July 10, 2007


Mabel performs the feline drive-by maneuver.
Last week, I sequestered myself in my apartment for three days, working on a preteen copywriting project. In this rarefied, heightened, and deeply internal state of being immersed in putting exciting, upbeat, and informative sentences together, I become hyperaware of everything occurring in my tiny apartment as though I were working from inside an echo chamber.

I saw the mouse for the first time on Saturday afternoon. I was watching TV, feeling itchy because I should have been at the computer instead of on the couch, and a brownish blur zipped along the baseboard in my peripheral vision. Even though the blur had barely registered, my internal mouse alarm went off.

Lost for the second time. Bad Gladys!
As the breadwinner primate, it is not my job to deal with vermin. I went into the bedroom and gathered my cats. Gladys, the fat gray marshmallow one, protested as I lugged her off the bed. But she seemed to get the idea as I placed her in the middle of the living room -- something was up. As I figured, Mabel, my skinny, hot-tempered cat, also followed us out to investigate the commotion.

The mouse did not re-emerge, but I told the cats that they should be on high alert and that mouse-hunting was their reason for living in such pampered conditions. Really, I assume that I'm responsible for everything in the apartment over a certain height, but their duties concern what occurs on the floor. I went back to watching TV, and after a few moments of sniffing around, Gladys returned to the bed where she stays 95% of the time, and Mabel took up residence on my desk chair.

I flushed out the mouse.
Usually I'm annoyed if Mabel sits in my desk chair while a writing project is on the front burner as her presence there seems a rebuke that my own ass isn't in that chair, and it also seems to block instant seating if the lightning of an idea should suddenly strike, but there was a mouse loose and the chair was certainly a better vantage point for Mabel.

A few hours later, the mouse popped up again, zipping between the rarely-used stools that flank my kitchen island counter. Mabel did not react, so I swiftly stood and grabbed her and flung her at the mouse. The mouse ran, and Mabel hopped into action, chasing it into the kitchen. She appeared around the island with the mouse in her mouth. "Good kitty!" I cooed. Then she batted it around a few times, leading it into the bathroom, and I figured death for the rodent was imminent.

No hope now.
Gladys sauntered up the hall to the bathroom to partake in the death scene. Now, I have to tell you that my cats do not get along. In fact, they hate each other, and have violently reacted to each other's proximity since the day Mabel arrived, nearly six years ago. I heard hissing in the bathroom, and Gladys came out with the mouse. She dropped it, chased it a little way down the hall, and then stopped. The mouse zipped behind the litter box, which abuts a bookshelf, my desk, and a filing cabinet.

"Gladys," I groaned. "You let it get away."

Mouse? What mouse? Did it move yet?
Gladys seemed ashamed by this -- as ashamed as cats get, anyway, which isn't very -- and Mabel was bewildered by this turn of events. I moved the litter box so the cats could get access to the back of the bookshelf, but the mouse had taken secure shelter. This is an overladen bookshelf, triple-shelved with books, and moving it would necessitate taking all the books off of it, which would take hours. I tried to smoke out the mouse, using an old incense stick, but eventually it seemed like a bad idea to be jamming a lit ember into the dust bunnies under my bookshelf and I quit that. Mabel took up sentry atop the litter box, but there was no action for the next day.

Every time the cats came out to eat or rub against my feet, I asked them, "Catch that mouse yet?" We were all at Orange Alert.

I've got it locked in my high beams!
Sometime AM or PM on Sunday (time loses meaning for me when I'm writing), I was watching TV again and the cats were on my bedroom windowsills. The big brown mouse climbed up my desk chair, rooted around in the papers on my desk, and then zoomed back behind the bookshelf. This was untenable. Mabel on my desk chair is one thing, but a mouse in my paperwork? It is a violation, highly verboten, and punishable by death. I went and grabbed Mabel and told her to catch that mouse -- now!

Mabel hung out by the bookshelf for a long while, reaching in occasionally across the computer wires behind the desk. About an hour later, she made a sudden move, and came out with a mouse in her claw. Gladys entered from the bedroom, waiting by the doorway. I pulled my feet up onto the desk chair while Mabel smacked the mouse around under the desk, then I moved over to the couch to watch the murder.

Mabel poses proudly with her prey.
My cats have never actually eaten a mouse (that I've seen) -- they just slam it around like a toy until it dies and then they lose interest and I flush it.

So Mabel toyed with the mouse, whacking it, and then lounging next to it until it gathered its breath and made another break for escape. Under the desk chair, Gladys reached for the mouse, pulled it toward her, and then stopped again, allowing the mouse to zip behind the filing cabinet. I groaned, and Mabel smacked Gladys in the face. Usually I yell at the cats when they fight and tell them, "Be nice!", but after Gladys had let a mouse escape for the second time, I told her, "You deserved that!" and I let her slink off into the bedroom, sulking. She used to be a great mouser, especially when the restaurant was still open in the storefront underneath me. I couldn't help wondering if she was getting old.

Alien kitty loves her battered mouse!
Later, concerned, I even checked a website about how to tell the age of adult cats -- it had been estimated that Gladys was approximately five or six years old when I adopted her six years ago, but nobody at the shelter really knew for sure. So now she could be anywhere from eleven to fourteen or so, which is getting up there for a cat, although she generally seems in good shape, or content with being entirely out of shape.

Anyway, I decided that my cats needed help, so I grabbed the cat toy that consists of long plastic rod that has a string and a fake mouse dangling from it, and I used to rod to root around behind the file cabinet. Lo and behold, the mouse ran out from behind the cabinet and darted beneath the couch. Mabel was on it. She snagged the rodent again, and continued with its torture. Gladys came out to watch, but I warned her not to get involved, and she didn't.

It's not dead yet!
Mabel smacked that mouse around for a good hour, and I went back to writing. Eventually, the chasing sounds and slamming into walls subsided. The mouse was dead. I got up to pick it up.

Holding a paper towel and faced with the crumpled brown ball of fuzz, I felt sad for the mouse. I don't want mice in my house, for sure, but I'm trained by a lifetime of Disney movies to root for the mice and vilify cats. Mickey Mouse was my first beloved licensed character, and in movies like Cinderella, the mice are the heroes and Lucifer the cat is the one to avoid. As a child, I had white mice as pets, along with hundreds of hamsters and gerbils. My moniker, personal totem animal, and tattoo is also a rodent. How did I get to this side of this equation of these natural enemies? Why are mice the ones we root for, when nobody wants disease-carrying pests in their home? Our mouse-hunting for shelter compact with cats dates back to Ancient Egypt. We have no such Magna Carta with mice.

Oh, I get that mice are cute and small and the underdog, but I'm not sure that explains their prominence in the pop culture pantheon.

I flushed the dead mouse down the toilet with no fanfare and once again returned to writing.

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