Yesterday morning, I was in my half-with-it-before-caffeine state, making coffee, when I heard something heavy thumping around under the kitchen table. I always assume this is Francis the cat, but, nonetheless, I always glance nervously in the direction from which such noises come, half expecting what? A baby dragon that's been living under my kitchen table and is learning to fly? Anything else (mice, for instance), don't make that much noise, and (although I would love it if we did), we don't have too many bigger things (like badgers or gophers) around here that might, somehow, get into the house, especially without our knowing it.
As the other half of me expected when I turned around, there was the tell-tale streak of marmalade fluff that scurried out into the dining room. Nothing the least bit alarming. When Francis isn't asleep in some spot for 12 hours straight, he tends to spend most of his time chasing after imaginary friends (I've never been quite convinced that cat food manufacturers don't put tabs of LSD into the food).
I went back to making coffee only to hear him come scampering back into the kitchen. I turned back around to greet him, which is when I noticed that, unless toothpaste manufacturers had put tabs of acid in my toothpaste, he was actually batting around something that was not imaginary. It didn't look like one of the usual suspects: hair ties or old shoelaces.
No, it looked like a little mouse. Francis batted lazily at it, as if he now couldn't care less about it, and it didn't move. Quite obviously, it was dead. But then I moved closer to discover that it was still making some half-hearted attempts to move. The other half of the mouse's heart must have decided to move into the cushy softness of my own heart, increasing its size.
I am 45 years old. Why does such a scene still make me feel as though I am watching a poor Beatrix Potter character, Mrs. Wee Winkle, say, suffering at the paws of Fierce Francis? Why can I see her poor children, now left back in their nest to wonder what has happened to good old Mama? She's never gone this long, and they have been waiting forever for her to return with those tasty crumbs she promised. They are hoping she also might have found one of those huge, plump raisins she often brings them as treats.
We do not have a cat because we wanted a mouser. In theory, though, I am very glad we have this pet, because I am convinced he helps keep our home from being overrun by mice this time of year when they are all coming in from the fields. In practice, however, every time I am aware that he has killed one, the child in me who used to conduct elaborate funerals for dead bees and spiders (because my parents must have hidden the dead rodents our cats often presented before I could find them and weep over them) wants to go in search of a little box and shovel.
The adult in me finds this ridiculous. She loudly talks over the child, insisting this is the natural order of things. That mouse knew exactly what sorts of risks it was taking, coming into this house where there is a cat in residence. Would we choose to move into an alligator's nest, just because it was warm and the fish in that area were abundant and easy to find? The child in me wants to know if maybe mice parents warn their children all about these huge beasts with claws and fangs that move and pounce at lightning speed. Did they have an old Uncle Harry who still limps because of his half-eaten leg, but who proudly tells the tale of how he managed to escape one of those awful beasts?
"Of course they do," the adult in me says. "And any mouse who didn't heed those warnings and who decided to go skittering about in some human's house, taunting one of those beasts, deserves whatever he gets."
"But maybe it was trying to be a Big Brave Mouse, like Uncle Harry," the child wails.
"Nonsense," says the adult. "Only a fool would consider that sort of behavior brave, the sort of fool who enjoys playing Russian roulette."
The child glares reproachfully at Francis, who has all but lost interest in his prey, while the adult says, "Good Francis. What a good cat to kill that nasty little mouse, probably carting around Lyme-disease-infested ticks and who would probably have chewed through our phone wires, costing us a fortune in repairs." (Not that she speaks from experience or anything.) While praising him, she goes in search of the dust brush and pan, so she can scoop up the offending creature and take it outside.
The child notices it's still moving a little. They ought to call a vet. It's freezing outside. The poor thing will never survive out there. Maybe they could get an aquarium and nurse it back to life. But the adult, as adults always do, callously takes it outside and puts it on the ground, the child making sure she at least does so gently, while worrying now that some other beast, like an eagle, is going to get it. She has to keep resisting the urge to check on it, to see if it has gotten up and run away after that spectacular "playing dead" performance.
The adult assures her that that mouse was not playing dead. The child consoles herself, then, with the thought that the mouse is now beyond feeling. It is blissfully unconscious and will have no idea if an eagle swoops down and swallows it whole (or whatever eagles do). And besides, who says it was really Mrs. Wee Winkle? Maybe it was a horrible mouse, an evil mouse, one that deserved to die. That's it! The child goes in search of Francis who is busy nonchalantly licking his paws, as if he has no idea what a hero he is,
"What a good, good cat you are," the child strokes him and tells him. "You just saved the whole mouse kingdom from Evil Dick Cheney Mouse."
Ahh, but Francis does know. Do you think that cute little kitty (named after a saint), now curling himself up on the rug, would kill any mouse other than an evil one?