★ 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.

Today

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.’

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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