MARTHA SEZ: ‘It is the suddenness of mice that perturbs her’

My friend Mabel told me that when she went to eat lunch one day at work, a mouse popped its head up out of her handbag, then ducked back down. Her handbag was sitting open on a shelf, she said. The mouse must have been scouting around the lunchroom and decided to investigate her bag.

Did Mabel panic at the sight of a mouse?

Well, kind of, but she is good in an emergency. She quickly zipped the bag shut, trapping the mouse inside, and carried it out of doors. When she unzipped the bag the mouse leaped out and ran away. Mabel described it as a brown field mouse with a long tail.

Mabel would not be afraid of a mouse in every circumstance. She thinks mice are cute, and even owns several mouse figurines. It is the suddenness of mice that perturbs her.

Some people who work with Mabel think that the mouse just turned around and came right back in again. Others feel that being trapped by a human, however briefly, inside a purse must have traumatized the mouse enough that it learned its lesson and will henceforth stick to its wild haunts in the vacant lot near the workplace.

In any event, no one denies that there is still a mouse present in Mabel’s place of work. There are just too many signs pointing to a continued mouse presence. There are the obvious droppings, and the delicate tooth marks where a mouse–either Mabel’s original mouse or some later arrival–has gnawed on various objects and food items.

I refer to the mouse in the singular, as no one at Mabel’s work seems to believe that there is more than one. Up to now, I have considered it common knowledge that if you have one mouse you have multiple mice, but this is not how they see it.

“The Mouse!” someone will announce as she enters the lunchroom and encounters a fresh piece of evidence. Not only is the Mouse singular, it should in my opinion be capitalized, because of the way they talk about it. In fact, I am surprised they haven’t given the Mouse a name.

Mabel and her coworkers are all women, and perhaps this is the reason they are relatively tenderhearted toward the Mouse, although in my experience this is not always the case. No one wants to dispose of, or even encounter, a dead mouse in a trap, and sometimes a caught mouse will not be dead, but just injured. Then what would you do?

No one wants to use poison–too cruel, and even though the handyman says a poisoned mouse will go outside seeking water, who’s to say it won’t crawl up inside the walls and die, creating a horrible stench?

“Or maybe,” Angela told Mabel, “it will crawl back inside your handbag and die there.”

“It is not the same mouse,” Mabel said. I think she feels that the others blame her for letting the Mouse go, but what else could she have done?

This brings up the drawback of a catch-and-release trap, because how far away would you have to take a mouse to make sure it wouldn’t just come right back in? And who wants to drive a mouse around in her car?

Then of course the Mouse might have babies somewhere, and if you took the Mouse so far away she couldn’t get back to them, which would be awful.

On the other hand, the handyman pointed out, baby mice grow up and breed and their babies grow up and breed and so on, lots of generations in a short time.

“Oh, let’s see, 5 to 10 litters of 10 or so a year, that adds up to, well, it’s exponential.”

The handyman is all in favor of poison.

“We have the Mouse. We do not have a mouse problem,” Angela informed the handyman.

Rachel has started talking mouse talk, replacing the word speak with squeak.

“Relatively squeaking,” she will say. “In a manner of squeaking. Unsqueakable evil. Well, squeak of the devil!”

I think the reason they haven’t given the Mouse a name is that, despite their reluctance to see the Mouse murdered, the women realize that may be its fate. And wouldn’t it be worse if you thought of the Mouse as Judy, or Frank?

When spring comes, Rachel says, the Mouse will probably run back outside to the vacant lot and be happy.

Squeaking of which, have a good week.

(Martha Allen lives in Keene Valley. She has been writing for the News for more than 20 years.)