In my house there are mice. Henry was the first to spot one, scampering from the shower-room into the dining room. It was small and round – and so fast on its feet. At first I wasn’t sure whether there was just one or more; and furthermore, whether he, she or they were permanent residents or simply transient visitors. So I put down some peanuts where they would be easily found; and, yes, they vanished. We had mice.
For weeks, we saw no sign of them. No scraps of half-eaten fodder. No droppings – and certainly no tails vanishing into skirting-board holes: only the occasional scuttling above the ceiling in my basement study. Then one of the lights in the study failed. On investigation it seemed as if something had gnawed through the insulation of the low-voltage wiring and had caused a short: blowing the lamp’s power-supply. Mice again, I thought, replacing the insulation and transformer.
A few weeks later I was sitting in the study when I noticed a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned round and there it was, running across the beige carpet: a mouse. My first impression was of speed. In that respect he reminded me of the cockroach that I had encountered (so many years ago now) in a Kibbutz hotel next to the Sea of Galilee; but in no other respect. Whereas the cockroach had been black or dark-brown (I don’t recall – it was a long time ago) this new fellow was white, I think. Now that’s odd, you know. House mice are light brown; only tame mice are white, I’m told. So perhaps he was brown. Memory plays games, you know. What you think happened isn’t necessarily what did happen. Sometimes you remember what you want to remember – and tell others what you want them to think: to save your self-image, perhaps; but what have I got to gain by thinking that the mouse was white? That’s how I remember it, so let’s run with that image: a white mouse running across a beige carpet.
He ran behind a book-case, only to re-appear after the shortest delay and hurtle across the floor to search underneath the low table which has my printer and scanner standing on it. Always hiding and always searching. That was his mode of life. Intent on finding food – and there was none to be had in this room, I knew – and intent on not becoming food. Forever anxious and on the alert. Forever looking for advantage. Forever avoiding cats.
He was so small: small and round, it seemed. A tiny ball of white fur, with a tail of string, two bright black button-eyes and a twitching nose.
I felt a certain empathy of being. He was lost. Far from his home in the upper floorspace, as I supposed. He would not find what he searched for here; no matter how diligently he looked and no matter how obsessively he hunted. I guessed that he had made his way down the open stairway, from the hallway above; or somehow from between the ceiling of the study and the floor of the living-room: that dark mouse-universe of knotted beams and age-old dust. It seemed to me that he would never find his way back whence he had come; but was now condemned to a death from starvation and thirst in the desert which my study represented to his kind.
I took pity on his plight and determined to apprehend him – curtail his freedom for a moment – so that I might relocate him to a better place: uplift him from the depths which he had penetrated in a misguided pursuit of safety and sustenance; back to the place of light where food for life might be found and the company of his fellows be re-established. I left the study for a moment and returned with peanuts – which I placed in the emptied waste-paper bin next to my feet. I tipped the metal-meshed basket on its side and watched the mouse.
Oh yes, he was still out and about, running around my feet. He seemed oblivious to me, as long as I didn’t move. It didn’t take him long to sniff out the peanuts either; however his first tactic to obtain them was to attempt to gnaw through the basket’s black-painted metal mesh. Only when that failed did he think to investigate its perimeter. At last, he found the opening: what should have rightly been the bin’s top, but which now – due to its sideways repose – was its inviting portal. He paused for a good while. Somehow, though he was used to scuttling into narrow gaps, this wide open aperture seemed redolent of danger to him. It’s promise of peanut treasure seemed too simple. When effort was needed to bite through impervious bars, no danger was perceived. Now that the way lay open to him, he hesitated good and long; his mousy brain weighing up the possibility of an unknown and unknowable threat against the certainty of hunger assuaged.
Eventually, reason prevailed and he darted inside the bin. At once, I snapped it vertical; thinking to slam a book on top of the up-righted waste-basket and trap my prey inside. Alas – this plan of a man was frustrated by the alacrity of a mouse. He launched his little frightened body through the air like a ballistic rocket. I had no idea that such a tiny creature might jump so high! He escaped my well-meaning trap; by which I was intending to lead him back to his proper place, where he would prosper and have life. He fled my frightful hands and sought the comfort of the shadows behind a bookcase. For all I know, his starved body lies there still; but I do not know what became of him. I only know that he has not been seen in the study since that day.