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Of Mice and Myanmar

AT FIRST, there were only one or two and I thought little or nothing of dispatching them: field mice thrive in the Bajan canefields and knocking them on the head occasionally is one small responsibility of the country gentleman. As we tamed the wild empty lots around our house, though, reducing the grasshopper invasion from half-a-dozen every night to one or two per month, the mouse population in our “under-the-house” actually, perversely, increased – even though they shared the space with three dogs.

The enigma occasionally wiggled past more important worries – how to put two children through university on the laughable amounts now grudgingly forked out to writers, whether to buy new tyres or fix the stove, etc – to the forefront of my mind: how come I’m laying five times as many glue traps today than six months ago?

Hanging out the wash on Sunday, I understood: against the back wall behind the old armchairs comprising the dog lounge, was the cardboard box for our 70-inch TV, sitting on three half-bricks, “should-in-case” of rainy season flood. Below it was what looked like a settled snowdrift. It wasn’t an under-the-house nor’easter, though, no “Beast from the East” coming from London to Barbados for a vacation, but bubbles of Styrofoam. Inside the box, I realised, was a mouse safe-house, where the dogs could not follow them through whatever access hole they had made in its underside. In there, they could make as many little nests as they could chew Styrofoam.

With a three-week gestation, an endless food supply in the dog chow bag right outside and secure from predators, the box had become a small rodent big city. We were dealing with generations, not individuals.

On Monday, moving the box on to the lawn, I could hear small scurrying sounds inside. When I upended and shook the box, six mice fell out. One, a full-grown adult, was clearly the mother. The remaining five were second-generation, old teenagers, almost grown, but they obviously had limited experience outside of the box and none at all of a wide open space: they all stood still, in shock, as, one by one, I clubbed them to death.

Only the mother ran fast, backwards and forwards, and managed to wedge herself into the flap at a corner of the box, beyond the reach of my stair bannister-club. Shaking the box upside-down vigorously dislodged only two tiny, furless pink babies. I murdered them quickly, before I could think about it, the killing itself, or the mother watching or hearing it all.

I didn’t notice when the mother abandoned her hiding place and scuttled across the lawn, but I saw her again at the top of the dogs’ brick staircase into the under-the-house. I chased her, squealing – her, not me – back to where the box had been. She jumped up on to one of the bricks on which I’d stood the TV box and herself stood still, perplexed. I was standing right above her and lifted my club and would have killed her easily, at that moment, but for my understanding, at just that point, of what was happening: she had run back to what she thought was the safety of the TV box, but it was gone, and she had nowhere to run.

I hesitated.

She looked up at me. I don’t know if her field of vision allowed her to see it coming down or whether I lost heart myself at the last moment but my club hit brick, not mouse. She leapt through the air and vanished behind some plywood sheets.

She was gone.

I still haven’t found her, or her corpse, on the glue traps, which had, however, taken the lives of a dozen lizards while I was dispatching the population of mouse Manhattan.

Except for one.

And now I don’t know if I did her a favour, with that last punch I perhaps pulled, or whether she cursed herself, with that great leap that sprang from her own powerful instinct to survive at all costs.

They can live for six years, mice.

A long time for her, and me, to remember the terror of the slaughter of her children.

BC Pires is a better Christian than most. Read more of his writing at www.BCPires.com

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