I talk to animals. I don’t try to hide it.
I talk to the parakeet that lives alone in a cage in the hardware store. He doesn’t particularly like me, but he hops over to hear what I have to say whenever I’m near.
I talk to the dogs and cats that come through the hardware store on their way to visit the veterinarian.
When I stop to watch a deer who is standing alert at the side of the road, I whisper, “I will never hurt you…”
I talk to my own dogs steadily through the days and nights.
I don’t generally talk, though, to the animals that I kill.
I’m silent as I swat flies or slap mosquitoes. I have been known to murmur, “Sorry…sorry…sorry” as I vacuum Japanese beetles from my windowsills – by the thousands – as they continue their constant migration to the inside. I’m not talking to them, though, but to myself. Sorry for this murderous, cold-hearted streak that I’ve found within my heart, that I can snuff out so many little lives without a second thought.
I comfort myself with the idea that soldiers have to harden their hearts to be able to do their jobs in battle. I remind myself that this situation is like that. In this house, I am at war…with mosquitoes and flies in the summertime, those creeping and flying little beetles in the fall, and mice in the winter months.
So, I continue to swat and slap and vacuum up the insect pests. I set traps for the mice. Six spring-set plastic mouse traps, each baited with a dab of peanut butter, stand ready against walls and in corners of kitchen and laundry room. This has been a pretty mild year for rodents in my house. I’ve been getting one or two mice a week. In other years, that number has been four or five per day!
Almost always, the traps kill a mouse instantly. I pick up the trap by one corner (between thumb and pointer finger, with a grimace on my face) and take it outside. There, I pinch the back pieces together, which opens the front and the dead mouse drops into the field. Done.
Last night, an especially wily mouse reached out to steal the peanut butter, and ended up caught by one tiny arm in the trap. I noticed the sprung trap the first time I came downstairs to let the little dog out. Tired, I ignored it. The second time I came downstairs (Rosa Parks has a weak bladder), I decided to deal with the mousetrap.
I grabbed the trap at its back side, between thumb and pointer finger, as always, and pulled. Something pulled back. The mouse had dragged the trap to the crack in the woodwork that leads to a blind corner behind my kitchen cabinets, and managed to get his body – minus the trap and the one arm it held – behind the board, to safety. He was ready to do battle. I wasn’t up for it. If I were to give the trap a big yank, I can’t imagine the damage I would do in forcing that tiny body back out through the tiny crack. Or, to the appendage that was caught in the trap. I went back to bed.
When I came down in the morning, I surprised the mouse. He was back in the kitchen, and was surrounded by tiny curls of gray plastic. I’ve heard of rodents that will chew off an arm or a leg to free themselves from a trap. Happily, I’ve never seen it. This little guy was not going to fall into such desperate measures. This was not a steel trap that he was dealing with, but simply plastic. he was young, and strong, and in possession of a good set of teeth. He went to work.
I trust it was exhaustion, from his long night of trying to chew his way out of his confines, that made him lose his edge. When I came downstairs, he was exposed, vulnerable, and he knew it. I could almost read his mind (“Oh, goddamn!”) when he saw me. I could have hit him with a shoe then, or simply tossed him out into the cold, with the trap for baggage. He looked right at me.
With one toe, I pushed the back of the trap down to open it. He pulled out his arm, studying me. As he got his wits about him, and skittered back through the crack in the corner, I said, “Merry Christmas, Mouse!”
Merry Christmas, Everyone!