Something had been gnawing at the walls of my bedroom throughout the long dusks of fall. Initially, I had thought it a manifestation of my unquiet mind. I could hear the plaintive voices of neurosis bunnies with dragging claws and munching jaws nibbling through pink insulation and crunchy two-by-fours.
I didn’t mention it to anyone. Night after night I would lie in bed listening intently. The scraping only happened when my eyelids drooped heavily with fatigue. More than once I’d jumped up to investigate, only to have the whispery, scratching mute suddenly.
I pondered explanations. Was it the heat vents contracting or expanding? Spy cameras? Was it the blinds relaxing after a day of being tightly held, folded snug concertina-neat against the upper sill of the window frame? One scenario had dozens of industrious spiderlings weaving webs in the honeycomb structure of said blinds. I imagined the stronger-than-steel webs ripping slowly in soft anguish as I let down the blinds each night. I tried sleeping with the blinds up. This led to a wonderful night of moonlight beams playing hide-and-seek on the duvet covers. It didn’t solve the mystery of the whispery noisemaker.
Then I found a mouse in the wine cellar. Well, it’s a wine cellar in the loosest sense, more of a damp storage closet in the basement, but apparently cellar is the most alluring word-on-the-ear in the whole of the English language. (Where did I read that?)
As I descended the stairs one morning, on my usual let-out-the-dogs, let-in-the-dogs, feed-the-dogs, let-out-the-dogs…, I saw my three feline friends sitting in a neat row, their quivering nostrils pressed tightly against the glass door to the cellar. Curiosity piqued, I went to investigate. And there he was, twitchy mousie, sitting on top the lonely bottle of cabernet; eyeing his would-be captors with shiny indignant black currant eyes. I captured him and re-introduced him to the balmy breezes of the great outdoors.
Of course, I should have known that it is not only the cat that comes back. The mouse is even more adept at it. This is the conclusion I have now reached, four months later and slightly wiser.
The more recent noises in the wall didn’t seem to bear any relation to the cellar mouse, because they continued, even after it had been banished. I did briefly consider the possibility that he might have had family members stowed away in the rest of the house, but mystical chitter-beasts are much more interesting; the cats didn’t deliver any further clues. Instead I added other more logical explanations to my list: birds nesting on the roof, a squirrel or a raccoon in the rain gutters, a tree branch stuck in the whirligig on top the bath room. And then the noise disappeared. Of course this coincided with hubbie’s return from his business trip- so obviously, it had just been just my wild imagination.
Three days ago, as I returned from the grocery store, laden with provisions, my eldest daughter met me with shrieks of excitement.
“Mom, we have a mouse!” (Already possessive and defensive in tone) “The cats were playing with him, but I chased them off. He’s in your shower now.”
And there he was: two inches of mouse and two inches of tail, sitting on the shower head, surveying the lay of the land like a diminutive overlord.
Well, we couldn’t throw him out- it was cold outside. He’d never survive in the snow. It was patently obvious that, in a household where even the cats lack sufficient killer instinct, it would be completely out of the question to even consider such a cruel thing. We did what we had to do: we went to the pet store, bought a cage- with a running wheel and enough high-quality mouse feed to last ’til spring. The girls spent half-an-hour assembling the cage. The braver of the two volunteered to catch the mouse and introduce him to his new abode.
Catching a wild mouse is not easy, and this one was no exception. It tried running up her trouser leg, down her back and into the inviting dip lurking from the low-cut jeans, to her immense mortification. (“Well, your ass was hanging out,” her sister pointed out indelicately.) It jumped into her hair and bit her finger. At last, it was captured and put into the cage. We rested and contemplated breaking the happy news to the father figure. Of course, as soon as we lifted the cage to transfer it to a position for better display and observation, the mouse did what all mice seem to be so very adept at: it deboned itself into a blob of gelatin and drooled through the bars of the cage, hit the floor running and disappeared into my closet.
It took another three hours to catch him again. This time we transferred him to my studio shower cubicle, his luxury crate and a grade 8 Canadian Pacific Railroad History Project diorama from hot-glued popsicle sticks his playground. A sticker on the crate door proudly proclaims his carefully researched name: DMITRI.
“Dmitri like in the guy that developed the periodic table, Mom- NOT Dmitry, the president guy.”
That was yesterday. My husband called me from work today.
“ I think you must have that old bar fridge in your studio checked out,” he said, “ It sounds like it has a problem. It was making a strange noise this morning as I passed it on my way to the garage.”
“Mmm, I’ll check it,” I said.
I know what he’s heard. That’s Dmitri running on his wheel in the shower now. It sounds like something mechanical with failing bearings. From here behind my work desk, I can see the three cats in the studio washroom. They’re sitting with their noses pressed against the shower glass.