My home has always been my castle. This week, however, my castle has become a chamber of horrors. I've been tippy-toeing around, sulking really. I go down the back stairs to the kitchen and turn on every overhead light, then hover furtively on the third step up, peering past the railing to the floor, bending to look under the refrigerator, the stove, the dishwasher, the cabinets. I have not gone barefoot since Monday. When I go to bed, I hop in before taking of my shoes. And before I put the shoes back on in the morning, I shake them to be sure nothing has taken up residence in the warm leather during my fitful sleep.
Five days ago I was strolling into the kitchen around 10 p.m. when I noticed my cat, Ruby, scrambling around by the garbage can. Hunched over. Poised. Then, to my eye-popping surprise, a large mouse dashed from behind the can and across the room, Ruby in hot pursuit. I don't know where the mouse went because I -- a normally sensible, courageous, adult female -- was transformed into Barbie. I screamed and jumped feet first onto the sofa, then phoned my sister and cried. I stood there for half an hour trembling and listening to my sister's advice, which was to get the broom and swat the mouse to death. I was afraid to go into the kitchen, I explained to my chortling sibling, and figured the rodent had found a dark hiding spot under an appliance by now. Swinging a broom around in there was not, I felt sure, going to encourage the mouse to reappear. Ruby had already lost interest and was sprawled on the carpet, gazing up at me. Lucy, the other cat, was absent. Harry the dog was my only hope, Harry who last spring murdered a squirrel in the yard with great enthusiasm. "Get him Harry! Go get him Harry! Go!" I encouraged loudly. After a few minutes of watching me hop around on the furniture and call commands about which he was clueless, my squirrel-killing dog curled up in a chair and went to sleep.
For five days I've been in a state of mild panic. I set a trap with peanut butter that first night and the next day it was sprung and empty. Now the trap sits untouched, the mouse I guess having figured out the system. My pets have been a grave disappointment. All three spend their days and evenings snoozing on pillows and having no interest whatsoever in tracking down the gray invader in spite of my persistent commands that they earn their keep. I slide my feet along the floor, terrified that I'm going to take a step and feel rippling fur beneath. I sit on the family room sofa with feet tucked under me, stomach turning at the thought of tiny toenails speeding across my ankles. At night I barricade myself in the bedroom, shaking the bedcovers and lining the crack under the door with quilts. I'm dreaming of mice, and one night in slumber imagined the creature was a baby rabbit. In the dream I saw Harry kill it and bury it outside. Upon waking there was my dog, on his back next to me, feet sticking up in the air, sly smile on his face, snoring away. The Tiny King.
By Wednesday I'd calmed down some, convincing myself that the mouse had exited through an open back door. Then on Thursday morning I went to the laundry room and witnessed the aftermath of some ruckus. The cat box had been shifted away from the wall and was now resting cockeyed. There was litter everywhere, and in the center of the mess was a brass, bone-shaped dog tag bearing the name "Harry." Apparently the tiny king had in fact been hard at work at some point in the night, and had had an encounter violent enough to knock his ID tag clean off the collar. There was, however, no mouse carcass. Whatever had happened only resulted in another mess for me to clean up and the realization that Sir Mouse was still around.
I admit that I don't know what to do. After nearly a week the mouse refuses to be trapped and has managed to outwit a dog full of terrier and two cats, not to mention a full-grown human being with a higher-than-average IQ. I don't like exterminators and their poisons, always afraid the exterminated will end up being me. Instead I dart my eyes and scurry through my house -- a place full of nooks and crannies and warm spots to nest and have dozens of mouse babies. I fear I'll come upon the creature in the sink or hiding in my purse. I suppose all there is to do is wait and hope that one of my spoiled and so far useless pets will spot the interloper and do away with him. And if they don't, sooner or later I imagine I'll get used to the idea that somewhere, sighing contently in a shoebox or an old boot, another and tinier king resides in my castle, sleeping on its back, feet in the air, snoring away with a sly smile.