They arrived unexpectedly, the same evening as our dinner guests. We were sitting in the living room while our friends regaled us with tales of corporate excess.
"So there I was," Rhonda said, "pushing a lunch trolley down the length of Bay Street for a bunch of high-powered business executives, reminding myself that if they want to pay me the big bucks to push pastries ... Hey, a mouse."
It took me a moment to register that this last bit was not part of her story.
"Where?" I asked.
"Right there. It just ran behind the radiator." Our guests, a husband and wife, smiled knowingly at each other.
"No," I said. "We've never had mice. Not since moving to Toronto."
"It doesn't bother us," Rhonda said. "We've given up trying to get rid of ours."
"But, but ..." I blubbered.
I thought we had left those mouse days behind us, down east in Dartmouth, along with the big backyard, clean air and ample living space.
It's not that I've lived a mouse-free existence since moving to Toronto. For several years I worked in a public school and my art room was a hotbed of creative and rodent activity. In the cupboards where I stored student work, mice were harsh critics. In the staffroom there were more droppings in the cupboards than coffee grounds in the sink. In drama class I encouraged kids to use our unexpected visitors as improvisational tools.
But I didn't want to live with the little beasts running wild in my own home.
"What will we do?" I asked my husband, as if we had no experience with mice. Such is the human capacity for denial.
"Traps," he said. "Before they have a chance to multiply."
It was the obvious answer. I knew that. Back east, traps were our usual method of getting rid of mice, but my husband was also known to whip a towel from his torso and lash out, successfully culling a mouse or two on his way from the shower.
I went to the hardware store and purchased the wooden traps with Victor written across them. They looked regrettably like festive, mouse-sized toboggans, with brass wire steering apparatus. I told myself to get a grip. As I baited each trap with a chocolate chip dipped in peanut butter and set them around the house out of the range of children and pets, I wondered whether the mouse population was plagued with peanut allergies too.
Waging war against mice isn't easy on a number of levels. I've always kept pets. When our infestation began, we had a rabbit and two dogs, one of which was a foster case from the Humane Society, a geriatric golden Lab dying of heart disease after years of severe neglect.
It's one thing to bring animals into your home, but when they barge in uninvited, chew through walls and electrical wiring, gnaw, nibble and rustle in the middle of the night and use porcelain tea cups as their latrine, it's a whole other story. At least that's how I justify my contradiction in sentiment.
The bodies began to pile up. I felt victorious, in keeping with the traps' brand name. But guilt blossomed every time I had to dispose of the broken bodies.
Then the mice grew wiser. A new generation skirted the traps and learned how to use their paws to extract the bait without triggering the metal bar meant to snap their necks. My dilemma grew; the stakes were raised. To poison or not to poison. Damn Beatrix Potter and her tale of Thomasina Tittlemouse in human clothes, I thought as I lay sleepless, pondering my next move.
To counter the weight of Ms. Potter's influence, I conjured up less cuddlesome versions of the storybook rodents: Philomena Field Mouse and the Crack House Pimpernel; Cory Kangaroo Mouse Cops a Plea; Randy Rodent's Rap Sheet Rhapsody. I confessed my thoughts to my husband, who raised his eyebrows and offered these words of sympathy: "Diary of a Mad Housewife."
"Hey," I objected, "I'm hardly a housewife."
The man at the hardware store looked worried. "Lady, you need to relax. Think not in terms of eradication, but management. You'll always have mice in the city. That's reality."
"But we had none for six years," I whined.
He shrugged. "You were lucky." He handed me a box of blue pellets.
Three pesticide brands and three seasons later, we still have mice, necks and tails intact. They've learned not to dine on poison, but the guilt still eats away at me. Soon I'll be looking for a literary agent who sees the wonder of my illustrated tales concerning the lives of not-so-cuddlesome, seedily clad rodents running loose in the Big Smoke. Not for children or the faint of heart.
Doris Muise lives in Toronto.