Saturday, April 2, 2011

In the Walls, Pt. II

My feelings toward him all changed at 6.08 a.m. on a Sunday morning, however. I am typically a light sleeper and was jarred awake at this ungodly hour by one of Margo’s deep snores. She then rolled to her side and the snoring subsided, but I was left wide awake in the creeping morning hour. But that’s when I heard it—or maybe when I heard them—scratching against the walls. I thought I heard the scampering of tiny claw-like feet across our hardwood floor, and immediately sat upright in bed and turned on my bedside lamp. The glow from the light spread across the room but I saw nothing. I used the lamp like a flashlight and shined it in the corners of the room, thinking I would see the vermin scampering about. Nothing. I returned the lamp to the nightstand and lay down in bed, hands across my stomach.
I closed my eyes and eventually returned to sleep. It was only a short while later—probably an hour, but in my sleep it felt like only five minutes—when I heard the scratching again. My eyes shot open but my body stayed still as a corpse. I quickly decided that my sudden movements earlier probably scared the creature away. I heard the scratching, the scampering, in the corner of my bedroom to my left. I slowly reached over to the lamp and brought it to my side, ready to ignite the light with the turn of the switch while simultaneously shining it in the designated corner. I heard the sounds again and my corpse-like body came to life, jutting into the air and shining the light into the corner.
I sighed and glanced about the room. I put the lamp back but left the light on. I heard the scratching again, this time coming from behind our oak headboard. I stiffened at the tiny sound—it echoed inside the still room, and visions of the mouse army running through our walls pervaded my mind. I could not shake the image, and suddenly the intimate bond between man and mouse had vanished into a raging war of man versus mice, and I realized that I was losing desperately. The scuttling continued and my hair stood on end. They moved from behind the headboard to across the room, and then I could have sworn that they were dancing in our closet, scampering about through holes in the corners that have gone unnoticed for so many years.
Then I heard it, the crinkle of paper, the scratching that must have been against the hardwood floor. All from under the bed. I clutched the soft fabric of the comforter and braced for the encounter. If I could just see the little bastard, see him eye to eye, maybe I could frighten him enough to make him take his army and leave. In one swift movement, I raised the sheet from the bed and peered underneath the frame, my body still on top of the mattress. My eyes scanned the battlefield, but the sergeant mouse had vacated the area and only dust bunnies drifted about the emptiness. Not quite the creature I had envisioned.
Margo rolled over then, disturbed by all my movement. Her eyes fluttered open momentarily, saw me, then closed again like a vault. She snored. I couldn’t bring myself to wake her to share my newfound terror at the tiny little creature. I did not think I shared my wife’s fear of mice. My own fear was somewhat different. This creature that I had once forged a companionship toward was now my enemy, and despite my attempts to face him he had avoided a confrontation. And not only was he my enemy, but my dear wife had been right—we had mice.
The scuttling and scratching and scampering kept me awake the better part of the morning. Traditionally, Margo and I slept in late on Sundays and awoke around noon to take an afternoon walk. Unable to sleep and armed with this new knowledge of the invasion, I tore away the blankets and dressed myself for a quick trip to the store. I left Margo a note telling her I had gone to fetch a special breakfast, and left the apartment to act on Margo’s suggestion.
I returned an hour later, both with croissants from our favorite bakery and with the poison, armed and ready for battle against the mouse. I opened the door and was greeted with Margo’s cry: “Geeeeooooorrrgie!”
“Margo, darling, what is it?” I dropped the bag of croissants in the foyer next to the coat rack and followed her wails into the living room. She stood on the couch again and pointed to the wall where he had set the trap nearly a week ago. I had to squint to see it, but there he was. His little tail stretched out onto the floor, and he had been clearly snapped between the metal fangs of the trap. The trap itself was on its side, but no doubt that had resulted from the impact of the spring and not from any apparent struggle of the mouse.
Margo wailed and pointed, tears beginning to fill her eyes. “I heard it go off while I was sleeping! I came to look and there it was!” She danced slightly on the couch and it creaked and moaned under her weight. “Get it out, Georgie! Get it out now!”
I stared at the trap, upturned on its side, and at the little tail that stretched out beside him. Margo’s wails and cries faded into the background and I found myself to be immobile. After everything this morning, after all my efforts to catch a glimpse at the small creature, here he was. Defeated. Dead. Gone.
I walked to the trap and picked it up by its edges, examining the vermin. His tiny little claws were curled up together, and a dust bunny clung to his fur. His beady black eyes were wide open, staring out into the nothingness that must have been death. I was unexplainably sad then, remorseful of my earlier thoughts of battle and war. It all seemed so futile, and I tucked the poison into the pocket of my coat.
Still holding the edges of the trap, I left the apartment building and took the thing to the back alley, not quite sure of what to do with him. I saw the dumpster and thought it cruel to simply toss him in with the rest of the garbage. I glanced about the alley and found, next to the dumpster, a pile of old cardboard boxes. In the pile was one smaller box, one that must have once held a hat or a pair of shoes, and I opened it and placed the trap and mouse inside. I placed the box down gently next the dumpster, stepped back, and bowed my head. I had been to plenty of funerals in my lifetime but this one seemed to me especially intimate. Like saying goodbye to an old friend I had fallen out of touch with. Sure, we had shared some good memories, but in the end I had planned on ending his life anyway. The weight of poison lay even heavier in my pocket then, and a certain guilt washed over me.
“I’m sorry,” I said aloud to my now deceased friend. I waited a few moments, out of respect, and then returned to my apartment where I found Margo in the kitchen plating the croissants I had brought home.
“Be sure to wash your hands before we eat, George,” she said, returned to fine form now that the mouse had been dealt with.
“Of course darling,” I said, and walked to the bathroom. I washed my hands and splashed cool water over my face. I dried myself with a towel and leaned over the sink, looking at myself in the mirror. My eyes seemed especially sad, almost reflective of the emptiness in the eyes of the mouse. I had to admit that his fine fur spurred some jealousy in me, as I ran a hand through my own thinning hair and rubbed the bald spot on top of my head. No, I was no greater than that poor little creature, my thin arms and legs and my balding head. I only had the advantage of being human, and him the disadvantage of being mouse.
I returned to the bedroom to change into my Sunday lounging clothes. And that’s when I heard it. The scratching. The scuttling. The scampering. I stiffened at the noise and turned sharply to try and catch the creatures along the walls. But no, there was nothing there, because they were in the walls. I walked to my coat and pulled the pack of rat poison from the pocket. I looked it over and made my decision. I opened the little hole at the top of the box, looked at the little green pellets inside, and placed the contraption inside our closet, where the mice would surely find it as they ventured out of forgotten holes in the corners of the closet.


It was sometime after 2 o’clock in the morning when John realized he was far too drunk and pulled over. The rumble bars vibrated the loose panels of his ’97 Volvo and made Ezra, his dashboard hula girl, rattle back and forth violently. He brought the car to a not so gradual stop, jerked the shift into park, turned off the engine, and threw the keys in the backseat. A buddy once told him if the keys were in reaching distance—or worse, in the ignition—they could still write you up for a DUI. His drunken thoughts coalesced in his brain and he tried to lay his head on the steering wheel. He hit it with a decided thud and honked the horn. He jerked his head upright, trying to determine where the sound had come form.
            Ezra stared at him, wobbling back and forth, mocking his own rocking state—accusing, judging.
            “What the fuck are you looking at?” he said and knocked her over in one swoop with the back of his hand. She lay sideways on the dash and stared up at him. He picked her up and brought her closer to his face. He could barely read the familiar markings on the base—“Love ya! Jan”—with the tiny little heart following her name.
            “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry.” He put Ezra back on the dash and smoothed out her shiny, plastic hair.
            A bright light blinded him then and a quick rap on the window made John sit up straight. He heard a voice speaking but it sounded like it was far away and underwater. Through his squinting eyes he saw a figure outside his window and rolled it down a few inches.
            “My keys are in the backseat!” he yelled at the glowing figure.
            “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the voice screamed, opening John’s door. Unfortunately, he had been leaning against it, and he fell toward the ground, only catching himself with his arm. Half in his seat and half hanging out the door, John spewed vomit on the cool pavement, the alcoholic liquid  splashing across the pair of Nike sneakers standing in front of him. They looked new, shiny white but now with specks of orange splattered across them like some Jackson Pollock painting.
            “God dammit John! I just got these today!” John peered up at the voice, a woman, still bracing himself outside the car with his arm. She had dark brown hair and olive skin, and now that his eyes had adjusted to the bright flashlight she was holding, he saw that she was remarkably beautiful.
            “Ezra?” he asked.
            “Who the hell is Ezra?” the voice asked and reached down to push John back into his car.
            John caught a glimpse of the real Ezra on his dash, her violent shaking now reduced to a gentle sway.
            “No,” she said, shaking her head. “You think that bitch would follow your drunk ass out here in the middle of the night?”
            “Gloria!” The sudden realization elated John. “My sweet little sister!” John wiped a dribble of vomit from the corner of his mouth and wrapped his arms around her neck. She fell forward under his weight, rebalanced, and started pulling him out of the car. “Wait,” John continued, slurring his words, “what are you doing out now? Does mom know you’re here? You can’t drive, you’re not old enough…”
            “I’m 19 John. I moved out of mom’s last year. Gawd you are so drunk right now.” She hoisted him to a standing position and together, like Siamese twins, they made their way back to her car.
            “But me and Jan. And Ezra. I should bring Ezra.” He tried to go back to his car.
            “Whoa, cowboy, let’s keep moving forward here.”
            “But Ezra!” John whimpered.
            “Please just get in the car.” John obeyed, finally grasping the situation despite his inebriated state. His baby sister was saving his drunk ass, again. He sat in the passenger seat and waited for her to join him in the car. Instead, she walked back to his Volvo and opened the door to the backseat. She emerged with his keys, locked the car, and walked back to her own vehicle. She plopped down in the driver’s seat and revved the engine twice before it started. Gloria placed both hands on the steering wheel and sighed.           
            “I’m sorry Sis,” John said, leaning against the car window. It fogged over when he exhaled, and Gloria saw a dribble of orange liquid come out the corner of his mouth. He closed his eyes, letting the rumble of the car and the effects of the whiskey be his lullaby.
            No answer.
            “John?” she said louder.
            No answer.
            Gloria shook her head and put the car in drive.
“Who the hell is Ezra?” she asked, knowing only the black pavement and the night’s sky held the answer.