Suburban Soliloquy #90






For a few nights last week, at around three o'clock in the morning, I had been rousted from my sleep, or at least my trying to sleep, by a mouse, if not maybe two or several mice, scampering overhead in the attic. The sudden patter of their little feet dashing always the same route above the ceiling over my bed annoyed me. Even if it was just one mouse that was making the ruckus, it was probably on a dare from several more goading mice hiding safely in the shadowed corners.

I intended for the incorrigible racer and his cheering squad to meet with a surprise. No, I would not have locked Jazzbender, our cat, into the attic, although Ms Keogh, my more significant other, did suggest it. Instead, I had laid out some live traps along the daredevil's route, one to catch their champion and three more to collect the cheering squad when they crept out of the shadows to investigate. This was not a case of man against nature. Rather, I was working as nature's agent to redirect some freeloaders back into the food chain. They would be caught alive and expelled from civilized life to which they were making no contribution, exiled to wandering the wilderness.

We've had mice before. It was never a serious problem. We used these very clever live traps made in France. They are plastic boxes that tilt back and forth on a ridge across their bottom. You put bait in the rear of the box. The mouse goes in for the bait. The weight of the mouse shifts the box to the far end and gravity drops the door behind the mouse.

We haven't used them much because Jazzbender has proved himself an excellent mouser. The trouble is Jazzbender can be gruesome in his methods. He has woken me from sleep by chasing his half-meal-half-toy into the bedroom. I have also had the distasteful chore of cleaning the bathroom after Jazzbender had used it for a chamber of horrors. It was a horrific crime scene, puddles of blood on the floor and splattered part way up the walls. I didn't realize a mouse's body could hold so much blood. Then I found the mouse, still alive! I left him to expire in the woods.

This was no ordinary mouse I was dealing with. When I went the next day to recover the four traps, they were all sprung, not one held a mouse, yet all were missing their bait. It was then we understood that we were dealing with a mouse of exceptional intelligence. We named the villain Archimedes.

My first attempts were baited with some of Jazzbender's cereal. I speculated that Archimedes had developed some technique of rolling the food out of the trap without climbing all the way in. This allowed part of his body or tail to stick out and keep the trap door from closing all the way.

I switched the bait to slices of cheese that would stay stuck to the rear of the trap. Again Archimedes succeeded in eating all the cheese. Maybe he was a very large mouse, or could he be a rat or squirrel? After consistent failures and running low on cheese, I went out and bought a larger trap. This was a steel cage with trap doors at either end.

Ms Keogh followed me as I carried the new trap to the attic. She inspected the area and declared Archimedes as definitely a mouse. She pointed to the droppings, so teensy-weensy that I would have never noticed them. Still, I decided to use the new and bigger trap.

Following the first night using the new trap, I discovered the cheese missing, the doors at each end closed, but the mouse missing, too. It was my mistake. I had not engaged the release mechanism correctly and the doors did not close completely. Archimedes left a few hairs where he squeezed under one of the doors. The next time I set the trap with more care. It was hard to do. To my astonishment, Archimedes was consistently defeating the trap, getting away with the cheese, yet not springing the doors to snap close.

I had no idea how he was doing it, removing the cheese without setting off the hair-triggered mechanism. The mechanism consisted of a thin metal plate which would launch the trap regardless as to which way it was tilted. It was so delicate that I had difficulty setting it, usually having the trap close on my forearm several times before I finally got it right. I was almost out of cheese.

I had devised a further complication by which I hoped to improve the trap's effectiveness. I guessed that the cheese was drying a bit before Archimedes arrived and in so doing it lost some of its stickiness, maybe even becoming a bit stiff. With great care, Archimedes had maybe been able to remove the cheese from the precariously balanced plate without the plate swiveling. This time I had placed a small bottle on top of the cheese. It happened to be a bottle of Ms Keogh's nail polish remover, but I selected it only for its weight and shape. With extreme difficulty and many attempts, I finally left the trap with the small bottle atop cheese. Archimedes could not move that cheese without knocking over the bottle, which most assuredly would set off the trap.

It worked like a charm. Last night I heard the crash of the trap's two doors slamming shut even as I heard the bottle tumbling. I rushed to the attic with a flashlight only to discover Archimedes had escaped again. I could see where Archimedes had been eating the cheese. Most of it still remained. But the trap was simply too big. The doors, even though they had closed entirely, yet Archimedes was able to squeeze out from under one of the closed doors. He left more hair this time.

I returned to the attic with three of the original, tinier, plastic traps. I took what was left of the cheese and divided it between the three traps. It was a lot of cheese. I was hoping to appeal to Archimedes' greed and make him careless. I was also hoping to make him fatter and slower, more likely to just get stuck.

This morning, I went up to the attic and found two traps still opened, but emptied of cheese. The third trap was closed. I took up the sealed trap and rushed down to the forested creek, away from any residences. I opened it and shook out the contents. This time the trap was not empty. Archimedes fell out. Success!

Unlike any mouse I released before, he did not land sprawled out, looking weak or scared. He landed on all four feet, in a low stance and ready to run. We locked eyes and I spoke. "Hail, Archimedes, well-met and respected opposition. So, I've caught you at last." I would have carried on my one-way conversation longer, but I had turned my head for a half second and when I turned back, he was gone. I briefly spotted the rear of him as he zipped into thick grass a couple of yards away.

Bruce Bentzman

This essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"