I first noticed the dark colored mouse as it ran across the sink and jumped behind the stove. I thought my (retired mouser) cat Ema and I had imagined it until my son witnessed almost the same scene the following day.
I was the runt of my litter and, worse, had the dark grey fur of my absentee father. My four siblings, all a light grey like our mother, and nearly twice my size, liked to make fun of me:
— Chester the Nester, he’ll need to feed til he’s one; Chester the Nester, he’ll always come in last. Chester the Nester, he’ll never be much fun, Chester the Nester, he’ll never be that fast.
It wasn’t much as childhood rhymes go, but it hurt. A “nester” is a mouse who never leaves the nest; and while I had no problem with the idea of caring for my mother into her old age, I had images of a wife and a litter of our own…
I was the first of our litter to go searching for food. Not because I was ready, mind you, but to try and prove myself. I was returned home by the two EMMT (Emergency Medical Mouse Technician) mice on a stretcher, my head bound tightly from a deep cut and a concussion I had received running from a cat and banging my head on a low-hanging piece of wood. I was still clutching the piece of cheese and saying, “Please, Mr. Cat, this is for my mum, not for me.” This changed the rhyme my siblings chanted a bit:
— Chester the Nester, chased by a cat and whacked his head, Chester the Nester bled and lay there looking dead, Chester the Nester, clutching the piece of cheese, “Please, Mr Cat,” he pled, “this cheese is for my mum”.
I moved a pan over to block the mouse from running to his oven hiding spot. We lived with (I’d say, “owned”, but what human has ever “owned” a cat?) three cats. The oldest, the aforementioned Ema had caught a mouse or three in her day; by the time the other two were acquired, my son and I assumed the Smell of Cat would keep away any mice. We were wrong.
After the head wound healed, I noticed that my sense of smell and taste were gone. I tried to hide this fact, but to no avail. When my older brother Charles was run over trying to bring home food for us, my sister Charlene shoved me against the wall. “You’ve lost your sense of smell,” she stated. Charlene was always very direct. “I’ve noticed how we all smell something, yet your whiskers and nose are the last to go — like you’re copying us.”
She let go of my shoulders and stood back, knowing I wouldn’t run even though I was back on all fours. I hung my head in shame; there is nothing worse than a mouse with no sense of smell.
“Mother knows,” I said lamely, in a quiet voice.
“And what of us?” Charlene demanded. “Chrissy has moved in with her husband, Charles has been run over, Christopher has some wild idea about going to the upper floors–“
“I’ll go with him!” I exclaimed, although my stomach churned at the thought. Christopher was the Wild One of our litter and the upper floors scared me. A lot.
Charlene glared at me. “You,” she paused. “You will go with Christopher to the higher floors?” She was almost screeching her squeaks were so loud. She slapped me across the face, then; the first, last, and only time. She looked ashamed. “Chester…” her voice softened. “Chester, I’m sorry about the chants. They were jokes. You’ve got nothing to prove! Chester, no. No,” she squeaked more firmly. “I’ll go with Christopher. Someone needs to stay with Mother.”
She rubbed her cheek, her whiskers, against mine. “I’ll go,” she whispered. Charlene was used to getting her way, and not just because of her large size.
That night, as everyone slept, I pulled myself carefully away from the bundle. “Ready, Christopher?” I squeaked quietly.
“Ready,” he whispered. I gently kissed my mother goodbye. “We’ll bring back loads of food, you’ll see,” I squeaked quietly, and followed Christopher down the halls and up the elevator wires to wait for daylight when the humans would be out.
The mouse hadn’t been seen in a couple of weeks. My son and I had forgotten about it. Until we came home to see it dart through the sheet that blocked the air conditioning from the living room / my bedroom to the hallway.
When you’re a Parent, there are things that you would do for your kid that you normally wouldn’t. I’m terrified of bugs. TERRIFIED. But so is my son. So when there’s a bug, I MUST protect my son. Even if I’m terrified. Even if I’m about to throw up / pass out/ scream/etc.
I stepped on the mouses’ tail, glad I was wearing sneakers. The mouse squeaked — LOUDLY. I moved my foot and moved a box, effectively blocking it in on three sides. “Get me a plastic container!” I called to my son, who came running in with a small container, while trying to remove the top. I took it from him, yanked off the top, and tried to catch the mouse in it. I succeeded on my second try, slid the top underneath — had to shake it a bit so I could close it without hurting it’s tail, and it was in!
Carefully, I slid the lid underneath the mouse and flipped him over but had to shake him a bit so I wouldn’t close the lid on his tail.
“Open the door for me, please, Sweets,” I said. I didn’t want to touch anything even though I was pretty sure I hadn’t touched the mouse. “I’m going to bring this to the Super,” I said. “Don’t touch anything, ok, Pup?” He nodded.
I was reminded of the time we stayed in a Family Homeless Shelter. I had refused the mouse traps that snapped on the mouse for the sticky kind. I surrounded the heater with them and one night a mouse, holding a Phillies Blunt wrapper in it’s mouth, was caught. I called the front desk because I didn’t want to touch it but, long story short, after half a litre of vegetable oil and a lot of “this isn’t part of my job” complaints from the night guard, the greasy mouse slid off the trap and ran off into the night.
I had decided to take the mouse to the Super’s apartment on the first floor. Not his son, who should be the Super, but the old guy who purposely stepped on and broke my then toddler son’s favorite train set piece; the old guy who put a lit, bare bulb on my antique luggage collection and set them on fire; etc. Hundreds of dollars worth of damage, and not a single apology. He goes through the tenants mail and steals government mail — welfare letters, disability letters, and so on — so appointments are missed and cases closed. He broke the lock off of my mailbox with a screwdriver and tried to charge me the fifty dollars I had refused to pay for my keys when I had first moved in.
I rode down the elevator and looked at tbe little dark mouse in the clear plastic container. I realized I should take pictures with my phone, which I’d left upstairs, so there would be a time / date stamp. When the elevator opened on one, I quickly pressed “6”, followed by the Close Door button. The mouse was busy going in circles, keeping his right side against the plastic container. Upon reaching my floor, I called out to my son, “Pup, my phone, I left it up here. I want to get pictures.”
My son opened the door for me with my phone in hand. “Mom,” he said, “there’s a big drop of blood on the floor in front of the kitchen, in the hall. I think one of the cats got a bite just as we came home.” The blood stain was almost the size of a quarter and there was a light blood smear nearby, heading towards my room. I held up the plastic container and shook it a bit. In the sunlight I could see a chunk missing from the left shoulder of tbe mouse. It was so deep that as he scurried about his plastic container, I could easily see the bone of his left arm as it went up and down with each step.
It was a set-up. Christopher assured me that he had scoped tbe place out twice and there were two humans but they had gone out. He would stand guard while I grabbed as much food as I could and give it to him. I thought the strange glint in his eyes was excitement. Or the sun. Or his crazy.
“You’re sure this is safe?” I squeaked quietly.
“Don’t you trust me, Chester?” Christopher squeaked back, a bit loudly, I thought. “Now… go!” And I felt both hands shove me out into the open kitchen and by the time my eyes had cleared from the bright sunlight, I was surrounded by three cats. “Christopher!” I squeaked as loudly as I could. “Christopher! It’s an ambush! Let me back in! Please!”
“Couldn’t smell the cats, could you, Chester?”
“Who else is in on this?” I squeaked, ducking under a paw with very long nails. “Charlene?” I asked. No answer. Suddenly I felt fangs pierce my left side, right on my shoulder. I didn’t want to know, but I had to know. I gasped for air, pushing with hands and feet against the felines’ mouth. My head was back so I couldn’t bite the cat, but I squeaked out quietly, “Mom? Was Mom in on this?”
The cat shook her head, teeth digging deeper into my shoulder meat, her claws reaching for my belly. “No, Chester the Nester. This was all me. I’ll return and tell how we were ambushed and though they’ll pretend to be sad, Charlene and Mother will be glad you’re gone,” Christopher answered, his voice fading as he ran away through the tunnels to tell his version of the story.
Suddenly, there was a loud noise as the two humans returned. In the split second that the cat was distracted, I pulled free, losing flesh and blood, and ran for a dark room.
Not fast enough. “Mouse!” yelped the bigger of the two who pushed aside the doorway and stepped — hard — on my tail. I yelped. The larger human moved a box as I tried, and failed, to jump through a tiny hole. Now I was boxed in on three sides — wall, wooden table leg, box. And a large human on the fourth side.
After going downstairs, realizing I needed pictures, having my son take them, and noticing the wound on the mouse, I wasn’t sure what to do. I left the closed plastic container in the garbage room on tbe first floor. Back upstairs, I cleaned my shoes, the blood, the cat puke ln the bathroom floor.
Then I sat on my bed.
I felt horrible.
I should’ve let the mouse go. Somewhere… Outside? Where the feral cats could kill him? No. Where, then? I think I went into shock, a little, at that point. I would shake uncontrollably, intermittently, for almost four hours afterwards, until my Nighttime Meds kicked in.
But what choice did I have? Make my son get rid of it?
That night, and the night after, I had nightmares. Mice everywhere. Big ones, little ones, mice with missing chunks of flesh and visible bones. Leering mice. Mice squeaking at me. The following morning, I ran downstairs. “Did they take out the garbage from yesterday yet?” I asked a neighbor who lived on tbe first floor. He nodded, “You just missed them. Why?”
And that was it. The mouse had most likely suffocated or bled to death. I am a horrible person.
The plastic container wasn’t closed all the way, but enough that with the loss of blood and lack of air I soon became unconscious.
“Psst! Psst! Chester! Wake up! Wake up!” the last was more of a plea. “Charlene? You’re dead, too?”
“No, stupid, but we’ve been trying to get you out all night and the garbage men are coming!”
I took a deep breath — I could breathe! And I felt the burning pain in my left side, where the cat had taken a chunk of flesh. Charlene and my mother had been chewing through the bottom of my plastic prison for hours! The two EMMT’s who had brought me and that infamous piece of cheese had been helping, and now one took charge. “This is going to hurt, Chester,” she smiled reassuringly as she squeaked. “My name is Jen, that’s my brother Jonah.” She nodded at a mouse with white fur like hers; litter-mates are named using the same letter. “That bite in your side is bad but we are out of time. Hold my hand and squeeze when it hurts.” Charlene and the male EMT, Jonah, looked at one another and, with some unspoken signal, pulled me out through the hole.
I squeaked, I wet my fur, I squeezed, I passed out… We were a couple of months old: Charlie, Charlene, Chrissy, Christopher, and me. “Look! I’m Chester!” squeaked Christopher after rolling in coffee grounds to make his fur darker like mine. “Chester… Chester… Chester!” the voice changed from Christopher’s teasing tone to Jen’s concerned tone.
I tried to sit up and as the pain shot through my left shoulder, my nose touched Jen’s nose. The pain wanted me to fall back onto the soft bed, but everything else wanted to feel the warm wetness that was Jen’s twitching nose and feel those whiskers move against mine forever. “You should, uh,” Jen paused, as if not wanting to move away either, “Lie down.” She smiled nervously. I took her hand in mine as the pain took over and I fell back onto the feather nest. I looked around. “This. Isn’t. The. EMMT. Uh, place,” I said slowly.
Jen smiled and lay down next to me on my right side. I noticed my left shoulder and arm were tightly bandaged. “When your mom and Charlene found out about your brother’s plan, well,” she covered her cute pink mouth with her dainty pink hand and gave a fake little cough.”Well, there’s only one bed at the EMMT’s headquarters so I said I’d take care of you here.” She paused and looked up at me, and I could see the pink skin under her white fur turning a darker pink. “Um, as long as it’s ok with you.” I pressed my nose against hers, our whiskers twitching together. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” I smiled.
Afterwards: We had a dual wedding, Jen to me; Charlene to Jonah. Charlene was halfway through her pregnancy, and six months after Christopher set me up I was a proud, happy, stay-at-home dad. My mom lived with Jen and I and our four; Charlene often helped as she and Jonah had a litter of six. Christopher agreed to get help although none of us had gone to visit him yet. On the other hand, we had all agreed not to press charges, either. I’ve been writing short pieces for the local paper, but Jen thinks I should try a novel. Or a Children’s Book. Or a comic… Who knows? I’m just happy to be surrounded by family who love me as much as I love them and don’t mind that I have a bit of a limp on my left side. Lester, our runt, thinks it makes me look, “cool and tough”. And that’s good enough for me.</i>