★ The Mouse Who Came to Dinner

Previously, at our house

So my girlfriend and I are watching Last Chance to See when she spots something moving across the room. It’s a mouse. Not a gerbil; Erich, Dotty, Elvis and Snoopy are tucked up safely in their hutches. This is a wild, rough-looking, street-wise mouse. A mouse what is keeping it real, if you will; who is ‘down with it’; who eats wet liberals like us for breakfast.

The moment my girlfriend and I stand up, the mouse runs away behind the bookshelf. It spots the power cable leading to the light at the top of the shelf and shimmies up to avoid our fingers, which can’t quite get to him through the books.

At the top, he stops near the light and looks down at us.

He is about as long as my thumb. His fur is a rather – ahem – mousey and he has tiny, semi-transparent ears. His belly is grey and he is hanging onto the power cable with one fore-paw and both hind-paws.

He is brilliantly swashbuckling. I half expect him to laugh heartily and swing away.

‘He’s lovely!’ I say.

Britta gives me a sharp look. ‘He’s not lovely. He’s a bloody wild mouse.’

‘Perhaps we can tame him.’

‘What? He’ll chew the power cables!’

Britta knows how to motivate me: threaten my Apple products.

We set about trying to capture him. Imagine the Keystone Cops if there were only two of them and there was no chase music and no real story.

‘This isn’t working,’ Britta says after a minute or two. ‘Shake the cable. Let’s see if we can get him to fall into the fish tank.’

‘Hmm. It’s quite far to fall…’

Britta looks at me as though I’m an idiot.

‘Right,’ I say, lowering my voice.

At this point, the mouse is a ninja-like shadow on the mesh at the back of the gerbil hutch.

I must record that the gerbils – Elvis and Snoopy – have been called upon by their human overlords to help (somehow), and they have responded to this call in their own, gerbil-like way: They’ve sniffed each others’ genitals briefly, walked in and out of their food bowl, and gone to sleep completely ignorant of the fundamentals of the situation.

I hook the cable and give it a tug. Then, warming to my theme, I pull it all the way over to the side of the shelf, presumably taking the mouse with it. I look at Britta in triumph. She returns a look of indifference; I press on. I give the cable a shake. If the mouse is still holding on, he’ll be getting jostled.

Suddenly, the air is filled with the cutest distress call I’ve ever heard. The pathos is all too much for me. The mouse – once swashbuckling – is now wailing with hopelessness. This is like Bambi’s mother getting shot.

‘Sorry, mate!’

I let go and the mouse rappels to obscurity.


It is 7:30 a.m. We’re both in bed. We’re woken by the sound of a mouse scrabbling. This is not unusual. Over the past couple of weeks, the mouse – whom we’ve christened ‘Tarzan’ – is heard to stroll through the wall spaces, through the attic, across floors at night, and generally treats the house like he owns it. So far, he has not eaten any food from the kitchen – though the dried wheat kernels in the microwaveable hot compress Britta keeps in the wardrobe are looking somewhat depleted.

I open my eyes.

Scrabble. Scrabble.

I smile.

This sound is a special, new one. It sounds rather like a swashbuckling paw on metal. It sounds – dare we hope – that the little bugger has wandered into the trap we set for him.

Peanut butter: didn’t like it. Too greasy, perhaps. Chocolate? Too much effort to chew. Muesli? Mmm. Just right.

The goldilocks solution.

Britta and I jump out of bed like it’s Christmas.

On the way to the woods at the back of our estate, we wonder what life will hold for the little chap. He will have gone from the luxury of the hot water cupboard to the somewhat trying circumstances of predation, rain, and a conker diet.

We choose not to release him in a field because he might be invited for breakfast before he’s got his bearings.

We find a hedge.

The trap comprises two metal boxes: the smaller slides inside the larger. For some reason, I decide to open the trap about six inches off the ground.

I give the halves a shake.

‘Hello?’ I say. ‘Still in there?’

‘Don’t tell me he’s escaped.’

‘Hmm, might have.’

Britta groans. ‘He’s probably still at home, backstroking through a bowl of Crunchy Nut.’

Scrabble. Scrabble.

‘No, wait. Look.’

I raise the smaller of the halves and peer upwards into it. Tarzan is inside. An arm is hooped nonchalantly over a metal catch. He looks like a diamond thief hanging in the roof space of a museum. Just as I’m admiring the rakish angle of his ears, he lets go, lands in the leaves, and takes off through the undergrowth in a manner that can only be described as a furry bullet fired in anger.

‘Look at him go,’ says Britta. She is ruining her hardline image by scattering muesli about the place. ‘Will we see him again?’

‘Are you kidding? He’ll be back at the house before we are.’

We both laugh. What a funny idea!

The laughter peters out.

‘Well, we should probably get back anyway.’

‘True. You know what? I might jog. It’s a nice morning.’

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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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