Caught by a mouse

Coming home late one night, I drove up the driveway and pushed the garage door opener from inside the car. The curtain rose, and there at the back wall, in front of the boxes, garden tools, and bicycles with flat tires, was a tiny brown mouse.

He stood on his hind legs, apparently dumbstruck by the headlights.

I mumbled to myself, "Oh, no," because if there's one mouse there's a bevy of the little guys chewing through my precious garage junk. (Somehow I assumed "it" was a "he.")

I slowed to a crawl. Defiantly, he faced a growling monster coming at him with huge intense eyes. He didn't back down.

I continued to roll slowly forward, alternately admiring his courage and seeing images of the mousetrap in his future. Finally he broke to his right and disappeared into the city of boxes, tools, and garage junk.

As I went in the house I had an emergency meeting with my conscience. The mousetrap is the only way. Extermination. No, said my conscience. C'mon. One little tiny mouse. He's proof you should have cleaned out the garage months ago. It's your fault, big guy. Disney made millions from an ersatz mouse, and here is the real furry thing, so tiny and bold in a hostile garage.

The next day I bought a standard mousetrap, put a big glob of peanut butter on it, and set the trigger.

Mice, no. Rodent-free garage, yes.

I placed it near a box, tucked next to the prongs of a rake, back from the openness of the garage.

Two days later, I checked.

No peanut butter. No mouse, either.

The mousetrap looked embarrassed. I had to chuckle at such mouse wiliness, but I am an all-powerful human being. Little does this mouse know what he's in for. (Secretly I thought of naming him Stassen after Harold Stassen, a tenacious Republican who ran for president a zillion times.)

I piled on the peanut butter, reset the trap, and went about my daily life.

Two nights later, coming home after a movie, the garage door went up slowly. At the back of the wall I could see the mousetrap on the floor.

No peanut butter. No mouse.

Somewhere Stassen was watching, the taste of peanut butter in his mouth. I could feel his presence.

I turned off the engine, got out of the car, and stood by the junk heap. "Listen," I said to him in hiding, "No more peanut butter. No more mousetrap. You won. Now please leave, or I'll clean the garage."

My embarrassment at talking to a hidden mouse was not acute. Years ago I read a book, "Kinship With All Life," in which the author - among many startling examples of communication with creatures - politely asked the ants in his bathroom to leave. He claims they did.

"OK, leave," I told Stassen. "The next thing you'll want is to bring your buddies in the house to watch 'Rodent Planet' on television."

The following Saturday I cleaned the garage. I did this carefully, in case Stassen had gone soft because of my kindness and was sleeping late.

I emptied boxes. I threw out pieces of wood, greasy towels, bottles, ancient bags of grass seed, and nameless debris. Several times I came across little places or pockets randomly created that could have been mouse houses.

But I'm guessing that Stassen understood my meaning and took off for the neighbor's garage or forged an alliance with the chipmunk I see all the time by a rock wall. Either that or he's out campaigning, promising to fellow mice that I'm a soft touch. With enough of his colleagues they could take over the garage - and with patience, the TV room.

Through the window beyond my desk, each day I observe a rural, semiforested world. Over the past two years, visitors on the other side of the window have included deer (a doe and a fawn), foxes, a woodchuck who comes and stares at me through the window, skunks, squirrels, chipmunks, egrets, and an elephant (not really; just checking on your concentration).

I confess to having tossed food out there once in a while, so why am I uptight about a mouse in the garage?

As I write this, and just in case Stassen is hiding nearby and listening, I have this to say out loud, "I'm not a soft touch. But listen, buddy, I've heard peanut butter is a delicacy in mousedom. And the garage door is open. Have a look."

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