Death and Dislike

Death and Dislike

An essay.

Let’s begin with grown mice, as opposed to baby mice. I dislike them. In winter, particularly, these adults can make the house feel crowded. My home’s hardwoods become broad, inviting avenues for adult mice on a stroll, and the walls of the house overflow with hidden apartments crammed with feckless, fucking mice. I believe two mouse generations can be born during a winter, thus tripling the available mice. None of my “city” friends have this problem, so I’m thinking it is a country issue, a country winter issue, like the squirrels that seek out the warmth in the attic, or the mosquitoes that hatch from eggs brought in on firewood warmed up in the kitchen. I dislike the mosquitoes, too, and the strange dashing sounds of the squirrels overhead. If you have seen a squirrel dart back and forth in front of your car, a madcap, almost suicidal caricature of indecision, then you know of what these dashing sounds must consist. Impossible to like. One thinks fiercely: You fool, make up your mind and lie down.

At one time a cat named Fargo lived in my house and she also disliked the grown mice. Also, unlike me, the baby mice. She’d bring me and my partner dead mice of all ages, little presents that even when not brought right to our feet were left in obvious places for us to find. The baby mice often were missing a head. I enjoyed this in a way, how Fargo simultaneously rid the house of mice and made a generous little game out of it. She never brought in, say, a fat beetle, its inky legs wiggling —just dead mice. She embraced the cat cliché, and so did I. Often before bedtime the two of us played long, intense games of slapsies. I’d hold my hand out palm up, she’d hold her paw palm down, and then one of us would try to slap the other first. I earnestly disliked losing to her, but usually did. I rationalized these as necessary losses that gave Fargo an edge in the mouse hunts taking place while I slept.

All things considered, I am unmoved by the death of baby mice, but I have already said that it is difficult to dislike them. They don’t frequent the hardwoods like their parents do. They prefer to make the gas stove their playground, jumping like fleas in and out of the iron grates, as though swinging on monkey bars. This is most amusing. Every once in a while one of them apparently swings too far and flips into the kitchen sink. They are too small to flip back out of it. They are all eyes and tail and stare up at one with exactly the expression of a child caught in a scrape. However, this expression goes away as soon as the bowl appears that will take them outside. I have no compunction whatsoever about taking them outside, though they are babies and have no good odds in their favor. On the other hand, I don’t bite off their heads.

I have an aunt, Aunt Barbara, who babysat me when I was little. She and her husband worked hard on their farm, my aunt often feeding a dozen men in her kitchen, and she had a son, Jonathan, whom I adored. One spring afternoon I stood in the garage with my aunt who was getting ready to plant a dogwood tree. A large rat—the size of a grown cat—suddenly dashed from a carpentry bench across the concrete toward the open garage door. My aunt took the shovel in her hand and, almost nonchalantly, flattened the rat in a single, graceful motion. Then she shoveled it up and flung it behind the garage. At the time I wondered if this was something Jonathan had seen before; he played little league football and I had watched him knock down a littler boy with just this kind of grace and indifference. “That,” my aunt said, “is that.” And then she walked out of the garage with the shovel to plant the dogwood.

It seems we must harbor our pity and our sympathy, hoard these building blocks of grief, parse them out a morsel at a time as though they’re stick candy. Maybe we only have so much—this, and no more—which obliges us to tend carefully. I feel no real grief for the grown mice, the mosquitoes, the rat, these creatures I dislike.

But what I would give to play just one more slapsies game with Fargo again. Feel her paw slap my hand one more time. Admittedly, I cannot. And that, as my aunt would say, is that.

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