A letter to the mouse that died in my kitchen last night

Dear Mouse,
You’ve probably been living in the basement your whole life, and today wasn’t even too cold. The cat, Schwartz, was feeling lively and caught you. I didn’t even know about you until I heard your peeps and squeaks by the back door.  Were you injured at that point, or just protesting?
Anyway, my first error was calling the dogs. It was an impulse. They found you with Schwartz and started the mad chase into the bathroom and around the toilet. That was me, the one screaming. Why I screamed I can’t say. I had pet rodents as a kid: mice, a hamster, a gerbil, a rat. I picked them up and carried them around. They were my pets. Sometimes they got loose and I had to catch them and put them back. I didn’t scream then. I must have been a better person then, somehow. Well, it wasn’t a little screaming. Sorry about the screaming.
Captain was the next one to pick you up and carry you around. He was the one who got you wet, I think. But when I shouted at him he dropped you and then Cherry snatched you up. She isn’t the quickest dog in the house, owing to her age, but tonight she was the deadliest.
You died quickly, mouse, and Cherry guarded you for a long time. She was very proud of what she’d done, and wouldn’t let anyone look at you or smell you or take you. She didn’t seem interested in eating you, which I would have let her do as the one who did the deed. Somehow, to my mind that seemed fair. Cherry appeared a little confused by the situation. Instinct ruled when she caught you and when she dispatched you, but after that she wasn’t sure. She growled at Schwartz, even, and she never growls at Schwartz.
There was no question of burying you since it’s nothing but ice outside right now. Maybe we could have left you out for the coyotes or the foxes, but where should one leave such an offering? Alas, you went into the trash.
You left a family behind, I’m sure. Schwartz is down there waiting for the next one of you. This is how it is with cats and mice. He keeps his cool, crouching quietly behind the boxes. He knows your habits, and makes a plan. Y’all don’t live very long, do you, mice? Between the hardships of weather and finding food, and then the cat or the foxes and hawks outside, life for you must be harsh and brief. I haven’t had it easy lately either, what with all the injustice in the world.  But I have a warm house, and food, and with any luck I shouldn’t have to watch predators capture and eat my children.

Did you leave behind hopes and dreams, unfulfilled? Will your family sigh over your promises unkept? Are they dividing your possessions as I write this, or do they not yet know? Will they be left wondering whatever happened to you? Maybe they heard the screams. I’m still sorry about the screams.

Vizsla, with mouse

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When you have a variety of pets, as I do, you end up going to the pet food store on a regular basis, and even if you are the sort of person who avoids the big-box pet food stores, you might end up going there to buy mice.  Mice intended for the feeding of snakes come in fresh or frozen, and even when you have a regular supplier of them, they don’t always have a regular supply.  Small snake meals require the purchasing of “pinkie” mice, which are frozen new-born baby mice.  Larger snakes eat more pinkies or larger mice, depending on what you can get.  Frozen seems like a nice option until you have to defrost them, and the microwave is no place for a mouse, dead or alive.  So eventually you come the to the point where you buy live mice, small ones, and experience the thrill and joy of my much younger self, coming home with a critter in a tiny cardboard box with holes.  When you ask the sales people for help, they always want to know if the mouse is to become a pet or food.  I’ve never understood why. I did on more than one occasion have the mouse escape in the car while I was driving back from the pet food store.

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So when it came time to feed Basil the first time after it had outgrown the frozen supply of pinky mice, I had a hard time following Apollonia’s instructions.  There would be no killing of mice by me.  Basil would have to do it.  And Basil did it. It was gruesome and amazing to see.  First the snake would notice that something was going on.  Then it would lick the air in that snaky way.  Then it would start to move in a roundabout sense towards but not towards whatever it thought it could smell or taste.  When it attacked, it grabbed the mouse with its mouth (this is called “striking”) and brought the center of its body on to coil around it and give it a good hard killing squeeze.  And then the mouse would be dead and the swallowing would begin.  Sometimes there would be a squeak on the part of the mouse, often the feet and tail were swallowed last, and from time to time it would be a less than noiseless affair.
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Mice are intrepid little things, and when I was in second and third grade I used to write stories about two mice having adventures and solving mysteries. Of course I read “Stuart Little” over and over; I was never sure I liked the ending, though. Does Stuart find Margolo? Does he live happily ever after?

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Now at some point in my youth, I earned some money of my own and spent it at the pet store on some mice. Soon, it was more mice, and then, even more mice, and I got to see mice killing and eating other young mice. At this point I learned how to sex mice, having already learned why one should sex mice. You need two cages or container to sort them into, and you have to keep track of which container is which. Separating the males from the females only works if you get all of the males in one cage and all of the females in the other: no exceptions. One female in with the males means more mice. One male in with the females means a lot more mice– a whole lot more mice.

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Eventually, Basil was given to Apollonia, also known as Polly, another acting student at Cornish; Apollonia’s concern for it being injured by its food led her to believe that she needed to kill the live mice before feeding them. She would whack it on the frame of the door and then weep real tears for having murdered a small, helpless thing. And then seeing it wasn’t quite dead she’d have to whack it again. Basil grew under the care of this soft-hearted owner, but after a few more years she was passed along to us.