One September morning in our poky kitchen, my father and I were enjoying an early brunch. He was spooning floating pineapple rings from a large glass bowl while I dipped some oatmeal biscuits into my peppermint tea. From the corner of my eye, I noticed something small and dark flitting across the floor, but the moment I turned in its direction, it was gone.
My father’s pineapple ring splashed unceremoniously back into its pool. “Did you see that?” he asked.
“See what?” I replied, wondering whether he was talking about the same thing.
“Something on the floor?”
“Yes! It was probably a Daddy Long Legs”, I told him.
He agreed and we laughed at my infantile terminology.
I thought nothing more of it and we continued to eat in amicable silence.
That September represented a new and unforeseen period of my life. I’d finished university the previous May and was still at home, having failed in my attempts to travel and to find a job.
The upside to it all was that I was rather enjoying domestic life. I got to see a lot of my dad, and we’d developed our own little routines, like making mochas in the tiny steel pot which he’d had since university and listening to programmes on Radio 4.
Though I could sense myself regressing, I took solace from the fact that these moments at home were precious; that they wouldn’t last forever.
Throughout the summer, I had been indiscriminately applying for jobs but nobody would have me; the country was at a standstill. Then one day an enormous opportunity presented itself: The Irish Times was looking for an intern.
600 applied and I was in the final eight. I wasn’t holding my breath but I was devouring newspapers all the same and after a summer of uncertainty, a date for the final interview had at long last been set. Many of my conversations with my father went something like this:
“Dad, do you think I have a future?”
“Of course”, he said “You will become a literary lay-about just like me”
My father is the honorary editor of a history journal and spends much of his time cycling to and from the National Library to check if Major General so-and-so of the fifth battalion really did travel to Kinsale in 1752 as the Right Honourable Blogs’ diary of that date alleges. If he’s not doing that, he’s sitting in front of his laptop, painstakingly typesetting articles, which have arrived in his inbox from the eclectic collection of contributors he has garnered from around the world.
“Of course you won’t be rich”, he said, “but you will find a niche eventually”.
So went our conversations that summer and we revelled in the gentle irony with which we viewed our mundane daily existence.
Now that the summer had drawn to a close, the brunch we were enjoying in early September was my last before the final Irish Times interview, which was to take place the following day.
That evening, my father made an announcement.
“We have a mouse”.
“What?”, I said, already squirming.
He nodded solemnly. “Yes, I rather feared that’s what I saw in the kitchen this morning, but I didn’t want to scare you”.
“Ugh”, my mother sighed, from under her woollen blanket in the living room. “We’d better seal up the kitchen door so it doesn’t escape into the rest of the house”.
And so it began.
I refused point-blank to enter the kitchen the following morning and set off for my interview without breakfast.
I’m a vegetarian but that does not mean that I like to be invaded; particularly not by fast creatures, with long, thin tails, I told myself. After all, that’s why I chose to grow up with guinea pigs and hamsters rather than gerbils and rats. I further justified my over-reaction by telling myself that I was under enormous stress: what with a potentially life-defining interview ahead of me.
I arrived home that evening to bad news.
“We saw it in the living room”, my father said, grim-faced but full of resolve.
“It was incredibly fast”, my mother added gravely.
On the way upstairs, I quivered at every nook, convinced that the creature was about to emerge from hiding and crawl up my leg. I couldn’t bring myself to take out my furry slippers from under the hall table either, in case the mouse had taken refuge there. I shuddered and locked myself into my room.
I sat there and wondered about myself.
Two days later, things took a turn for the worse:
“It was in our bedroom”, my mother said “I saw it scamper behind the cupboard”.
She too was highly uncomfortable about the invasion.
Action had to be taken. My father got some traps.
My protest was pathetic: “Can’t we just capture it and free it humanely? Please”
We could not, and I had some nerve if I thought that I could just sit there, being an hysterical and inert vegetarian, applying a guilt trip while they went to war on all our behalf.
Impractical, irrational and immature, I knew that I could neither see the mouse suffer nor capture it alone.
There had to be another way.
I made my way to the local hardware store, passing through shelves of creosote and weed-killer until I got to a section labelled “Pest Control”. Jumping with delight, I found exactly what I was looking for; I snatched it from the shelf and proceeded to the till.
I arrived home triumphant.
“I have a humane trap”, I declared.
They weren’t nearly as enthusiastic as I was. They’d spent the day trying to catch the thing, which had now been spotted in several locations throughout the house, only to have me saunter back from my sojourn in the moral high-grounds, wielding a tiny cardboard box, which promised “easy capture and release”
They wouldn’t replace their multiple killer-traps with my one humane one, but agreed to use it as a supplement to their own.
The following day I spotted the mouse in my sock-drawer, and screamed.
I noticed though, that it was much smaller than I had expected.
It was a baby mouse, with a beautiful little face and a shorter-than-average tail.
I thought about the techniques for overcoming fears that psychologists recommend. One of them was called “mere exposure”: simply coming into contact with a fear can help alleviate it.
On Sunday morning my mother went to Church, having seen the mouse scuttle under her wardrobe.
By then our battle with the mouse was becoming somewhat of a farce; so much so that my father had placed our mouse-shaped pumice stone onto a trap in the living room the day before in order to startle me.
Fortified by courage and relaxed by the preposterousness of the situation I entered the room. My father was in bed, reading a tatty book with a dull title.
“What’s the situation?”, I asked.
He lifted his nose reluctantly from under the book: “It has to be over there”, he said, motioning to the far corner of the room, “It definitely hasn’t left.”
With a sudden surge of courage, I ran to the kitchen and snatched the humane trap from where I had placed it just beside the door.
Returning upstairs, I opened the flap to the linen closet where scores of my mum’s dresses were hanging.
In the corner, half-concealed by a green velvet wrap- whiskers twitching and tiny ears erect, I saw it perched.
Any of the fear I had left drained from me in a flash. It was adorable.
We waved a scarf at it and it dashed. We dived and it squeezed past us in a blur. We put the Hoover on and it didn’t move.
Mum came home and I retreated, expecting that we would have the little creature captured and released into the wild by lunchtime.
Later that day a voice called me from above.
“Kate, we have it!!! We’ve got it!! Come here!”
I rushed up, tripping on the pieces of cheese they had left in a trail across the floor.
My father, grinning, was holding the plastic box, where the mouse had become entrapped.
“There you go, it was your humane trap that did it in the end”, my mother conceded, smiling with a twinkle in her eye.
I took the box from my father and gazed inside to find a tiny twitching face and shiny, beady, jet-black eyes staring back at me.
In those few minutes, as we sat there in my parents’ room, surrounded by traps, with clothes and cheese strewn around the floor and the tiny creature in our hands we felt closer to each other than we had for a long time. Somehow this little incident had brought us together: first through our nervous tension and then, when we saw the cute thing up close, in our shared appreciation of the ridiculous.
There was some sticky stuff on the base of the trap so the creature couldn’t run away.
“We’ll release it in the park across the road”, I cried, beaming at the idea.
“It won’t be long before it’s back!” my father laughed, as we were getting ready to go.
We were giddy with our success.
I ran upstairs to grab my camera so that I could record the moment of release. We got as far as the gate and I got my mother to take a shot of my father and me with our mouse friend.
Once in the park, I returned the box to my dad, to do the honours. We’d brought a pair of kitchen scissors with us so we could remove the top of the box.
Gingerly, my dad cut through the roof. The mouse, impaled on the floor, did not look happy.
“Not long now”, I gushed over it, still frivolous and light-headed with our victory.
My father placed the plastic container down on the ground.
Suddenly from behind, an enormous Labrador came bounding towards us, barking madly. He had smelt a rat.
My instincts suddenly aroused, I growled and ushered him away, becoming a little embarrassed as I turned and saw his ten-year-old owner watching me.
The dog gone, the park fell silent but for some leaves, which rustled in the distance. We must have been there for only a few seconds but suddenly an uncertainty engulfed the air.
My father stepped back to look at the motionless mouse, stuck to the base of the box and after a while, he asked my mother to get him a sand scraper from the house.
While she was gone, I bent down, and looked more closely at where the mouse was stuck.
Attached to the base of the box, were not just the four paws, as I had thought, but the entire belly of the mouse, rendering it utterly immobile.
My mother returned with the scraper. Dad picked up the box again. With gentleness that stirred me, he attempted to get it under the mouse’s tiny feet.
It didn’t work. The gluey goo was too deeply ingrained into its silky-thin fur.
My heart was beating more quickly now.
The little body was beginning to twist in pain. My father’s expression changed: scraper in hand, he too was coiling with discomfort.
As the mouse moved, more of its fur became dislodged.
I began to see blood.
“Stop”, I yelled, hopelessly.
I had to look away. My father’s eyes were full of pain, as he continued to scrape at the little body, wreathing in agony.
An autumn chill was in the air.
The last I saw of the creature was its outstretched neck and taut, mangled, tortured body being ripped away from the plastic box.
It haunts me still.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, nothing has invaded me like this image. We had some other mice after that, which were killed, humanely by guillotine. I got a rejection letter from the Irish Times some weeks later. Strangely, I didn’t feel much. And for all the bloodshed I have seen in the news, and the depressing images of suffering on the streets around me, nothing disturbs me like that image, or sends a pang of guilt so acute gushing through my entire body.