Briston set up the traps months ago, baiting the mice with pinches of peanut butter.
“It’s best to leave the peanut butter on before setting the trap,” he said, “that way the mouse gets use to it and doesn’t expect the snap.”
We had just moved into a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a rowhouse in downtown Baltimore. Even though we’d been dating for two and a half years, more than half of that was long distance. Once I graduated with my MFA, Briston made the move from Orlando to Baltimore to give the relationship a real shot.
“That’s fine,” I told him, referring to the mouse trap, “as long as I don’t have to clean it up.”
Two years prior when I lived in a basement apartment north of the city, I had my first encounter with a mouse. He scared me when I turned on my bedroom light, and he ran out from under my bed.
A few days later I was sitting in the living area on the flower-printed couch, donated by a previous tenant, reading a book. I had set a similar peanut butter trap, at the suggestion of my roommate.
It was 9pm, and he scurried out from behind my bookcase against the wall across from me. He sniffed around my TV stand and ignored the peanut butter. Then disappeared down the hall. I didn’t scream or fret. As much as I don’t like living with other things, I live under the philosophy, “if you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.”
For the next week around the same time each night, the mouse would come out, take the same route and then disappear. I called him George. He was fat and gray but smart. One day I came home to find the peanut butter gone but the trap unmoved. Even though I was the one who placed the trap, I felt proud.
Of course he may have evaded my trap, but a week later, my roommate killed George in hers.
So when Briston discovered a mouse in our apartment, he wanted it dead. I was indifferent. Even though the scurry of its gray shadow scared me, once I got a good look at its innocent face, I couldn’t kill it.
But I didn’t have to. The traps sat near Briston’s desk and the kitchen pantry, untouched in seven months. So much so I forgot they were even there.
I was working from home late one night. Briston was at work. I had just heated some leftovers for dinner when I saw a shadow cross the hardwood floor of the living room. I figured I’d imagined it.
I went back to stirring my rice and veggies, then dropped off some mail at Briston’s desk. And there it was. Kind of slow for a mouse. He was petite, maybe a baby? He hid in the maze of chords near Briston’s new 60-foot flat-screen TV.
I texted Briston, letting him know of the “mouse” problem. I certainly wasn’t taking care of it. When I came back to the living room a few minutes later, the mouse poked his head out from underneath the black leather couch. I got close enough to take a picture. I knew he had to be a baby then. No adult house mouse would let me get that close.
I followed him across the room. He didn’t seem to mind at first, then scurried underneath the electric heater.
“I still see you,” I said and smiled at the tiny butt sticking out. I named him Petey.
While I was eating dinner at the kitchen table, I saw him peek out from underneath the stove. I waved and he inched closer towards me, but then thought better and disappeared again. I thought about feeding him, but then realized I didn’t want him to get dependent or stick around forever.
By this point, I had sent Briston a picture of my newfound friend. You really need a pet, he texted back with a smiley face.
I was in the midst of washing my dishes when I heard a BAM. Then silence.
“What the hell?” I said aloud, and then “oh no, oh no.” I shook my head, fighting the tears as I walked into the living room. I pulled the boxes out from underneath Briston’s desk, worried about finding a severed head yet hoping he was smart like George.
But when I pulled the last box away, I cringed at the sight of blood. And there Petey was, his small body flopped on its side, his beady eyes wide open.
The trap hadn’t severed his head, but had crushed his skull. It looked like death was instantaneous, so thankfully he didn’t suffer. I couldn’t leave him for Briston, I decided. I couldn’t leave him like that.
I got some cleaning supplies to wipe away the smeared blood. When I grabbed the trap, his body came with it. It hurt me just seeing him snapped in place like that.
I don’t know why it made me emotional, how I had become attached to a tiny mouse in a few short hours? This mouse had found its way into my home; it didn’t know any better; its life was just beginning. And now, what once seemed like a world of possibility, was instantly gone.
I know I’m looking too much into it, but what I didn’t know then was that in a few months, I would feel the same way. I would feel trapped, not just in my own diabetic body, but in a life I no longer recognized, in a world that was going nowhere. I would be trapped, my foundation rocked, my world resetting itself on its axis. I didn’t know that in a few short months, at 27, I would be starting over. Again.
All I knew then was that Petey should be free, even in death. It was my fault he died, and I felt it was my responsibility to fix it, at least right the world again. So I pulled the garbage can near the scene of the crime, pried the metal bar open and released his body, letting it fall into a pile of tissues and gum wrappers.