The Mousetrap (v2[?] of ‘Friday Morning, 8 AM’)

This is a story I’m substantively editing for my portfolio for 426. If anyone has any feedback, that would be awesome. The original draft can be found here: https://jekawrites.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/wip-friday-morning-8-am-v0-5/. Thanks! 

The Mousetrap

Our garbage bag cheeped this morning around eight. I was surprised at how long it kept on for – but maybe that was my imagination. I guess mouse lungs are small, so even what little air there was in the bag would last it some time. I was training the new girl, Clara, so I wanted her to know that here, we were professionals, not just a bunch of lazy minimum-wagers.

It happened like this: we usually check the restaurant traps every morning – those multi-purpose sticky papers that were supposed to catch all our little nuisances, and this morning was no different. Most of us were convinced that our nuisances were on vacation from the burger franchise across the food court hall from us. This morning, however, the trap wasn’t where we left it.

“I know you didn’t push the trap this far back when we placed it,” said Matthew, and reached for it under the fridge. He jumped back when the paper began cheeping. Placing the sticky paper and changing it periodically was just something we did – we never thought of the end result, like the fact that we might catch something. At least, I never did. The pests weren’t really a part of our day to day lives, except to hear about them.

I had been working at the restaurant for around four years, since I was eighteen, and maybe two years before this happened, a mouse had ended up out in the open in the food court in mid-afternoon, right in front of the pizza place. So there were a lot of clients. One of the maintenance people – the concierges? – the janitor? – actually had to chase it onto sticky paper and then throw it out into the garbage. It had looked pretty funny – him leaning over and holding the paper close to the ground while chasing a mouse. None of the clients even seemed to care. I talked to him about it afterwards and he said he felt bad about it, but that there wasn’t much you could do once they were on those traps.

The sound that this one live mouse made reminded me of a persistantly rhythmic watch alarm. It wouldn’t shut up. I decided to take charge without really thinking about it.

“Do you want me to handle it? I’ll handle it – I’m used to it – I’m the one that does this sort of stuff at home,” I said, all in a rush. My words gave the wrong impression and I knew it – we didn’t regularly catch and kill mice at my house. Clara stayed well back, and I gave my best “all-in-a-day’s work” smile. She smiled back.

What I really meant was that I had always owned rodents as pets, so I wasn’t scared of them, and that, on the two or three occasions that we had had bats in our house, I  had stepped in to help. We caught the bats live, my parents holding a comforter against the doorway of whatever room I was holed up in with the bat, and me wearing thick workgloves to guard against its needle teeth. I would catch them and then release the silly things outside again. The first time, we chased it into our fire place, which was bricked up and didn’t work, and covered the fireplace with a plastic sheet. I grabbed it through the sheet and it tried to sink its fangs through my gloves – we took that one out through the front door and it took off. Another time, I had been trapped in our living room with one and whacked it with a broom. It had been stunned, and I put it in a laundry basket outside. It didn’t fly away the next day, and I worried. I tipped the basket over eventually, and then it took off – maybe it couldn’t echolocate in the bin or I woke it up.

I had never killed anything bigger or with higher brain function than an insect. I even carried spiders outside in tissues rather than squash them. I would gladly kill a house centipede though – those things were horrors. As a child, I remembered looking up at one, being terrified by its too-many legs and its spikey body. I shut my eyes and when I looked again, it was gone as if it never was. I thought I had imagined the nightmare creature until I got older. It had been unsettling – both its sudden disappearance and discovering that there was actually a whole species of them.

Actually, it wasn’t true that I had only killed insects: I held myself responsible for feeding my two pet mice orange with the peel still on when I was eight or so. The pesticides paralyzed them, and my parents made me flush them down the toilet. So I had a soft spot for mice. I wished that I hadn’t volunteered to deal with it. I wanted to take it outside so that it could at least die in the sun and air.

That cheep-cheep sound killed me. I wondered how long after closing the poor thing had gotten itself stuck. We might have woken it from exhaustion after it had spent half the night fighting to get free. I had heard that mice on sticky paper died of starvation or something like that if they weren’t found. I thought that they must die of fright.

I tried to tell myself not to feel bad – mice were unsanitary, and we couldn’t have them pooping in the food and chewing everything up. It was them or us, in a way. We couldn’t co-exist – restaurants and rodents. And, at that point, there was no choice. There were no solvents strong enough for the glue that wouldn’t also kill the mouse, and if you tried (I had heard this from the parents of a friend) to pull the mice off, it would rip off their paws and skin, open up their little bellies.

I reached beneath the fridge and moved the sticky paper. The rhythm of the cheeping stayed exactly the same, never varying. The paper was stiff, and heavy with the weight of its small body (or maybe it had a deceptively small-sounding cheep). It took some doing to avoid catching the paper on the refrigerator’s metal undertrays and moisture catchers. Even then, absurdly, I didn’t want to be cruel and hit the mouse against anything. I lifted the yellow pad of glue clear of the undercarriage. The struggling mouse was no bigger than my thumb and it was still cheeping constantly. It was nestled up against a bigger brown mouse. The brown one was dead.

“Hey, Elizabeth,” said Clara. “Can’t we let it go?”

I looked at her – I wished that we could, but I shook my head. “We’d rip its paws right off.”

“Oh,” said Clara. “Doesn’t olive oil dissolve the glue? The sticky paper is supposed to be like a cruelty-free alternative, isn’t it?”

“Not these traps,” I said. “They’re different – they’re industrial-grade traps and companies can’t just let mice walk right back in after they catch them. We’re part of an industry.”

I threw the whole paper into the empty garbage bag.

“Well. That’s that,” I said, a model of efficiency – I wanted to make sure that Clara was well-trained – it reflected on me, after all. Matthew nodded. She looked away. I paused. I could still hear the mouse cheeping from the garbage bag. “Well. We’re not listening to that all day.” With Matthew and Clara watching, I tied off the garbage bag and carried it out of our kiosk. It was heavy for a freshly started bag, but I tried to pay it no mind.

The mouse kept it up all the way to our garbage drop-off point – a single ragged note at regular intervals. I wondered how long it would take the mouse to suffocate. I wondered how dark it could get inside an industrial strength garbage bag. The mouse’s lungs couldn’t be any bigger than a dime – but if it breathed it all up fast enough in a panic, it might be suffocating even now – but I didn’t think so. Probably this would be pretty drawn out. Probably it would suffer for hours.

When I got back, our pest control guy – and as far as I know every restaurant or complex of restaurants has a guy like this – had shown up for his regular Friday visit. He shined his light in all the corners and looked for bugs and whatnot. He said that they were going to spray outside the kiosk because next door was having cockroach problems. Matthew told him about the mouse – he hadn’t seen the second one.

“Where did you put the paper?”

“In the garbage,” Matthew said. “Elizabeth took care of it.”

They started to joke about it.

“What? The Chinese place will give you twelve bucks a head.”

Matthew mimed squishing both halves of the sticky paper together. “That’s the way that you kill a mouse!”

When the pest control guy was leaving, I was bringing boxes of frozen food into the back store, and I stopped him.

“Hey, you know those sticky paper traps?”

“Yeah?”

“Somebody told me that you can dissolve the glue with olive oil if you want to let the mouse go. Is that true?”

“Well, sure, olive oil’ll work. But you know what works even better? Just plain hot water.”

We had to get on with our day, so we started working on the food preparation before too long. I sent Clara to the back store to get some ingredients. Matthew and I were alone.

“I wasn’t scared or anything – of the mouse – ” said Matthew. “I was just surprised by its squeaking.”

“I could have let it loose, eh? With just hot water. Clara was right. Olive oil works too.”

“It’s one less mouse to run around the food court, Beth – we can’t let our feelings get in the way of sanitation.”

I nodded.

The white mouse had been nestled up to the larger, already dead brown mouse. I wondered if the little white creature had heard the brown one and come running to help it, getting stuck itself. I wondered if the brown one had even been stuck first, or if it had come to the sound of that pathetic cheeping and its heart had just given way first. Was the brown mouse the white one’s mother? I had this weird thought, even though I knew that mice were born hairless, that maybe the clean white mouse had been born right there onto the paper.

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