It was late at night, not too long ago, when I first met the mouse; standing in the centre of the open doorway, where my bedroom reached the dark landing beyond. He was small, and could probably have fitted within the palm of my hand. He didn’t make a motion to move, just sat and looked at me. Like a neighbour who was ever so sorry to bother me, but I could offer him some assistance.
In the days before Sky multi-room, back when we still had Sky, we had our box in our airing cupboard. With the right amount of initiative you could lean out from any bedroom and change the channel with the remote, your eyes still fixed on the television within. I could even make this work from the living room downstairs.
My bedroom door was next to the airing cupboard door and I had learnt that with both my bedroom door and the airing cupboard wide open I could easily sit on bed and change the channels. Albeit there was still the inconvenience of getting up to close the door afterwards. It was while doing this that I met him.
Well, I presume it was a him. How do you sex a mouse? I couldn’t tell you. He sat in the centre of the doorway, with no intention to move. As I took in the peculiarity of the scene his paws gently rubbed his face. While he seemed to be asking for something, he was apparently in no hurry. He was a neighbour asking for sugar, or for the music to be turned down.
My brain pieced the circumstances together and decided on the fact that our family cat, who had become rather fond of bringing in live mice, had brought the poor little thing in, and upstairs. Why? I don’t know. For fun, for a gift? For reasons only known to him.
The mouse had likely been living in the airing cupboard, but now it seemed he had wearied of his hiding place. The mouse now looked at me as though to say ‘it has been terribly nice of you to have me, but I really must be getting on my way’. Perhaps I could grant him safe passage outside and he would find his own way home? I imagined him under a Victorian streetlight hailing a Hansom cab.
I do not know how long I sat watching him, but he was terribly patient. He seemed completely unconcerned that I might be some evil-doer or killer of mice. It is very humbling to have someone see this quality in oneself before one has actually spoken. I had only recently played a part in the mission to save one his brethren, after weeks trapped in our utility room. Perhaps word had gotten out about me?
My mind bounced around in those few moments, the way I imagine it might were I in a life and death situation. Lessons, and memories, and experiences, all pulling together to give one clear and defined answer to the problem at hand. I have wondered in hindsight whether the mouse had that disease that makes mice uncharacteristically brave, and fatally so. Because as my mind bounced, he seemed small and calm and peaceful.
I sat and watched until I was led to one abundantly clear thought. He was clearly small enough, young enough, and stupid enough, to be caught and brought this far into the house. I sized him up and deduced that even without the dexterity and instincts of a cat I could probably catch him. And I had form; having had experience of catching small rodents while living with some students who had more hamsters than sense.
I would need something to catch him with, but what? I slid forward to the end of my bed, surprised still as his patience. There was only one thing to hand, and it was not the thing you would expect. At the bottom of my bed, lying in a box of paints, was a large plastic concert cup from the Britney Spears Circus Tour.
I know what you’re thinking. I? A Britney Spears fan? And yes. I would say I was more of a fan of everything pre-Femme Fatale, I don’t like the new dance stuff, but I’m all for Britney. That is not at the expense of Christina though. Christina Aguilera’s Stripped album, I believe, is a work of some brilliance.
The cup itself, and to this day, is what I use to hold my paintbrushes. I crawled to the end of the bed and leaned, pulling gently at the cup’s bottom and sliding the brushes out into the box. Then I looked up to face the mouse, who had begun to see what was coming. I slid off the bed and took two firm paces before he turned and began to move. Another two paces and I was over him, scooping him up before he could disappear into the cupboard for good.
After what seemed like many years of trying to lull hamsters and mice from kitchens and bedrooms I breathed a small sigh of relief to have a mouse safe at the bottom of a Britney Spears concert cup, and not chewing out the back of who knows what to make a nest beyond my reach. I don’t mind rodent nests as a rule, but I would prefer they not be in my house.
At this point, for some reason, I took a photo. Which I believe I have still. But which has never fully qualified the nature of my experience that night. In the photo the mouse just looks sad, and scared, trapped in some kind of red plastic prison. I don’t take photos like that anymore, and I certainly don’t post them online. Probably because photos seem kind of useless in comparison to the experience lived through. I don’t understand the people online, why do they photograph and film those they are helping? Surely helping should be the thing?
I also woke up my parents that night. I’m still not sure why. Perhaps it was a combination of shock and wonderment. I was horrified at my dad’s assertion that I should fill the cup with water. And what? Drown the thing? Where was the logic, where was the empathy? Why not just let the poor creature go in the garden? I later discovered my dad was half-asleep and thought I had found a frog. In the house.
I took the tiny thing, now seemingly smaller, down to the bottom of the garden. I took a torch, for him more than me. And I pointed the way as I shuffled him out of the cup and into the soil under the conifers. He did not turn to say goodbye. As I considered the threats awaiting him on the outside I wondered whether his life wouldn’t have been happier had he continued to live in the airing cupboard.
When I think of my encounter with the mouse in the doorway I don’t particularly think of how he got there. I do not think about my murderous cat, and I do not think of the fate that perhaps befell the mouse later on. I also do not think about his lack of smarts and what lack of wits led him to being captured in the first place.
No, I just think about a tiny, brave little mouse. Who hid himself away, and who had the courage and initiative to ask for help when help was needed. Not many humans could say as much about themselves.