Yesterday my friend discovered a stunned little mouse lying out in the parking lot of the condominium where she lives. What had happened to it is a mystery, but I speculate that perhaps a cat had been playing with it, as cats tend to do with their prey while working up to the finale. Being the animal lover that she is, she scooped it up and took it into her home, where she fed it milk with an eye-dropper and provided it with some crumbs to eat. It soon revived, started leaping around the box she had it in and then promptly got loose. Luckily, she was able to find it and set it free outdoors – where it belongs. This incident prompted a long ago memory, only one in a long repertoire of my own Mouse Tales, but one of my favorites.
Once upon a time, long ago, I had a Svengali of a boyfriend who lived in a cottage in the woods. The cottage, which sat alone off a dirt road and up a hill, overlooked a misty lake. It had a magical quality about it. The neighbors had nicknamed my boyfriend “Hikey the Lover” (his name was not Hikey, or even close to that. I never got the details on exactly why they called him Hikey, and I really didn’t want to know). Looking back, I guess you could say Hikey was sort of a free-spirited, crazy hippie guy . He was worldly and almost a decade older than me in years. I was just at the end of my teenage years, young and still green. Because of this, I tended to be somewhat in awe of him at times, which resulted in occasionally going along with some of his adventures, whims and ideas against my better judgement.
Hikey had his ways about him and was a creature of habit. He liked to grow vegetables. He liked lemongrass tea. He would dance around the house naked while playing his flute to Jethro Tull. He would reheat his day-old coffee in an old, stainless electric percolator. He ate almost everything with chopsticks – even steak and Italian food. He wore clogs. He was always trying to beat the system. The only television he would watch was the CBS morning news. He spent his spare time taping music and live concerts. He was fanatic about his dogs. He was very smart and sometimes had a little bit of a superior attitude about it. He was an arrogant guy. Although most of this is irrelevant, I am mentioning it just to give you an image of Hikey in your mind.
One morning I opened a small, rarely used utility drawer in his kitchen and discovered a little mouse sitting in a small nest filled with tiny babies. She peered up at us with eyes like shiny black beads of onyx, looking worried and vulnerable. My first response was surprise. I didn’t exactly say “Eeeek”, but I froze for a few beats there. Opening a kitchen drawer and finding a mouse will usually catch you off guard. Following this discovery, I suggested that we move them outside. I mean, this was a kitchen drawer, and cute as they were, I didn’t think it was a very clean situation. But Hikey said “Let’s leave her alone until the babies grow up and leave”, and he shut the drawer. OK, I know, that’s kind of weird, but that’s how he was and it was his place, so that is what we did – it just became part of the fairytale, little country mice living in the drawer of the magic cottage. Svengali spoke, I stayed quiet.
About a week or so later I opened the drawer again to see how they were doing and found they had vacated, so I figured he must have been right.
A number of weeks after that, the cottage was overrun with mice.
Those who live in the country or in the woods, and especially in old farmhouses and cottages, will be familiar with finding dog food or bird seed stashed in your shoes, mouse turds on your windowsill and your favorite things gnawed and ruined. I have had my children’s home-made Christmas ornaments decimated by mice who gnawed through the storage box in the attic, which has enraged me. The spines of books chewed. In one place I lived in, I could not find my favorite gauze shirt from India. Eventually I located it – the mice had pulled it out over the top of the lower drawer and dragged it to a hidden space under the bottom drawer of the dresser and turned it practically into lint, creating a beautiful Mysore patterned nest out of it. I have read that they have the capacity to make themselves almost flat in order to squeeze under a closed door. They proliferate and they are a nuisance. I don’t care how cute they are, they are still rodents. Cats can help, but we had dogs. Hikey was not into traps. You can imagine the field day they were having in that cottage.
One particular morning Hikey was lying in bed watching the news while I was fussing around in the kitchen before work, fixing breakfast and trying to please by appearing useful and mature (remember – Impressionable Teenager vs. Worldly Older Guy). I was making us some rye toast with Danbo cheese (because that is what he liked most mornings) and asked him if he would like some lemongrass tea. He said “No, just plug in the coffee pot and reheat what’s left in it from yesterday”. Well, yuck. The thought of reheated electric perked coffee sounds pretty awful to me, and I am not even a coffee drinker, but this is kind of how Hikey was. So I gave him breakfast, we finished up the toast and cheese, I had my tea and he had his coffee. Then he continued to watch TV and I started to clean up the breakfast dishes.
When I opened the coffee pot to wash it out, I discovered there was a dead mouse at the bottom of the pot. It must have squeezed in through the spout the night before (I can’t imagine how else it would have gotten in there), couldn’t get back out and drowned in the leftover coffee. When I plugged in the coffee pot to reheat it for Hikey the next morning, I guess it boiled up the mouse with his coffee. And Hikey drank all of it. Mouse coffee.
It was another one of those frozen moments. And then, as awful a discovery as it was, I started to laugh. Maybe it was more of a dark, hysterical “Oh My God” kind of laugh, but there you go. As a matter of fact, as I write this I am smiling (darkly) again. I guess I could have said nothing, but I felt the right thing to do was to tell Hikey there was a dead mouse in his coffee pot. He came over and looked at it. And then he ran into the bathroom and hurled. All arrogance gone.
I bet he never reheated old coffee like that again, and I bet he checked any container he left out from that point on. Even though there is no mouse problem here and it’s been decades, I still do.