“What do you mean am I sure? Sure that it’s a mouse, or sure that it’s in my shower?” I stutter into the phone as I sit on top of the kitchen counter, safely out of rodent reach.
“Sure that it’s a mouse,” the man on the other end asks patiently.
“Well, it has big ears and a long tail and it’s too small to be an elephant. So I’m thinking mouse. What would you recommend that I do?” I answer, still eyeing the tile floor in case my new friend manages to make it through the blockage of shoes I arranged around the bathroom door.
“I recommend that we come and take care of it for you,” the man tells me. He sounds smug. Like he knows that I’m a pathetic woman in her mid twenties who isn’t capable of handling a rodent problem without detailed instruction, and maybe not even then.
“About how much will that cost?”
“Depends. Probably between $100-$200,” his deep voice responds.
“What does it depend on?” I ask, half because I’m curious, and half because I’m trying to think of a polite way to end the conversation without actually letting him know that I can’t even afford to pay for the parking ticket that I got last week, and that ‘mouse assistance’ is just not in my budget.
“What we find when we get there,” he answers, the phone crackling.
“Like if he’s an evil mouse who is also half vampire it’ll cost closer to $200?” I hear a scratching noise and yank my knees even closer to my chest, catching the tattered bottom of my sweats on the drawer pull. I feel a scream rising in my chest, but it dissipates when it registers that the noise is just Rasha. She jumps up on the counter next to me, and licks a white socked paw.
“If he’s also vampire there’s actually a discount,” he responds dryly.
“What if I wanted to catch him on my own?” I ask, fueled by his participation in my joke.
“I recommend that we take care of it for you,” he reiterates.
“Why?” I snap, “I’m perfectly capable of handling this issue. I just thought you might have some advice.”
“Ma’am, are you standing on a chair right now?” he asks.
“As a matter of fact, I’m not,” I huff, switching the phone to my left ear, since my right ear is starting to sweat. “Do you have a suggestion for something that I can do, or not?”
“Get a cat,” he offers. I can definitely hear him smirking. I’m so glad that my misery is amusing to him.
“I have a cat,” I retort. “She’s quite useless.” Rasha gives a self contented purr and jumps onto the narrow windowsill behind me.
“Maybe stop feeding your cat,” he suggests.
“I was thinking something along the lines more of a trap than feline starvation,” I inform him. I don’t think that I like this man very much.
“Mouse traps aren’t for the faint of heart,” he tells me. “They can be a little… gory.”
“I can deal with a little gore if it means that I don’t have to live on Ramen noodles and oatmeal for the rest of the month,” I say, half to him and half to myself. There is a long pause. I wonder if the phone has been disconnected. For a panicked moment, I wonder if the mouse has chewed through the cord, cutting me off from society so that it can maul me in peace. And then I remember that I’m talking on an iPhone, and decide that I should stop watching movies from the 80s.
“Get a box trap, and bait it with chocolate. The kind that has almonds in it. That usually works.”
“Thank you-- what was your name?” I ask, elated to have a possible solution, and an end to this embarrassing conversation.
“Matt,” the voice on the end crackles.
“Thank you for your help, Matt,” I say primly, preparing to hang up.
“Miss Flemming? I’d make sure to put that trap where your cat can’t get to it,” he adds just before I hit the red “end” button. If only the mouse had an “end” button, that would make this a tad simplier.
I don’t sleep at all for the rest of the night, though I do eventually manage to convince myself to go back to bed. I crawl along the counter until I have a straight shot from the counter to my bed. It takes me approximately three seconds of pure panic from leaving the counter and yanking the covers over me. I lay perfectly still, and I’m pretty sure that I can hear the mouse laughing.
The following morning, despite the fact that it’s fifteen degrees outside and I want nothing more than to stay home in my pajamas and not shop for vermin death devices, I schlep down the street to the store. I arrive later than I had intended, hindered by spending fifteen minutes shaking out each item of clothing prior to putting it on, in case the mouse was, in fact, half vampire, and waiting in the folds of my clean laundry to attack. He wasn’t.
“This is just morbid,” I mutter under my breath. The fluorescently lit aisle is filled with creative ideas for pest control. Traps, sprays, boxes, metal contraptions that I have no desire to understand… it’s a festival of torture in here. I glance back toward the beginning of the aisle, and debate making a run for it. Just one aisle over I could stock up on powdered donuts and maybe the mouse and I could slip into a shared sugar coma.
“Can I help you Ma’am?” a voice behind me asks. Had I been holding any donuts, they would have scattered across the floor when I lept into the air, spinning wildly in a flurry of scarf and tangled brown hair. My hand flies to my chest, because apparently when startled my body thinks that it’s a 1950’s starlet who has pearls to clutch.
“You should wear a bell,” I inform the man, my heart still pounding. He raises an eyebrow at me and flashes me the hint of a smile. I wish I had known that he was a Ryan Gosling look-alike before I said anything. Actually, if I’m wishing for things, I wish I had known I would encounter a Ryan Gosling look-alike when I decided that fleece tights under sweatpants was the look I wanted to go with for the day.
“I’ll look into that,” he nods. “Anything else I can help you with?” I study him, and come to the conclusion that he doesn’t work here. He’s wearing a gray sweatshirt instead of a brightly colored polo, and is clad in jeans rather than telltale retail khakis.
“Do you work here?” I ask, even though I think I know the answer.
“No. I just know a lot about this stuff, and you look like you might need a hand.”
“You thought you would sneak up behind a woman that you don’t know and offer her unsolicited pest control advice?” I clarify.
“Seemed like the gallant choice,” he shrugs with a hint of a smirk.
“Ok, then. Which of these should I use to catch my mouse?” I challenge.
“Depends. You want it dead or alive?” he walks down to the specific rodent section.
“Neither. I want it OUT,” I counter.
“What’ll do you with it?” he asks.
“With the trap? I was planning to just set it on the floor still in its package and leave a threatening note for the mouse to evict, or else.”
“Solid course of action. And if that doesn’t work and you actually set the trap, what’ll you do with the mouse after you’ve caught it?”
“I have no idea,” I tell him.
“Have you considered calling someone?”
“Like the Ghost Busters? They’re busy.”
“Or an exterminator?” he supplies.
“I thought I’d give it a go on my own,” I answer carefully. “Which may have been a mistake. I think I’ll do some research and come back.” I start backing away up the aisle, wondering if I can snag some powdered donuts without him spotting me.
“Here. Try this one,” he offers, taking a menacing black box from one of the pegs and holding it out toward me. “Try baiting it with some chocolate with almonds.” I stare at him and feel my cheeks flush as the pieces start falling together.
“Matt?” I ask through clenched teeth.
“Um- yeah?” he asks, for the first time in our conversation seeming off balance. “Do I know you?”
“Yes. I mean, no. Well, sort of. I, ah, I spoke to you on the phone last night,” I confess. The look of understanding dawns across his face and he raises a finger.
“Vampire mouse,” he says, pointing at me.
“I usually go by Alisha. But whatever works for you,” I sigh.
“You live around here?” he asks, trying to keep a smile off of his face. I start picking at my scarf, feeling extraordinarily warm under his gaze.
“Just up the street, on Magnolia” I gesture. I, of course, gesture the wrong way, because I’m flustered and have no sense of direction.
“The Whitecastle Apartments?” he guesses, pointing the right direction.
“Yep,” I confirm, shuffling my feet. “Been there for a couple of years.”
“I moved in about six months ago,” he offers. “I wonder why I haven’t seen you around.”
“Probably because I hibernate six months out of the year. I don’t really like the cold,” I explain. “But my circumstances overcame my weather hesitations today. I should probably buy that and get home to address my mouse problem.” I try to take the box from his hand, but he grins and tucks it under his arm.
“Let me help you,” he suggests. “I’ll grab the chocolate and walk you home. I can set it up for you if you want.” It’s a sweet offer. Unless you binge watch Criminal Minds, like I do. In which case Matt is a very well camouflaged serial killer asking for admittance to my sacred home. Wait. What if Matt is the vampire, and not the mouse?
“That is so sweet of you. But…” I start off down the aisle at a quick scamper. “I just realized that my roommate is expecting me. So I’ll just see you around!” I dart from the aisle and out the front door without stopping. I don’t have a roommate, but serial vampire Matt doesn’t need to know that.
“Living with a mouse is better than being six feet under,” I tell myself as I march home as quickly as I can. I do a couple of laps of the complex before returning to my apartment, just in case he followed me home and is watching me with creepy binoculars. Or really any binoculars, because they are by nature creepy.
I decide I’ll just order a trap on Amazon and have it one day shipped to my apartment. And then, after reviewing the shipping prices, I decide that I’ll just wait the 3-5 business days for shipping, and just hope my vampire mouse friend is otherwise occupied during that time.
“You know, we could have avoided this whole mess if you were a cat instead of a furry doorstop,” I tell Rasha, poking her with my toes. She exacts her revenge against my slippered foot with enough vigor to prove that if she were so inclined, she could certainly have caught and executed the mouse effectively. Stupid cat.
When the trap arrives in the mail, I read the instructions and set it, with the almond chocolate that my almost-killer Matt had suggested. It’s a live trap, with a whole list of suggestions on how to dispose of the live mouse after you’d caught it. I secretly hope that maybe the mouse will have learned that I am broke and only eat Ramen noodles, not fancy cheese, and moved on to the apartment down the hall that always smells like they are cooking heaven. Or lasagna.
I’m not sure how I’ll know if I catch the mouse, so I hope maybe it’ll be obvious. Maybe there’s a pop up thermometer like when they cook turkey on the Food Network? I dream about pop up mice with little vampire fangs all night long, and when I wake up I vow not to eat Ramen after eight anymore.
I get up and check the trap, and it turns out that while there isn’t a thermometer, it is definitely obvious that I have caught my mousey fiend; I can see its tiny silhouette under the tinted plastic. My emotions vacillated between utterly grossed out, and unexpectedly sad. Poor mouse. It wasn’t his fault that he had been cold and sought refuge in my apartment. My memory of his curious little face peering up at me from the shower floats continually through my mind.
“You aren’t playing fair,” I tell the mouse through the plastic. The box recommends disposing of the mouse by throwing it away or drowning it, but I can’t seem to bring myself to punish the mouse for just being a mouse. If he were a vampire mouse I would probably feel differently and stake him with whatever I had on hand, but I’m feeling fairly certain that he’s just an ordinary mouse.
“What do we do now?” I ask Rasha. She looks at me and then hops on the bed and gives herself a bath. “That’s a great idea,” I tell her. Because apparently I am the crazy lady who talks to her cat and pities vermin who encroach upon her home. A shower is just the thing to clear my head.
About halfway through lathering my hair, I know what I have to do. It’ll be gruesome and probably scarring… but it has to be done.
I have to call Matt.
I stay in the shower for as long as I can, trying to put off the inevitable. Eventually someone a couple of floors up flushes their toilet or starts their washing machine and the water turns from balmy to blistering, causing me to leap out of the shower, effectively ending my denial. I dry off and yank on a sweatshirt and faded jeans, hoping to appear presentable but not appealing, just in case it turns out that Matt is a closet serial killer. Or vampire. I locate the number of the exterminator in my recent calls and take a deep breath before I dial.
“Williams Pest Control, this is Matt,” his voice crackles through my phone.
“Matt? This is Alisha,” I say.
“Alisha…” he responds.
“Vampire mouse girl? From the hardware store a week ago? You live in my complex.”
“I know. I just wanted to make you say vampire mouse again. What can I do for you Alisha?”
“I, ah, I caught the mouse,” I stutter, embarrassed that he either didn’t remember me, or really was just bent on torturing me. “And now I don’t know what to do with it.”
“Could you… what would you charge to take care of it?”
“You already did the hard part. Why don’t you just throw it away and save yourself the money?” he asks.
“I can’t kill him,” I confess. I can practically hear his smirk from here.
“I see. You want to hire a mouse hit man. Plausible deniability.”
“I just want to be able to pretend that he went on to live a happy life.”
“So you would be paying me not only to off your mouse, but also to lie to you about it. That’s quite the moral code you have,” he says.
I sigh. Of course. Of course this couldn’t be easy. Of course he would have to be a jerk.
“You know what? Never mind. Thanks for the advice, Matt,” I snap into the phone.
“Alisha! Alisha, I’m kidding. Of course I’ll take care of it. No charge. Just tell me what apartment to come to and I’ll come get him.”
“How do I know that you aren’t a serial killer?” I ask before I can stop myself. Nothing like wearing your paranoia on your sleeve.
“I am,” he answers.
“I am a serial killer. I kill things for a living, remember? I’m an exterminator.”
“Not creepy at all,” I mutter.
“Says the woman trying to hire me to whack her mouse.”
“Meet me in the courtyard in five minutes,” I reply, hanging up the phone. Why does he have to be so infuriating? Then again, if he will take care of my rodent problem for free, I guess he can say pretty much whatever he wants.
It’s still as cold as a Christmas Coke commercial, and I half expect to see a polar bear come skating by when I finally manage to leave my apartment, bundled in my peacoat and two pairs of pants. I waddle to the courtyard and see Matt standing, hunched with his hands in his pockets.
“You look like the Michelin man,” he calls over the wind.
“If you need tires I’ll get you a great deal” I snark back. “Here.” I thrust the black box at him. I try to arrange a nicer voice. “Thank you for taking care of this for me.”
“Not a problem,” he answers with a wink.
I turn and waddle back to my apartment. I feel more sad than I should. Poor mouse. I sigh as I shed my layers and just leave them on the living room floor.
“You’re being ridiculous,” I tell myself. Honestly. Who ever heard of mouse-trapping remorse? I sprawl across the couch and beckon Rasha to come and make me feel better about sending the mouse to his death. She responds by stalking out of the room and leaping onto the kitchen counter. Fickle friends, cats.
Apparently, I fall asleep while watching a rerun of Friends, because I am startled awake by the dulcet tones of “Million Dollars” by the Barenaked Ladies being emitted loudly from my phone.I nearly roll of the couch trying to reach it, and almost flatten Rasha in the process.
“Hello?” I croak.
“Alisha?” Matt’s voice asks.
“This is your local mouse assassin, Matt.”
“Was there a problem with the mouse?” I ask, still trying to determine what could possibly be happening in my life at the present moment that is leading me to have this conversation.
“No, no problem. I actually left you something outside your door.” My heart jumps into my throat. This is the part in the horror movie where everyone is yelling at the idiot girl to hang up and call the cops.
“You followed me home?” I ask, my heart pounding in my ears.
“I actually live two doors down,” he answers sheepishly.
“If there’s a mouse body on my porch I’m calling the cops,” I inform him, slowly extricating myself from the embrace of my sofa.
“If there’s a mouse body on your porch, that’ll be a truly unfortunate coincidence. Call me back after you see what I’ve left you,” he requests, and then hangs up the phone.
I hesitantly open the door, and there, on my porch, is a large plastic terrarium with a turquoise top. Inside there is a dearth of wood shavings, a yellow wheel, and a little brown mouse enthusiastically eating food pellets out of a small bowl. I grab the cage and carry it inside, setting it on the kitchen counter. I lower my face to mouse-height and look the mouse in the eye. There’s no doubt in my mind; this is my mouse. My apparently not dead mouse. A mouse that I can now stop mourning. I feel a grin spreading across my face. I step back and for the first time see the nameplate on the top. It says “Willyou.”
“Willyou is a weird name for a mouse,” I tell him. “I would have named you Mickey. Or Mighty. Or maybe Jerry.” I stare at him for a moment longer, debating whether or not I should call back the mouse rescuer. I drop my phone on the couch and slip out the front door, walking toward the apartment that’s two doors down from mine in my bare feet. I bang on the door, crossing my fingers that I’m not about to give some small child a big scare. The door whips open, and reveals Matt with a grin on his face.
“Hey,” he greets me casually.
“You aren’t a very good hitman,” I inform him.
“Yeah, I’ll work on that,” he retorts. I try to keep the smile off of my face, but I can’t quite manage it.
“You’re also an abysmal mouse namer. What kind of name is “Willyou?”
“It’s not a name, it’s a question,” he responds, “Do you want to come in? You aren’t wearing shoes.”
“What kind of question?” I ask.
“It’s the first half of a very important question that I’m about to ask you,” he responds. “Are you sure you don’t want to come in? It’s like twenty degrees, and your toes are turning white.
“Is that the question you’re going to ask me? Do I want to come in?”
“No, that’s not the question. This is. Will you go to dinner with me tomorrow night?”
“No thank you,” I reply. His face falls for a moment, but he gallantly returns his smile a moment later.
“Ok then. Enjoy the mouse.”
“I want to go to dinner with you tonight.” I interrupt. “It’s sooner. And if that goes well, we’ll talk about tomorrow night, too,” I say, grinning at him as mischievously as I can manage.
As you can tell from our love story, Willyou played an important role in getting Matt and I to this monumental day. He was there for our first date, and for every date after that. He helped Matt when he asked “Will you marry me.” We even got him a friend to keep him company, and we named her Always. We are here today because of a little non-vampire mouse. Thank you for sharing our wedding with us; now will you raise a toast with me?