I thought I had heard something for a while, but was too tired to care. The rain outside obscured my ability to distinguish faint sounds but the longer it went on the more my imagination started to take over. I lay in my bed, my conscience straddling the border between wakefulness and dreaming. Until my wife lifted her head off her pillow. Now I had to acknowledge the muffled scratching.
“Do you hear that?” she asked.
“I was hoping not, but I do.”
We got out of bed and turned on the light. “I think it’s in my backpack,” I said. “I’m guessing one of the formula tins broke open on the plane.”
We hadn’t yet fully unpacked from our move from Scotland. We had maxed out our baggage allowance which would have embarrassed me had we not filled a hockey bag full of cloth diapers and a stroller and my backpack with the boy’s prescription hypoallergenic formula that the National Health Service provided us. Its retail price is $30 a tin and he goes through two a week. I had noticed a damaged tin when I retrieved some formula earlier in the week but didn’t think much of it. It seemed as though a mouse was finding it as tasty as my son, when in reality it is a vile concoction that almost makes me gag.
We deliberated over the best procedure to get rid of the mouse. I still felt half asleep and imagined the rodent flying out to bite me. Alternatively, I imagined me stomping on its head out of instinct and couldn’t decide which would be worse.
My wife suggested closing up the backpack and carrying it outside and I silently gave myself a pep talk that included phrases like “be a man” and “do your duty as a husband and father.” I put my sweatpants and slippers on, threw over and clasped the cover on the top of the backpack and hurried downstairs to the courtyard, my wife just behind me.
I opened the cover and turned the backpack upside down. One tin fell out, followed by a mouse. It scurried three feet to just under the tree and turned toward us. It bore an expression that conveyed, “You should have finished me off. You have not seen the last of me,” and darted into the darkness.
He was right. Two weeks later, amid evidence he had returned, my daughter interrupted my reading of Dr. Seuss, saying, “A mouse, Daddy.” I could tell she saw it run into the kitchen. When my wife came home an hour later we asked my daughter where she saw the mouse.
She pointed to the armoire. “It came out there, and ran into the kitchen…” exactly as I pictured it… “and ran there, and up to the window, and flew away into the sky.” She lives in a world of magic realism which makes her only barely reliable as a source of information. Having not seen the mouse myself, I questioned whether it had come back or not.
But I have seen it sense, with my own eyes though it seemed only to exist in my periphery and behind walls. However, one night, my wife and I woke up to a familiar scratching sound. This time it was in my wife’s small backpack but had no reason to be inside it. It jumped out before we could close up the pack and scampered under the couch. When we moved the couch we noticed a hole in the ground comically similar in size and shape to one Tom and Jerry might do battle near. We covered it up with a textbook and haven’t heard him upstairs since.
Because of our boy’s tendency to drop as much food on the ground as in his mouth, the kitchen appears an inevitable draw for the mouse. Our house is very old and was recently rescued from disrepair so cracks and holes are inevitable. The landlords for our previous house in this city were very sympathetic to our mouse problem but said that you almost have to resign yourself to mice in the winter and fruitflies during the rest of the year if you want to live in an old home in Vancouver.