Editor’s Note: Remember the good old days of blogging? We do. Quite a few writers and editors who have passed through Tweetspeak’s doors (or are still here) first began as personal bloggers. These days many of them are moving to a newsletter format, in which interested readers subscribe to regular posts. Laura Lynn Brown started Notes From an Urban Cabin in 2015. It’s a way for her to explore, as she puts it, “living in place, loving on foot.” That began in Arkansas, in a tiny apartment with an irresistible phone grotto, and moved to a slightly larger space in Pennsylvania a little over a year ago. Like all of us, Laura comes from the stories that made her. And this story about a cat-and-mouse game shines in the retelling.
Notes from an Urban Cabin #19 • A Laura Lynn Brown Newsletter Delivery on July 10, 2017
I was sitting at the dining table writing Saturday night when I sensed the cat rushing behind me and heard an odd sound.
I looked over my shoulder. She was under my desk, maybe three feet behind me, and the strange sound was coming from the mouse in her mouth.
I’ve had Lydia for more than seven years, and I’ve never seen her with a mouse. I’ve also never seen a mouse in my home. Roaches, brown recluse spiders, and a dead skink on the balcony, sure, but no rodents.
I made some odd sounds, too, as a cat-and-mouse game ensued.
You know that gag in the Family Circus comic strip, the dotted line depicting the ridiculously meandering route little Billy takes to do a simple task? I now have a mental picture of such a dotted line from my desk to the front door to the middle of the room to the corner dining area to the floor below the picture window and back to the kitchen, with a loop-de-loop to a baseboard crack beside the dishwasher where, despite the cat’s best efforts, the mouse escaped.
I started to shut the bathroom door, then on second thought, urgently invited the cat to bring the mouse into the bathroom, where we could contain it. The cat looked at me like, And then what’s the plan? I grabbed a Tupperware container and tried to trap the mouse under it, but I couldn’t get close enough. And when the mouse touched my foot, I really made some odd sounds.
Did you know mice can jump? For a second, I thought a neighbor’s pet kangaroo mouse had gotten loose. And the idea that it was a pet, with a name, made it momentarily seem a little less freaky than it seemed initially and seems now. Once the mouse disappeared, Lydia settled down in the kitchen and kept watch. I put down the Tupperware and picked up the phone.
I called my rental company’s emergency maintenance number. The woman on call said she could come the next day with some traps and show me how to bait them. That wasn’t soon enough.
I called the supermarket a mile and a half away. “You’re open all night, right?” Yes. “Do you sell mouse traps?” Aisle 13.
It was after midnight and well past my usual bedtime, but somehow I wasn’t sleepy. I drove to the store, found the traps, looked at the various styles, chose a two-pack, and got peanut butter to bait it with. (It took me longer to settle on a jar of peanut butter than it did to choose a trap — why is everyone adding sugar these days? Doesn’t anyone simply mash up peanuts?) Then I swung by the dairy section for eggs and checked out.
I followed the directions and set one trap in front of the crack where the mouse had disappeared, barricading it from the cat with a collection of water bottles and empty glass jars. I set the other trap in the cabinet under the sink, where I keep the kitchen trash. Then I went to bed around 1:30 a.m., hoping to sleep but expecting a loud SNAP! in the middle of the night.
There’s no shortage of advice on what to do about a mouse in the house, some of it contradictory. (READER ALERT: Here be dragons. Skip this paragraph if you are easily grossed out or fine with not knowing what you’re missing.) Mouse trap manufacturers have a lot to say about it, as do exterminators. Go to an animal-loving website, and you’ll read about what charming, winsome, thinking, and emoting creatures rodents are, how fastidious about personal hygiene — even cleaner than a house pet. You’ll find advice on persuading them to move on to another B&B while peacefully coexisting with them in the meantime. Go to the CDC, and you’ll read about all the diseases they carry (including salmonella, hantavirus, leptospirosis, tularemia, and the plague), the fact that they have no bladder control (therefore they pee as they go, which turns that dotted line in my living space into a mine field), and detailed information about how to clean up their feces after infestations and how to dispose of the corpses — requiring rubber gloves, disinfectants, double bagging, and other precautions.
However, there are not, as far as I can tell, instructions on how to disinfect your cat.
I have a dream of a cabin in the country, a rural cabin on farmland in Ohio. Depending on the location, it might be within view of as few as two neighbors’ homes. That’s one kind of isolation. Here in my urban cabin in the city, where I can see hundreds of abodes from one window alone, there’s a different kind of isolation. Which is why a handful of night owls and a heap of friends and family know about the mouse from Facebook, but only two of them from a face-to-face conversation.
And that brings me to a book I’ve been reading and can hardly put down, The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love. Kristin Kimball, a New York City writer, went to interview a guy named Mark about organic farming. Before he’d consent to an interview, he put her to work. She fell in love with farming and him, and eventually they moved and started a farm together. As the book jacket says, “In her old life, Kimball would stay out until four a.m., wear heels, and carry a handbag. Now she wakes up at four, wears Carhartts, and carries a pocket knife.”
When they moved to tiny Essex, 280 miles north of NYC, the locals’ customs were more strange to Kimball than those in any of the cities she’d traveled to around the globe. I think the parts of the book I will keep thinking about are the ones where she sheds assumptions and learns how much she has to learn about all kinds of things and people:
I had come to the farm with the unarticulated belief that concrete things were for dumb people and abstract things were for smart people. I thought the physical world — the trades — was the place you ended up if you weren’t bright or ambitious enough to handle a white-collar job. Did I really think that a person with a genius for fixing engines, or for building, or for husbanding cows, was less brilliant than a person who writes ad copy or interprets the law? Apparently I did, though it amazes me now. I ordered books from the library about construction, plumbing, and electricity, and discovered that reading them was like trying to learn in a foreign language, the simplest things — the names of unknown tools or hardware, the names for parts of structures — creating dead ends that required answers, more research. There’s no better cure for snobbery than a good ass kicking.
Sunday morning, I woke bleary with the light at 5:30, fed the cat, and checked the traps. Reader, they worked. Both of them.
I did what needed to be done, washed up, went back to bed, and slept like a rock for four more hours.
I bought more traps Sunday afternoon, the simple kind with the steel spring on a wooden base, and set them. While I was writing, I heard a SNAP! and scuttling, then nothing. I did what was needed and went back to writing, then to bed.
This morning I don’t know which is more disconcerting — to find a dead mouse or to find the peanut butter licked clean from three traps that didn’t spring.
In the country, I imagine, face-to-face conversation about my mice would mean everyone would know. I hope it would be the kind of community where people would be sympathetic and kind and neighborly about whatever new-to-me task I was taking on. And I hope I would accept that my being wrong about something is just that — being wrong, which happens to all of us and is neither catastrophic nor a character flaw.
My hope is the same wherever I live. I want to be patient and attentive to the older people I live among, to appreciate them, to learn from them. I want the young people at the cash registers not to be impatient or dismissive with me when I accidentally cancel a debit card transaction or when I’m paying with cash and take the time to count out exact change. I want us all to be kind to one another. And to ourselves.
That last one means if I have a mouse problem partly because I let my housekeeping standards slide for the month I was away a lot, tending to the needs of my aunt while she was in a hospital and then a rehab facility, then I simply accept responsibility and fix it. No self-kicking.
And when I see that I have been holding on to a false assumption — often on the same day that I’ve been quick to correct someone else’s false assumption — neighborliness means I can say I’m wrong, and if necessary, say I’m sorry.
I’ve marked a year in this urban cabin. I didn’t expect to spend so much time in hospitals. And I didn’t expect to be learning about mouse eradication. But this is the life I have, the life I’ve chosen, and the one I choose to live, day by day.
As Lydia settles herself on the table, right next to the keyboard, I’m still wondering about how best to disinfect a cat.
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