On Wednesday, around 3am, I hear someone stomping in my bedroom, wearing enormous boots. All I have to defend myself with is a hardback copy of Cloudstreet from the library, which I hurl at the person.
By the time I turn on the light, I realise it is much worse than a person: it is a mouse. I have a phobia - Latin word meaning deep fear or dread. It’s always been there (had there been a rat in my cot?) but it worsened 10 years ago in a camp.
We were sleeping in swags on camp beds on the ground. Hundreds of mice would come to the camp at night, trying to get into the food, and anywhere warm. It was like free immersion therapy: I would be woken by mice running through my hair, mice in the swag, mice crawling up my legs. Something in my psyche shattered on that trip and was never rebuilt.
I’ve not been the same since. Sleepless and distressed after this latest mouse encounter. I meet two friends, Jenny and Cassie, for lunch. “I have a mouse! In the house!”
They roll their eyes. One mouse is hardly worth mentioning in the country. “I have tonnes of them,” said Jenny. “They’re so loud! It’s like they’re wearing hobnailed boots.”
“I keep getting woken by the traps going off in the night. I have to get up and dispose of them in the yard. If they’re not dead, I have to kill them.” This killing is fascinatingly gruesome. “I used to hit them over the head but now I use a trowel because their eyes go ...”
Jenny did this motion with her hands and face which we understand immediately to be a mouse flattened by a brick. I don’t know what a trowel is.
Mouse at brunch
On Sunday, I go to my friend Brad’s house for brunch and tell him about my mouse. He tells me that in his old house, the mice and rats used to come up from the river. “There was this sound one night,” said Brad, who is still traumatised. He pointed at the fruit bowl. “It was a rat rolling an orange on the floor.” When he went to investigate, he found the orange with “bits gnawed out of it with rat teeth marks”. Another time he saw a rat in the bedroom. “I’ll never forget the sound - it was somewhere between a groan and a scream.”
Brad now lives in a brand new house. “Do you live in a new house because you’re less likely to get rats and mice?”
“That was part of the reason,” admits Brad. He tells me some people live with mice (maybe rats, who knows) because they don’t believe in killing them.
There’s no such thing as a clean kill, he reckons. If you poison them - you may not see their bodies but cats or birds could eat the rodent that has gone away to die, and then they may become poisoned too. There are some truths that are inconvenient.
The thought of killing, particularly poisoning, an animal seems incredibly cruel. But rodents are “othered” in a way that say, birds or possums are not.
At 7.20am on Monday morning, a pest control man comes to the house. He walks around with a bucket of poison and latex gloves and puts bait traps near the bed, bin and fridge, as well as in the roof.
Although he is probably not much older than 19 or 20, the presence of mice (or a mouse) in the house, has an infantalising effect on me. I ask him, in what I fear may be a little girl’s voice, to tell me a story about what happens to the mice. He replies almost lyrically,
“When the mouse takes the poison, it goes home to die, back to its own environment, usually down by the river.”
“Down by the river ... that’s nice. And does it tell its friends and family before it dies, not to go to the house on the hill, because bad things happen there?”
“Yes, the mouse tells all its family and friends to stay away from the house.”
“OK, great!” If the mice don’t go, maybe I can move to a newly built highrise apartment, somewhere, anywhere. They won’t be able to get me there.
Brigid Delaney is a columnist and writer.