drawer and stuck a Post It on the outside that said, “DO NOT OPEN. MOUSE INSIDE.” It took three days for the mouse to die, with all five of us occasionally opening the drawer to check on his progress and timing his chest movements.

That was the end of my experiment with other kinds of traps. Breaking their necks was the clear winner. So I set more neck-breaker traps in all the hot spots, including all around the basement. Then one day, the mouse grapevine must have gotten word to vacate 33 Byron Drive. Maybe the guy with the sandal finally made it back to the field to report the horrors. In any event, we never had another mouse in the house for the rest of the year.

But there would be other houses and other mice. So far, here in Florida, we don’t have mice, but the snakes and lizards are enough. I’m thinking of leaving bottles of soy sauce in every room, just in case.

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