I am not afraid of much. I have hiked through the Andes and the Himalayas, zip-lined through a Mexican jungle, driven on motorcycles far too fast. I have given birth to three children and beaten off two separate muggers intent on grabbing my purse. I have jumped out of a moving car to avoid a man.
Why, then, am I afraid of mice?
Recently, I came up here to Prince Edward Island to open up our summer home. Not surprisingly, I had a special greeter on the front stairs: a tiny gray mouse, a little bitty guy who was just as surprised to see me as I was to see him. I tried to stay calm and rational. But, since my husband wasn’t here, I had to deal with the intruder myself.
“Get me a pan with a lid and a broom!” I yelled to my friend Emily, a poet who had accompanied me on this trip and who, despite being nearly six feet tall and having sailed the seas in Newfoundland and conquered sweaty Buddhist meditations, is even more panicked at the sight of a mouse than I am.
She fetched me my weapons while I stood guard, looming over the rodent. Being just a child mouse, he didn’t know whether he should go up or down to escape this giantess who, in his little mouse mind, would most likely swoop down and eat him if he didn’t seek cover. He scrambled up, but couldn’t summit the stair; he then sat and washed his worried little face, awaiting his fate.
Emily handed me the broom and I got to work, trying to brush the mouse into the pan. In my mind, it was a perfect plan: brush the mouse into a tall spaghetti pan, cover it with a lid, and take him outside (where the mouse would no doubt turn around and come back inside for more yummy toast crumbs.)
Sweeping up a mouse isn’t nearly as easy as you think it will be, though. The mouse zipped back and forth on the stair to avoid the broom, with me going, “Oh no, don’t you run up my pant leg!” in both English and, for good measure, and who knows why, in Spanish. Finally the mouse decided to take his chances and tried climbing up the wall beside the staircase.
Now, mice are good climbers, but this wall had no wallpaper, so down he went, plummeting to the floor. If it were one of us, it would be like falling from the Empire State Building. But the mouse just scurried down the hall as if he’d meant to do that, with Emily doing a little Mexican hat dance in the hallway to keep her feet out of his path. The mouse then found his bolthole beside the front door and made for the safety of the wall, if only to drown out the shrieking of his tormentors.
All that first night, I had to keep the light on, imagining the mouse scurrying up the bed frame and burrowing into my pillow. All the next day, I kept slippers on, for fear of stepping on this mouse or one of his many, many litter mates who are no doubt just waiting for the cover of darkness before they raid our cupboards.
I told myself this was ridiculous. Irrational. I should be ashamed of myself, I thought, especially since my dad raised gerbils for a living, and I routinely lifted them out of their cages to change the shavings and even fed those little buggers treats from my fingers. Yet, after I accidentally dropped one of the chocolate covered almonds I was eating at my desk and it rolled into a place beneath the heavy bureau that I can’t possibly reach, I panicked all over again, imagining a whole army of mice running out to carry that huge treasure home, and oh yeah, me along with it, like some giant Gulliver.
I’m not the only woman in the world afraid of mice; in fact, I don’t know a single woman who isn’t. “I would have died if that had happened to me,” my friend Andrea agreed. Then she told me a story of her own: something about finding a mouse in the trunk of her car, and her driving to a neighbor’s house at sixty miles per hour with the music blaring, hoping to scare the mouse out of its wits and keep it in the trunk. They set a trap in the trunk of the car but never caught it; to this day, Andrea checks the seats every time she gets into her car.
I finally went down to the hardware store and had a long discussion about pest control with the clerk. I couldn’t bring myself to buy traps, because I knew I’d never be able to empty them. The “have a heart” traps wouldn’t work, either, since they’re basically just fun rides for mice who can easily figure out how to hike back home. In the end I bought poison. Or rather, “mouse treats,” which I suppose are the same kind of euphemism we use when buying “roach motels.”
“I nail mine into place,” the woman explained. “That way, the mice can’t carry the bait off with them and you’ll know how much you have left.”
I haven’t put the treats out yet. I keep remembering the look on that mouse’s face, and his courageous, foolhardy attempts to scale a staircase that was his personal Mt. Everest. He was, by far, braver than I’ll ever be.