Monday Magazine | April 2006
LAST SPRING, I WAS looking for a one-bedroom apartment. It was my fourth year of living in Victoria and I was ready to go it alone. I finally found a tiny little bachelor suite on the top floor of a hundred-year-old house. I loved the slanted ceilings, the mountain views and the fact that it was all mine. The catch? When I say tiny little, I mean tiny little. We’re talking about 10 by 15 feet.
It was a very hot summer on the top floor, but toward the end of October, Victoria’s pitiful excuse for winter was settling in. I was sitting on my bed/sofa/desk in my living room/bedroom/office when I caught a quick movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked towards my door and a mouse was sniffing my shoe. I froze. It didn’t. It disappeared behind the fridge and I didn’t hear any more from it for the rest of the evening. So long as it was just passing through, I was fine.
At about 1 a.m., in a daze between sleep and awake, I heard some rustling. Handing responsibility over to my imagination, I ignored it. I insisted on keeping my eyes closed despite the noise, but it got louder and more rambunctious. I opened my eyes just in time to see a mouse run from beside my feet towards my face. Leaping out of my bed, I emitted a bizarre noise and the mouse disappeared. I kicked my bed. I yanked my duvet over my head. Nothing. I got back in, wrapped my feet in the blanket, built a pillow fortress around the edges of the bed, and battened down the hatches. A few minutes later I heard a noise by the fridge.
I turned on the light and peered over my pillow wall. The mouse was climbing up behind the stove, seven feet away from me. It made its way toward the sink and behind the rack of dishes I’d finally washed. I got up and moved towards it but I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to grab its tail, spin the mouse above my head like a lasso and fling it towards a wall that it would hit with a smack, pause and slide down slowly, landing on the floor with its eyes crossed and birds and stars circling above its head. I quickly learned how difficult it is to grab a mouse’s tail. It kept getting away from me and despite my efforts to fall asleep and ignore it, it kept me on edge.
I declared war at about 3 a.m. I grabbed a freshly emptied juice jug in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other. Clenching them like a warrior, I got into a battle-stance. My strategy was simple, straightforward and entirely fatigue-induced. The mouse would appear from behind the stove and I’d scoop it up in the jug, thrust the spoon in and stir like mad. Failing that, I’d lightly tap the mouse on the head with the spoon, scoop it up, place it in the jug, put the lid on and then shake it around a bit and then throw it out the window.
Before I made any significant headway, the mouse left the appliances for the kitchen floor. Perfect. I’d lay the jug on the floor. The juice remnants would lure the mouse in, at which point I’d set it upright, put a glob of peanut butter on its head, tap it with the spoon and ask it to leave.
Then it made its way toward the bathroom. This is my chance! I thought. I chased after it into the bathroom, the only separate room I had. I stuck my head in the doorway, yelled “BAH!” and slammed the door.
Now what. It was quarter after four in the morning and I had a mouse in my bathroom. I went back to the kitchen, grabbed a loaded trap, banged on the bathroom door, opened it, turned on the light, yelled “BAH!” and placed the trap on the floor and slammed the door. My shoulders drooped. I banged on the door again, opened it, yelled out my warning call, flicked off the lights, and slammed the door one last time.
I climbed back into bed, reinforced my fortress, and shut my eyes. I heard a bit of rustling from the bathroom, which culminated after about 15 minutes with a small plop and some splashing. He drew himself a goddamned bath! I thought. I strained to hear his shrieks of glee, but the splashing got slower and finally stopped. I gave him time to get decent, knocked on the bathroom door, gave an inquisitive “bah?” and slowly opened the door. I flicked on the light, looked around the tiny room, and finally noticed a soggy mouse, poised for doggy paddling, floating in the toilet bowl.
The next day, a pest control man came over. I used my hands to show him how big they were, about six inches including the tail, and he was confused by the size I was reporting. We had a look around my kitchen and found some droppings, the technical word for what I tend to call ‘mouse shit’, on the top of the stove.
“Yeah, that’s not from a mouse,” he told me. “You’ve got rats.”
“Oh,” I replied. Scratch that – rat shit. It suddenly seemed way worse. Rats, though both furry and small, never made it on to my list of ‘Things That Are Cute’.
He followed up by telling me that either way, I was doing a good job of offing them on my own and that I didn’t need his help. He recommended a career in pest control. He was surprised that I’d caught the things in the mouse traps, but told me it was likely a family, I got one of the parents, my neighbour got the other, and then I finished up with their two kids. Great. Just to be safe, he offered me some rat traps.
He opened his red tool box and pulled out what looked like sheets of plywood with bear traps screwed on top.
“I’ll set these for you,” he told me. “I don’t want you messin’ with them. Let one of these things go in your hand and you’ll break your fingers.”
I asked if they kill the rats immediately. Like that somehow adds a humane twist to it.
“Oh yeah,” he told me. “And I’ll warn ya, if you get another one, you might be dealin’ with a bit of a mess. They can spray a bit, onto walls and stuff. Their heads usually stay on though.”
As if they’d heard his descriptions, the rats stayed away for a few days. But it was November, and Vancouver Island temperatures were dipping below the teens. Sure enough, the extended rat family showed up for the holidays and I’m pretty sure I heard a little one ask for a cup of hot cocoa.
I was getting mad. I’d tell people about my ongoing mouse-wars turned rat-wars, and most would respond with repulsion. “Aren’t you just terrified of rats?” they’d ask. Sure, the first one got me a little queasy, a little on-edge. But then once they keep you up all night, once they climb into your bed with you, once they shit on your stove, try to take baths and walk around your kitchen like they own the place, your attitude turns from fear to downright fury. This was my apartment. I pay rent for one, I have one set of keys, I pay the bills and suddenly a family of rats tries to move into my 150 square feet of living space? Not without a fight. I wanted them out.
I’d caught three more by the time I was woken up one night to find a massive 14-inch-long monster in the bathroom – the rodent that broke the camel’s back. I shuddered, phoned a friend down the street and asked, through nasal whimpers, if I could stay at her place.
I moved out three days later, and in with the same friend. I had to sacrifice the luxurious life of solitude, and my mountain view , but at least I have someone to blame the mess on. And so long as she doesn’t keep me awake at night, scurry into bed with me or shit on the stove, I’ll be just fine.